OK you Americans, put your hands up any of you who know that over the weekend, 53 countries agreed on their joint approach for the next in the Dohar round of World Trade Organisation discussions next month? (Canadians are excluded from this!)

What’s more the head of the organisation, that represents 30% of the world’s population, was able to walk through the streets of a European Union capital when they arrived in the country, to the cheers of huge crowds, shaking hands of members of the (unscreened) public and with virtually no obvious security.

No, George Bush has not “pretzled” off the couch, hit his head or otherwise fallen into a fantasy-filled stupour, that’s what’s been going on in Valletta, Malta. What’s more the meeting could have an impact on EU policy during the WTO trade round.  
The Commonwealth is one of those ridiculous instituions invented by (but not now) British that should not work, is outdated and illogical but has considerable influence. Like the EU, membership is used in “soft diplomacy” as a sanction against the most repressive regimes and a reward for those that subsequently regain good governance.

Even though most of the countries are democracies and Mozabique was never a colony or even has English as its lingua franca, Betty Battenburg (AKA Elizabeth II) is titular head of the organisation. Her reception in part was due to the time she spent there as Princess Elizabeth while her husband was in the Roayl Navy based in Malta. In addition to the UK, two other EU members, Malta and Cyprus, are also members of the Commonwealth.

The main discussions were on trade. Signiicantly as it includes wealthy first world countries such as Canada and Australia the communique unanimously called for the richer countries to make concessions at the WTO so that the poorest benefit. Non-tariff rade barriers to imports from those countries were also criticised and these are just the sort of questions that will be involved in the discussions on the EU budget where Britain is holding out for concessions on farm subsidies in exchange for the rebate on contributions to the EU budget it receives.

Similar pressure to improve accessibility for 3rd world products will of course be put on the USA in Hong Kong at the WTO and they are also trying to get the round finished by the end of next year.

The soft diplomacy also came into play with Uganda being the subject of some discussion and censure over the government’s prosecution of  the main opposition leader in both military and civil courts. This would exclude him from being able to participate in the elections due next year. Such blatent non-democratic action can lead to suspension or even expulsion as is the case with Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

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