World Chambers Congress

Business leaders turn out in record numbers to support global business development

  • 4 July 2007

The 5th World Chambers Congress kicked off here today, assembling a record number of 1,600 chamber of commerce executives and business leaders from 118 countries with the aim of facilitating world trade and promoting economic development.

The congress takes place every two years under the auspices of the World Chambers Federation (WCF), a specialized division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), with a global network of more than 12,000 chambers. The congress has grown increasingly popular since its founding in Marseilles in 1999. Attendance at this year’s congress has doubled compared to the 800 delegates who attended the last congress in Durban in 2005.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will deliver a keynote address today during a plenary session on how to better manage global risks through closer collaboration between business and government. Mohammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his breakthrough work in the field of microcredit in Bangladesh, will address a plenary on developing small and medium-sized enterprises. Other plenaries will cover securing future energy supplies, dealing with labor migration, and threats to multilateralism.

Among the other distinguished panelists to appear at this year’s congress are: Victor Fung, Chairman of Li & Fung Group of Investment Companies; Muhtar Kent, President of Coca-Cola Company; Donald Stephenson, Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN; and Lars Thunell, Executive Vice President of the International Finance Corporation.

A series of 23 workshops will offer practical solutions to chambers of commerce for dealing with the myriad challenges facing modern business.

Congress participants will attend from countries spanning the globe, from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, as well as from a wide range of developing and developed economies including Brazil, China, Finland, India, Iran, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zambia.

Discussion of how chambers and world business can address the recent setback in the Doha round of global trade negotiations will figure prominently during the congress. In June, trade officials from the G4 powers (US, EU, Brazil and India) failed to achieve consensus on a framework concerning industrial and agricultural tariffs that many believed was a necessary step to bring the trade talks to a successful conclusion this year. The congress will be a rallying point for business to continue pressing world leaders to throw their weight behind reaching common ground so a final trade deal can be signed by year-end.

This year’s congress, entitled “Partnerships for Prosperity,” will conclude with the World Chambers Competition, rewarding five chambers for original projects that nurture business activity in their local area.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the congress, ICC Chairman Marcus Wallenburg said: “ The International Chamber of Commerce is well-known as a representative of business everywhere, and the chamber community is a vital link to the network of small and medium-sized enterprises around the world. These companies are the lifeblood of all economies, in developed and developing countries alike. The future of the global economy depends on them. ” Mr Wallenberg is also the Chairman of the Swedish banking group SEB.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated the congress with a speech stressing the importance of humanitarian values, peace and stability to continued economic development in Turkey and the rest of the world.

“When part of the world is living in richness and the other part is living in poverty this is a tragedy. Bridging this gap is the great challenge of our time,” said Mr Erdogan.

Rona Yircali, Chair of the World Chambers Federation, also addressed the congress during the opening ceremony, underscoring WCF’s commitment to driving growth and expansion of chambers around the world. “We are the backbone of the chamber community, providing support and facilitating exchange among our members and beyond,” Mr Yircali said.

The event is well-timed for Turkey, a country that has made great strides in the 21st century in reforming its economy, boosting economic growth and attracting foreign direct investment. With its strategic geographic position straddling two continents, Turkey is poised to serve as a bridge between the economies to the east and to the west.