The Olive Press – Ian Le Breton
In the last issue I wrote about the Commonwealth and, in particular, the two-day 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM for short. This biennial event was attended by government leaders from all 53 Commonwealth countries; several other VIP guests also travelled to Malta, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Preceding the main event, the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) attracted over 1,300 delegates from 75 countries. I was delighted to have the opportunity to represent my firm, together with colleagues from our Malta and London offices. Due perhaps to Gibraltar’s general election being held the same week, I was the sole accredited representative from the Rock.
CBF 2015 certainly lived up to my expectations. It was addressed by no less than 15 heads of government and 180 leaders from the government and private sector, and provided an incomparable opportunity to network with professionals and public officials from all corners of the Commonwealth. HRH The Prince of Wales gave the closing speech at CBF – and a very stirring and inspirational address it was too. At a fringe meeting I was also delighted to meet Baroness Scotland, who was subsequently elected unanimously as the next Commonwealth Secretary General; the first female to hold the position.
This is all very interesting, you may well be asking, but what relevance do these international meetings have for us locally. In common with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, Gibraltar’s foreign affairs are managed by the UK. So in this respect there was perhaps less at stake than for some other Commonwealth member states – although I can’t deny it was exciting for a “news junkie” like me to meet so many well-known public figures.
For my firm, and many others from the private sector, the real attraction in attending CBF 2015 related to the potential commercial opportunities. There was a wide-ranging series of speeches and panel debates on international trade and plenty of occasions were provided for networking and one-to-one meetings. I was pleased to meet with a number of delegates who were interested in Gibraltar and, in particular, our financial services offering. It was equally beneficial meeting private sector firms in other Commonwealth jurisdictions with whom we hope to cooperate in future years. I was able to establish a series of brand new, meaningful relationships that I hope will stand the test of time.
Of course being in Malta gave me the opportunity once again to contrast the jurisdiction with Gibraltar. The two are often compared, although at over 120 square miles of land and a population of 420,000, Malta is hardly similar in terms of size. For the past two decades, however, Malta has sought to distance itself from the world of “offshore finance’ and has instead successfully repositioned itself as a European Union financial centre with a very commercially proactive government. This is a track that Gibraltar, albeit from a different starting point in terms of its EU status, has also been following with increasing success. It was therefore encouraging to discover how well our officials and professionals measure up to their Maltese counterparts – in terms of both vision and performance.
As I flew out of Malta, I found myself congratulating the country, its government and people for hosting such an event. It had to accommodate the 53 Commonwealth heads of government, a state visit by HM The Queen, as head of the Commonwealth, together with the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, not to mention the French President and UN Secretary General – all skilfully handled even in these days of the highest security. Not something Gibraltar could, nor necessarily would, want to take on. Nevertheless I was delighted to have been a part of it.