McPherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business
PERTH, Western Australia:
The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) says investment deals are on track to deploy US$10 billion in member countries over the next six to nine months.
At the end of its three-day forum, which closed a day ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the CBC also reported a strengthening of its link with the Caribbean as an entry point to doing business in the Americas.
"We expect the thousands of one-to-one exchanges between delegates to lead to a healthy deal flow in 2012," according to the communiqué and report to heads of government released at a media briefing at the Burswood Convention Centre here Thursday.
CBC Director General Dr Mohan Kaul said the investment initiatives agreed at heads of government meetings illustrate the importance of the economic dialogue as a parallel event to the main meeting, which runs from today, Friday, to Sunday.
More than 1,400 business and government representatives, including 16 heads of government from 54 countries, participated in the discussions over the three days. Some 150 global business leaders and experts addressed the forum at which 20 country/state investment windows were held.
While some Caribbean member countries were absent from the discussions which largely centred on investment, China took advantage by sending some 60 of its business leaders for dialogue on Commonwealth-China cooperation.
Arising from the discussions, the delegation, representing the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, signed a memorandum of understanding with the CBC to forge cooperation that will launch a Commonwealth-China business network.
The CBC has asked that heads of government, during their deliberations which starts today (Friday), reshape the way the Commonwealthworks and focus more on cooperation for trade and investment, job creation and growth to complement its work on good governance.
During the meetings this week, business leaders and economic experts suggested that a majority of Commonwealth countries were better poised to withstand the current economic turbulence partly because of their propensity as investment destinations of choice, high governance structure and respected business standards.
"The World Bank and international agencies recognise that these standards continue to rise," said the communiqué. "It is important to maintain this momentum."
The CBC said the attention of the business community was on the overall health of the global economy, and while economic forecasting was not the purpose of the forum, the dangers of a double-dip recession in Europe and North America, with collateral damage to all emerging markets, is real.
The London-based Common-wealth Business Council also noted the high levels of public and personal debt in the larger economies, but said that globally, corporate balance sheets and reserves were in good shape.
"This illustrates the importance of governments taking firm action to manage markets and fiscal systems to promote confidence so that these capital resources can be used to invest in growth," it said.
Noting the importance of public-private partnerships, business leaders suggested there has been a constant decline in the availability of public funding for infrastructure and other development, which were critical to all economies. "Private capital can take up the slack, but this requires a clear and predictable rate of return," they said.
The business forum agreed that to effectively manage globalisation for growth, heads of government should prioritise skills and education for jobs, access to finance for business growth, infrastructure development, support for small and medium enterprises, business-friendly tax policies, tackle corruption and strengthen corporate governance.
During the course of the business forum, the communiqué said, "the link developed with Caribbean countries was further strengthened, creating new linkages with Australia and using the Caribbean as an entry point to the Americas."
Among other projects launched at the forum was the Commonwealth Mining Network that will assist in linking the private sector to the needs of Commonwealth developing governments to manage their mining sectors.
Women in business
CBC suggested that women own up to 39 per cent of private businesses in the formal economy, but they have not penetrated the global supply chain, are underrepresented on boards and lack access to finance.
To this end, CBC said it "will work with the International Federation of Women Entrepreneurs and British Association of Women Entrepreneurs to establish a Commonwealth businesswomen's network to strengthen the overarching strategy for women in business around procurement and policy."
CBC has also agreed to get involved with a group of leading Commonwealth companies to develop ways in which businesses can get more involved in using sport for economic growth and the creation of jobs.
Investment promotion agencies and CBC will also establish a Commonwealth investment promotion network to share best practice and improve links between such agencies.
As part of the effort to increase ease of doing business, the forum endorsed consideration of a Commonwealth business visa similar to APEC, a business travel card that allows multiple short-term visits to other countries over a three-year period.
The CBC said it was also able to organise a large number of high-level meetings around the US$100 billion worth of ventures in its project exchange - a portfolio of investment proposals looking for funding, equity or business partners.