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UK Commonwealth Chair-In-Office Report 2018-2020

Volume 679: debated on Wednesday 9 September 2020

My hon. Friend the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has made the following written statement:

In April 2018, the UK hosted the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM). The summit was the largest of its kind in our history. Forty-six Heads of Government and 49 Foreign Ministers met and agreed a range of actions to build a Commonwealth which is fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous, and more secure.

Since then, the UK, as chair-in-office, has continued to work with the three pillars of the Commonwealth—its member states, its Secretariat, and its organisations and networks—to deliver commitments made at CHOGM. This work has been supported by over £500 million of UK-funded projects and programmes under the four themes of the summit.

A detailed report, entitled “Commonwealth Chair-in-Office 2018-20”, will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. This succeeds the interim report which the then Foreign Secretary provided to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons on 15 May 2019. It gives a comprehensive overview of outcomes and achievements against CHOGM 2018 commitments. This statement highlights some of those.

To build a fairer Commonwealth, the UK has worked with member states to support the delivery of 12 years of quality education for all by 2030. The Girl’s Education Challenge, for which the UK announced £212 million funding at CHOGM 2018, is now active in 11 Commonwealth countries, working to ensure marginalised girls have access to quality education. On inclusive and accountable democracy and promotion of human rights, the UK has supported Commonwealth secretariat election observation missions to eight Commonwealth countries, a number of which have since undertaken electoral reform. In Geneva, UK-funded human rights and trade advisers have supported Commonwealth small states to engage more effectively with international human rights and trade mechanisms. The UK-funded Equality and Justice Alliance has provided support to six Commonwealth countries to repeal or reform outdated legislation which discriminates against, or fails to protect, women, girls and LGBT communities.

To build a more sustainable Commonwealth, the UK has continued to champion the Commonwealth Blue Charter launched at CHOGM18. The “Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance”, co-led by the UK and Vanuatu, now has 34 members, which have committed to tackle marine plastic pollution. The UK-funded extension of the Commonwealth Marine Economies programme has supported 17 small island developing states to further develop sustainable and diverse marine economies. On climate change, the UK has co-funded a centre of excellence on nationally determined contributions based in Fiji, which is now working with 10 Commonwealth Pacific countries on their plans to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

To build a more prosperous Commonwealth, the UK has continued to be an advocate for intra-Commonwealth trade and has facilitated the delivery of the Commonwealth connectivity agenda. The UK has co-led with South Africa work on digital connectivity, and supported Barbados as the lead on regularly connectivity. The UK-funded trade facilitation programme has been working with 18 priority countries to adopt more efficient customs procedures. The UK-funded Commonwealth standards network now comprises the national standards bodies of 50 Commonwealth countries, supporting the effective implementation of international standards which increase opportunities for trade. Gender equality has also been at the forefront of our Commonwealth prosperity work: over 3,000 women- owned businesses have so far been supported to enhance their ability to trade; an extension of this programme was announced by the International Development Secretary in January.

To build a more secure Commonwealth, we have prioritised implementation of the Commonwealth cyber declaration, helping member states to enhance their cyber-security capacity. Thirty-eight out of 54 countries have now completed national cyber-security capacity reviews—a cornerstone commitment of the declaration’s implementation plan. Thirteen of these reviews have been completed since CHOGM 2018, of which seven were funded by the UK. We have worked with Commonwealth partners to apply and strengthen legislation on modern slavery and human trafficking. In July 2019, with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and UK funding, Malawi launched four landmark regulations on human trafficking and labour protection.

Following the postponement of CHOGM 2020, we look forward to the gathering of the Commonwealth family in Kigali next year. In the meantime, the UK will continue to serve the Commonwealth family as chair-in-office. In that role, we were pleased to facilitate agreement of a comprehensive statement issued by Commonwealth leaders on 16 July 2020, setting out their commitment to work collectively with international partners on the full range of responses required to mitigate the many adverse impacts of COVID-19, and to ensure that no one will be left behind.