The Commonwealth of Nations


The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as “the Commonwealth”, is an intergovernmental organization where member states cooperate within a framework of common values and goals, including peace, democracy, liberty, equality, and ending racism and poverty.

The Commonwealth has 53 member states that span across Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific. Most of the members are former territories of the British Empire. Member states have no legal obligation to one another. Instead, they are united by language, history, culture, and the shared values of democracy, human rights, and rule of law.

The Commonwealth includes the following members:

  • Africa: Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia
  • Asia: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka
  • Carribean and Americas: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Europe: Cyprus, Malta, United Kingdom
  • Pacific: Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu


The Commonwealth activities are headed by the Secretariat-General and are carried out through the permanent Commonwealth Secretariat. The Secretariat works with member states by providing guidance on policymaking, technical assistance, and advisory services. Assistance is customized to each member’s needs while also promoting international best practices.

Work priorities are agreed upon at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, which occur every two years.

The Commonwealth has established a framework of two broad pillars – Democracy and Development – under which eight programs are structured. Two of the eight programs, Economic Development and Environmentally Sustainable Development, could be potential vehicles for fisheries subsidies reform.

The Commonwealth Fisheries Programme combines the expertise and networks of the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, and the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council. This international program aims to ensure sustainability and improve the livelihoods of coastal communities in member states.

Overall, decision-making tends to be motivated by (i) internal trade needs, and (ii) availability of donor aid by wealthier members (i.e. Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom) to support in-country projects promoting democracy and sustainable development.


The Commonwealth member states have done crucial work on fisheries over the years, including in the negotiations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and in the High Seas Task Force. From 2008 to 2010, the Commonwealth Fisheries Programme investigated fisheries management and the sustainability of livelihoods in fisher communities in member states in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

In 2009, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting endorsed the need for urgent action to strengthen fisheries and marine management in member states. This statement was followed with the Perth Declaration on Food Security Principles, emphasizing the key role fisheries play in providing nutrition and livelihoods in the Commonwealth Small Island Developing States and other small states.

What could the Commonwealth produce/do on fisheries subsidies?

While the Commonwealth countries face different situations related to the nature of their fisheries, trade interests, and positions toward subsidies, there are overarching issues that could be potentially leveraged to generate activity on fisheries subsidies reform.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a key priority for all 53 countries, particularly to address poverty. This could provide a platform for discussion about fisheries management and subsidies, which if improved, could generate considerable economic benefits for both industrial and artisanal fishers.

The development agencies of the member countries could promote fisheries subsidies reform as part of broader reforms needed to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks within each member nation. Some agencies are already providing fisheries development assistance, but do not include discussion about the problems associated with subsidies.

Several Commonwealth members also have considerable expertise in reforming fisheries subsidies and could assist other members in enacting such reforms. This could be initiated through discussions and technical assistance, with a focus on countries that show interest in strengthening their fisheries sector.

The following are some other activities the Commonwealth could undertake:

  • The Commonwealth could make a political-level declaration or commitment to address fisheries subsidies.
  • The Commonwealth Fisheries Programme could include fisheries subsidies in its research aimed at identifying long-term solutions for fisheries management and improving the livelihoods of coastal communities.
  • The Commonwealth could conduct surveys on member fisheries subsidy programs. It could also act as a channel in which to guide the reform or reduction of fisheries subsidies for specific member countries.


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