CBF 2013 set to place Inclusive and Ethical Social Development on the corporate agenda

16 September 2013 04:16 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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- By Salma Yusuf in London

Salma Yusuf in conversation with Dr Mohan Kaul, Chairman of the Commonwealth Business Council, in London


Q:To what extent did the notion of ‘psychic distance’ influence the establishment of the Commonwealth Business Forum, given that it is a key determinant in the internationalisation process?
In 1997, the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, raised questions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Edinburgh, on how the Commonwealth should update its work given the significant and changing context in Commonwealth countries, of which key among others was the new South African government under Nelson Mandela.

Of the questions raised, a specific one was, “Is there a business case for the Commonwealth?” This paved the way to research and study and the findings revealed that trade flows within the Commonwealth countries amounted to 2 trillion dollars; the similarity in accounting and governance structures, and management structures reduced transaction costs by 10 – 20 percent because of similar practices utilised. Hence, the ‘psychic distance’ was believed to be a short one which led to the establishment of the Commonwealth Business Forum to be held in the wings of the CHOGM.


" The CBF 2013 will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka from November 12 – 14, 2013  on the eve of and in conjunction with CHOGM. The Forum will focus on the theme, “Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean, Pacific and SAARC.” "
Q: What is the Commonwealth Business Forum?
The Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) is a unique gathering of business leaders from developed and emerging markets who join hands to share economic prosperity. It was established to promote trade, investment and increase the role of the private sector in national economies.
The CBF 2013 will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka from November 12 – 14, 2013  on the eve of and in conjunction with CHOGM. The Forum will focus on the theme, “Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean, Pacific and SAARC.”


Q: What will be the special feature of the Commonwealth Business Forum 2013?
It will focus on building a new economic and financial architecture in the global economy and ensure that it is inclusive and beneficial to all. This year’s Forum will focus on the potential for partnership centred on one of the fastest growing regions of the world, namely, the Indian Ocean Rim.


Q: What is the structure and content of the Commonwealth Business Forum?
It provides a unique opportunity for governments and businesses to learn from more than 100 speakers and panelists including Heads of Government, Ministers of Finance, Trade and Development, Chairmen and Chief Executives of businesses and other industry leaders; meet and discuss trade, investment and partnership opportunities; learn of new businesses and investment projects; develop new business leads and identify new trade and investment partners; conduct and conclude business in one-to-one meetings with other international partners; network with policy makers, key government officials and business leaders; influence the global debate on important trade and investment issues; and contribute to key policy recommendations to Commonwealth Heads of Government.


Q:Have the themes for the plenary sessions been decided?
The over-arching theme, as mentioned previously, is Partnering for Wealth Creation and Social Development and the keynote address will be delivered by the President of Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Other sessions will address sub-themes such as Developing the Rural Economy for Sustainable Shared Growth; The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and SAARC: Building New Partnerships;  Sri Lanka: Trading Hub for the Indian Ocean and SAARC; Sri Lanka: 21st Century Business Destination; Infrastructure Challenges: New Global Partnerships; Energy and Natural Resource Development: Commonwealth Partnerships; Africa and Asia: Reshaping Partnerships for Sustainable Growth; Tackling Unemployment: Education, Knowledge and Skills; and others. The Forum will conclude with a Sri Lankan President’s Roundtable with Heads of Government and Business Leaders.


Q:How will the Forum benefit the host country, Sri Lanka,in particular?
Private sector engagement plays a major role in bringing investment from the Commonwealth and beyond while at the same time forging business networks within the Commonwealth itself. While the CBF that is held in the wings of the CHOGM is intended to benefit all Commonwealth participants and countries, the focus tends to change with the host country’s assets and resources.

For instance, CHOGM 2011 held in Perth, Australia, saw many of the concluded business partnerships related to the Mining Industry. In the case of Sri Lanka, we believe that there will be several focus areas from Information Technology to Commodities, Infrastructure to Banking and the Resource Industry among many others.
We believe that CBF 2013 will promote infrastructure development and investment between Asia and Africa. One of the greatest strengths we are working towards for CBF 2013 is to develop linkages between Asia and Africa for which Sri Lanka is likely to play a central role.  It must be stated that the CBF does not only encourage trade and investment flows in the traditional direction, that is, from developed to developing countries but also from developing to developed countries, and developing to developing countries.


