• Anwar Zibaoui
  • General Coordinator, ASCAME

By Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME. Translated from Catalan to English. Originally published in El Nacional.

In recent years, the duty and raison d’être of chambers of commerce and industry has been questioned a lot. In several countries, their role has been reduced to mere business clubs, ignoring their potential weight on economic development.

For more than a century, chambers of commerce have been a key driver in the development of millions of businesses, working with governments and institutions to find solutions to local and global challenges and supporting the private sector.

Chambers promote the openness of international trade and investment, as well as the market economy. Due to their international and cross-sector nature, they have the advantage of speaking with the authority that emanates from companies in all sectors and around the world. They are the necessary actors to play a key role as institutions responsible for promoting economic activity and fostering cooperation between entrepreneurs and economic agents.

Today, companies operate in a new business environment: volatile, technological and in which innovation and adaptation are key. The business structure, the workforce, the products or the customer are constantly changing and new solutions are needed. Chambers are in a unique position to help, take advantage of opportunities and unite synergies.

Internationalisation and globalisation are great challenges, but so is the regionalisation of sectors that benefit from geographic proximity and economic complementarity. In an evolving business environment, chambers provide voluntary rules, guidelines and codes designed to facilitate flows, balance cross-border transactions and help governments manage global developments collaboratively. Chambers not only protect the interests of their members, but their work benefits the local, national and global economy as a whole, thereby furthering the Sustainable Development Goals and helping to ensure global peace and prosperity.

Chambers of commerce exist as part of a thick network and this is the basis for their reach: they represent all business sectors, whether it is at a global scale via the International Chamber of Commerce or at a regional level, especially in Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean, Ibero-America or Asia Pacific. In this sense, the regional associations of chambers of commerce, such as ASCAME or Eurochambers, are a first-rate cooperation instrument.

Over the years, chambers have evolved, and they must continue to do so in order to adapt and achieve progress. Their role is also key to facilitate cooperation between the public and private sectors. After all, great goals can be achieved when efforts are joined. We saw it in Barcelona: in the Olympics, La Fira or Turisme de Barcelona. Certain aspects of this successful system can easily be adapted in other chambers of commerce and cities around the world.

By working together, sharing knowledge and using combined experience, chambers of commerce can achieve common goals, improve the competitiveness of their members, and advance businesses in future-oriented strategies that pave the way for sustainable global growth. Economic growth, fair work, partnerships to achieve goals and progress are the way.

Therefore, chambers must realign the services they provide to their members, in order to be effective business advocates in an era marked by disruptive transformations related to energy, digitalisation and demographic trends. In other words, chambers must reformulate their role in a world that is changing irrevocably and commit to designing programs to help companies chart an appropriate course for a new economy. In this sense, it will be necessary to cultivate a business ecosystem that supports small and medium-sized businesses; that fosters environmental, social and governance principles as key drivers of business in the future; and that helps companies in their path towards achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Shaping the future of chambers requires concerted efforts and a unified vision. The role of chambers today is even more important than ever. Businesses are facing big challenges and need to continuously innovate to survive, which means that chambers also need to adapt their services to help businesses meet these new demands. They are uniquely positioned to shape solutions, enable the development of the private sector and help emerging economies achieve growth and seize opportunities around the world. Chambers still have relevance in smoothing the way for businesses to thrive.