Anthony Parkes, Director, International Chamber of Commerce and World Chambers Federation
By Eric Wright
Nothing inspires innovation like international commerce. Our English word “phonics” is a tribute to the inventors of the phonetic alphabet, the Phoenicians. They developed this quantum leap in communication because they were a maritime, mercantile culture, where written communication was essential to their economic survival. It was one of many innovations that have profilarated around the world through commerce. In the digital age, the same dynamics spread advances and enhance’s quality of life. Anthony Parkes, of the International Chamber of Commerce and World Chambers Federation (ICC WCF), is an ambassador of the progress that nations make because of cooperation through commerce. A native of Australia he now resides in Paris, the headquarters of the ICC WCF.
EW: Explain the mission and purposes of the International Chamber of Commerce.
AP: The International Chamber of Commerce is the world’s business organization. Its membership is primarily made up of businesses, but also includes leading chambers of commerce and business associations. Created just after WWI, in 1919, its underlying philosophy is that businesses are merchants of peace.
Chambers play a vital part of the ICC; in addition to sharing an identity with ICC as “the voice of business,” many of ICC’s overseas offices are naturally located in chambers. ICC is the leading interlocutor for all international business affairs; whether it’s at the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Customs Organization or the G20, ICC is seen as the voice of the world businesses community. ICC also writes the rules that help business do business – from establishing the famous Incoterms [International Commercial Terms], to providing model contracts – in essence, its work focuses on cross border matters.
EW: The World Chambers Federation (WCF)?
AP: Chambers have been around for more than 400 years and over the centuries, began to collaborate regionally, nationally, transnationally and then internationally. Many were actively part of ICC’s creation in 1919, and in the establishment of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, one of ICC’s key pillars, in 1923. Following a global meeting of chambers of commerce in Rome in 1950, a request for a world body for chambers of commerce was requested and ICC lent its support to assist.
The WCF was born, under a different name at the time, ‘International Bureau of Chambers of Commerce’. Its role is to strengthen and reinforce the concept of chambers, along with their operations and services, and to better network together. Wherever there is business, there is a chamber of commerce. Hence, they are found in nearly every country and territory worldwide.
EW: How did you become involved with the organization?
AP: After several years working in the retail and education sector, I was hired by the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Brisbane Australia as a research officer. My job quickly evolved to become responsible for the development and delivery of a range of trade and commercial services for our member companies, primarily SMEs [Small and Medium Enterprises].
How I got to Paris was a more exciting chapter of my life. I was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to undertake an immersion program, studying in depth chambers across Europe, to look at how our system in Australia could improve. As a member of ICC Australia, I paid a visit to ICC Headquarters and met with the ICC and WCF team. I shared with them the exciting work I was doing, and whilst I was at the end of my fellowship, and spending time at the London Chamber of Commerce, I received a call from Paris asking me to come and speak with them about an opportunity.
The opportunity was to work on the development of new services for the chamber network. It was an offer too good to refuse and the Australian chamber movement encouraged me to stay at the ICC, and bring a little bit of “down under” into the way they do things. Initially I was to be here for two years for the project; time has passed so quickly that it’s nearly 18 years since I came, continuing to develop new and relevant services for the chambers
EW: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?
AP: Though the chamber name is well known, there is often a misconception about it being a business organization and not a government agency. Though chamber regimes may differ from country to country, their role in helping business remains the same. However, their structures and the way they operate may differ.
EW: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
AP: Working with individuals who are so committed to what chambers do and the vital role they play to help their communities grow and thrive. When chambers from so many countries get together, despite the differences in languages, culture and economies, they recognize immediately that they all undertake the same mission of helping business and communities create jobs and prosperity. Helping a chamber connect to another in finding a solution to developing a new service or helping a member go international is most satisfying. It’s a unique industry to be in.
EW: Business (trade, commerce) like no other sphere, has been bringing people together since before man was even considered civilized. How have you seen it shrink the world and bring people together?
AP: Technology and travel has seen us become more connected, more mobile, and as such learn more quickly about new opportunities and seize them. Chambers were born from trade points around the world, as commerce expanded by sea, rail and road. Though we speak about globalization, it is really about how, more than ever, a local company in one country can be part of a supply chain with another country, either a neighboring country or in another continent.
Though borders may still exist, human needs for products and services don’t see borders as a challenge. We see a great increase in young people’s mobility, so this will continue to be an interesting time of business change. Chambers thus have an important role to play in helping this transition and encouraging governments and regulatory institutions to keep up with society.
EW: Explain the significance of the World Chambers Congress, and what the impact is on both attendees and the host sites.
AP: The Congress is the only global event which brings chambers of commerce together to speak about their roles and activities in their communities, as well as the challenges they face. The event gives WCF valuable insight into their common issues to see how we can find global solutions/approaches to fulfill their organizational needs.
Though there are many business conferences run by chambers, this event focuses on these issues, and how chambers are and can make a difference. From whether it’s sharing how a chamber in one community is dealing with migration, to another on their action program following devastating floods, to learning together on the major changes that will impact business tomorrow and their responsibility in ensuring its negative impacts are minimized. The Congress fulfills the need of ensuring chambers remain relevant in the 21st century.
For the host sites, it’s a wonderful and rewarding occasion to show their chamber is a world class chamber, and hosting what I call, ‘the family reunion.’ It reinforces the concept of the vital role of chambers towards business, government and the community.
EW: What was your impression of the Orlando region and its position as the 2019 host site, and what are the key factors in landing the Congress?
The Orlando region has, without a doubt, a lot to offer to Congress delegates. As one of the world’s premier tourist destinations, Orlando knows how to welcome visitors. But the city is also one of the busiest American cities for conferences and conventions and has all the facilities to make a successful event.
What I particularly noticed during my visit is the great support from all the community, across the region, for the Chamber, which is very important for its bid, and also the professionalism of all the different stakeholders involved.
One of the key criteria to co-organize the ICC WCF World Chambers Congress is to demonstrate the candidate’s capacity in moving forward the Congress’ values: “Network, Knowledge, Know-how” through a true and local experience.