Q:What does a change in traditional trade and investment flow bring to the countries concerned, in practical terms?
Interesting developments take place with a change in direction: for example, at CBF 2011 held in Perth, something new happened which was hitherto rare and unusual – Tanzania and Nigeria invested in the mining industry in Australia, for which, CBF provided the catalyst. Such trading partnerships were otherwise unheard of; hence, CBF provides a platform which brings the mix of both developed and developing countries and emerging economies is a rarity.

Another interesting example was seen at CBF 2009 held in Trinidad and Tobago, where Oil and Gas Companies of western nations invested in those of Trinidad and Tobago and such linkages have continued well after the conclusion of the Forum. Here again, CBF provided the platform and forum for bringing potential partners which were unheard of or not thought of previously to join hands in wealth creation and sharing economic prosperity.


" CBF 2013 presents a tremendous opportunity for
Sri Lanka, be it in the North, West, South or East of the country, to participate through both big and small businesses in order to look for new partnerships and opportunities. It is our expectation that Sri Lanka will take advantage of this opportunity being the host country "
Q:What is the rationale for encouraging such new directions for trade and investment flows?
Rich people are found in every country. Investors are found in every country. Investment opportunities are found in every country. Hence, there should not be indiscriminate differentiation on account of the status of a country’s economy when it is not relevant. Globalisation has resulted in a rise and continuing growth of the middle-class around the world and in every country. Conversely, poverty and disparity hasvealso increased but because of positive developments Commonwealth countries are able to partner and collaborate for the mutual benefit of national economies.

CBF 2013 presents a tremendous opportunity for Sri Lanka, be it in the North, West, South or East of the country, to participate through both big and small businesses in order to look for new partnerships and opportunities. It is our expectation that Sri Lanka will take advantage of this opportunity being the host country. At every CBF the host country benefits the most, it is an inescapable reality: for instance 10 billion dollars worth investment and trade were sealed at CBF 2011 in Perth, Australia and 1 billion dollars’ worth of investment and trade were accrued at Trinidad and Tobago. The difference in amount is usually attributable to the size of the country and economy. For Sri Lanka, we are projecting a 2 billion dollar investment and trading opportunity at CBF 2013.


Q: Given that there is a focus on the subject of Social Development at CBF 2013; to what extent will such a theme be explored within an ethical paradigm?
One of the advantages of a CBF is that every Head of Delegation brings a delegation for business. Engagement is arranged with civil society where subjects of Corporate Social Responsibility; Society and Business and Corporate Governance are discussed. Important to mention is that such themes are explored not in a vacuum but in the context of trade and investment and hence serve the purpose of infusing an ethical perspective into business and trade.
A tripartite session which involves the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth Business Council and Commonwealth Heads of Government will promote the idea that business cannot be done without abiding to ethics and good practice.


Q:Having visited Sri Lanka on several occasions for preparatory work of CBF 2013, what is your opinion of interest in the Forum among the local business community?
I have been to Sri Lanka thrice already for preparatory work and have been encouraged by the positive approach to CBF. The private sector is gradually becoming encouraged by the prospect of the Forum. We are working actively with Chambers of Commerce across the country to generate further interest in the Forum and its potential.

Our interactions thus far have brought to our attention that small and medium businesses are experiencing barriers to participation at CBF. Hence, we are taking specific steps to remove the barriers to participation by considering the waiver of registration fees in deserving cases; requesting that Chambers of Commerce to nominate small and medium businesses to be guests of CBF; and encourage the showcasing of success stories of respective businesses at an exhibition to be held at the CBF for those who are unable to attend the Forum as delegates.

The private sector looks for certainty of policy and broad governance structures for enabling investment. Sri Lanka as a country has demonstrated consistency in these two aspects, hence private sector investment will be forthcoming.

Worthy of mention is that the Sri Lankan Diaspora community is keen to invest in Sri Lanka in the belief that the people who suffered from the conflict must benefit from the dividends accrued from Commonwealth Forums. This idea is linked to the established belief that conflict and stability is linked to economic development or the lack of it in the case of the former.
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