The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting opens in Edinburgh on Friday.
It is the first of a series of international events that the UK will be chairing in the next eight months. In the new year, we take over the Presidency of the EU. Next year we will chair the G8 summit of industrialised nations. We will chair the Asia/Europe meeting in April. These events give us an opportunity to show the world the face of the new Britain we are seeking to build.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting allows us to set out a vision for a new Commonwealth.
It will be the first CHOCM to take place in Britain for two decades.
And the first where Britain is not isolated, but working with all other members to make more of the Commonwealth.
I have long been a strong supporter of the Commonwealth. I am proud to be chairing this weekend's meeting. And I am determined that it should be a historic turning point for the Commonwealth. An opportunity to modernise the institution and prepare it for a new century.
That is why I welcome the new focus at the Edinburgh meeting on trade, the economy, investment and sustainable development as well as the more traditional Commonwealth subjects.
The Commonwealth should not be reluctant to take on an economic role and an economic profile.
We have a common language in a global economy in the information age. We have common values that can shape the way we work. We have many shared practices, similar legal and accounting systems. And we can do more business with each other if we make more of these advantages.
As part of this shift of emphasis, I hope the Edinburgh declaration will be an economic declaration to match the Harare declaration on democratic rights 6 years ago.
The two should be the twin pillars on which we build the new Commonwealth; to establish it as a beacon to the rest of the world resting on our aspirations for free societies and free economies.
The declaration in Edinburgh should set out our attitude to trade, to business and to investment.
And it is to emphasise further the business role for the Commonwealth that my first engagement of CHOGM is here to open the first ever Commonwealth Business Forum. A Forum which we would like to see continued at future CHOGMs and which we believe will produce concrete ideas - from business and government - on how we can improve trade, help protect and encourage investment and find new ways of expanding economic links between the countries of the Commonwealth.
I am a passionate believer in free trade and the Commonwealth should be a force for freer trade in the world. I hope at Edinburgh we will commit ourselves to working together in the World Trade Organisation for further liberalisation of world trade including the removal of non-tariff barriers. Free trade is essential if all our economies are going to grow.
We will be a champion of openness in the EU. And we hope others will play their part in their regional groupings to ensure that they too remain open.
The Commonwealth should help its less developed members participate more fully in the international trading system. This means committing ourselves to moves towards duty free access for goods from the least developed. And it means assisting the development of their trade policies. Helping them to meet the challenges of major trade negotiations and to meet their commitments. At Edinburgh, the UK will propose a new programme of training that will allow trade policy officials from smaller Commonwealth countries, including those who have yet to join the WTO, to build up their skills and learn from larger Commonwealth countries.
The Commonwealth should also promote investment.
The Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative is already channelling funds to less developed Commonwealth countries. Its funds for Africa and the Pacific support projects as diverse as a toll-road in South Africa, horticulture in Zambia, payphones in Uganda and timber processing in Fiji. I am delighted a third fund, for south Asia, will be launched during our Edinburgh meeting. The Fund will bring together funds from the Commonwealth Development Corporation, the countries of the region and others to promote investment in South Asia. I particularly welcome this example of regional co-operation.
I think Lord Cairns, the Corporation's chairman, will agree that the Commonwealth Development Corporation has demonstrated how effective well-targeted investment can be in increasing prosperity. It has ??1.6 billion invested in projects from the regeneration of tea plantations in Western Uganda to computer software development in South India. The Corporation has made a major contribution to Britain's efforts to promote economic development, particularly in areas of greatest need, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
But, despite this success, I believe it is an under-utilised asset. It can do more. It has the capacity to play a much greater role in mobilising new private finance for poor countries.
One of the most important developments in new Labour was the breaking down of public-private barriers. I am less interested in whether an institution is public or private, than whether it works. The CDC is a public institution. I believe it can be improved by becoming a public/private partnership.
I can announce that we have decided to allow the CDC to develop a new relationship with the private sector. This will require legislation to allow private investors to invest money in CDC, turning a state corporation into a partnership between the public and private sectors. Some of this money will take the form of lending and some will be equity. The Government will retain a substantial minority holding and will continue to set a framework for the corporations operations in order to preserve its unique character and special skills.
This new partnership will allow the CDC to borrow on the capital markets. It will give the Corporation substantial extra funds each year to invest in development.
I can also promise that all the money the Government raises from this sale will be ploughed straight back into our development programme.
For investment to prosper, investors need clear rules, honest practices and stability. The Code of Good Practice discussed by Finance Ministers in Mauritius needs to be agreed quickly. It should encourage investment throughout the Commonwealth. Businesses will only invest if they know that their money is properly protected.
The Commonwealth must also play its part in combating the worldwide scourge of money laundering which undermines financial stability and destroys the competitiveness of honest businesses. We cannot allow drug traffickers, tax evaders and other criminals to enjoy the fruits of their illegal activities. We need a cross-frontier approach that brings together financial regulators and law enforcers. Trackling such organised crime will be a priority at the G8 in Birmingham next year. We must make it a priority for the Commonwealth too.
Governments can, however, only do so much. Those of you here from the private sector have a crucial role to play too.
We need to revitalise our traditional Commonwealth links and use them to develop new business between us. That is why the first ever Commonwealth Business Forum is a welcome and important innovation. I hope it will become a regular feature. I want to see new partnerships between business and Government across the Commonwealth. I hope that you will take the opportunity to forge new links.
The Commonwealth should improve the ability of all of us to compete in the world market. We live in a global economy. We must compete, or we will not prosper. This means developing new technologies ourselves. But it also means transferring technologies between us. The expertise of South East Asia, for example, needs to be combined with the resourcefulness of Africa. And it means new partnerships between business and Government.
I am sorry that, for personal reasons, Dr Mahathir cannot be with us today. I know how much the Malaysian Government and he personally have done to promote SMART partnerships between the private and public sectors across the Commonwealth. He had told me himself about some of the remarkable experiments going on in Malaysia to attract hi-tech investment. I would like to see this sort of innovative practice spread throughout the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management is a great success. Our task here and in Edinburgh will be to build on progress so far and ensure that it makes a leap to a new level. Margaret Beckett will spell out our ideas in her closing speech tomorrow.
Finally, and most importantly, the Forum is also an opportunity for you, the businessmen and women here, to tell us, the Commonwealth Governments, what we can do to increase trade and investment between our countries. Let us know what barriers to trade and investment concern you, so that we can work together to remove them.
At Edinburgh, I hope that together we can start to build a Commonwealth for the 21st Century. A Commonwealth that is modern and forward-looking, that learns from its history rather than re-living it. A Commonwealth built on democratic rights, economic prosperity and sustainable development. Business has a crucial role to play. You can help us demonstrate that the Commonwealth makes a difference.
I look forward to receiving the outcome of your deliberations in Edinburgh.