Giving evidence to the International Relations Committee of the House of Lords, Dame Patricia was invited to answer questions about her priorities for office, the value of the Commonwealth and its role in helping to steer its members through what the committee described as a “very unsettling and rather dangerous” world.
The Dominican-born Dame Patricia who took up office on April 1 this year she said that, while the Commonwealth respects the choice of the British voter to leave the European Union, Brexit’ as it is popularly referred to is causing “real concern” and anxiety in countries which had become used to having a strong voice in the EU through the United Kingdom, Malta and Cyprus.
The Secretary-General in her written statement to the committee, stressed that a slow-down in the United Kingdom economy and uncertainties in both the UK and the EU will be felt by members who are trade dependent or linked by their currencies.
However said she was “hugely positive” about the commercial and economic opportunities within the Commonwealth.
“Much more energy, if that’s possible, will go into enriching the Commonwealth relationship and looking to see how we can strengthen that which we were already doing,” she said.
The United Kingdom will host a Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting in 2017 and the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2018.
Pointing to a major report published by the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2015 which showed that bilateral trade costs between Commonwealth countries are on average around a fifth lower – or 19 per cent – than between other trading partners, she said “what it does is to identify the benefit of having a shared platform, of the same language, same common law, same legal structure, similar institutions”.
She pledged to “turbo-charge” her efforts to encourage and support Commonwealth countries to work together to increase the 19 per cent trade advantage even further.
She told the committee of the initiatives by the Commonwealth Secretariat to help countries make their civil justice systems faster, easier and more efficient to enable trade, including the creation of a Commonwealth Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform, best practice models for contracts and templates for legislation and regulations.
Replying to questions about the Commonwealth Charter, she said “the Charter isn’t just an aspiration, it has become an expectation. People may not all be there now, but we need all of our members to maintain that aspiration that that’s where they will be in due course.
During her first 100 days in office, the Secretary-General said she had begun to deliver on the mandate given to her by leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta.
These includes advocacy to tackle the existential threat of climate change, promoting trade, good governance and human rights, providing new opportunities for the young people, and ending violence against women and girls and promoting gender equality.
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