The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) is one of those international organisations that keeps popping up in news releases on a wide diversity of business activities but it remains something of an unknown quantity to the average business person in the street.
To find out exactly what it is, what it does and how it can be effective in Africa's current campaign for economic liberation, I went to meet Dr Mohan Kaul, the CBC's director general and chief executive.
I asked him what he considered the CBC's main function. "We are honest brokers for our members, bringing together different business cultures, different levels of development and national incomes, different priorities--and trying to find linkages that will strengthen the business positions of our members," he replied. The CBC's members are countries that belong to the Commonwealth, a host of some of the largest private sector companies and dozens of multilateral organisations--some of which are not based in the Commonwealth.
In a world in which countries are increasingly arranging themselves into economic zones and trading blocks to extract the maximum benefit from their common positions, the Commonwealth has the potential of becoming a global heavyweight.
The Commonwealth spans countries in Africa, Asia, the West Indies, the Americas, Australasia and Europe. This is a formidable grouping in terms of population, market size, diversity and latent growth potential. It is already the second largest trading block after the EU, handling trade worth $2.8 trillion annually and with FDI outflows of some $100bn. This accounts for around 25% of global trade and investment. Commonwealth member states comprise some 40% of the membership of the World Trade Organisation.
However, unlike the EU, it is a loose trading and political block. Its very strengths are also sometimes it weakness: member countries are situated in far-flung areas of the world; there is a massive gap between the most developed nations such as the UK, Canada and Australia and the economically weaker states such as Zambia or Papua New Guinea.
The adhesive factor
Can such a loose and widely unequal collection of members states function as a not only a collective, but a powerful global collective?
"The glue that holds the Commonwealth together is our common heritage," says Kaul. "Practically all member states were once part of the British empire. We share a common language, roughly common judicial and...