AROUND 1,000 co-operators from 60 countries have gathered in Oslo for the International Co-operative Alliance General Assembly.
The plenary meetings start on Wednesday 3rd September with the official opening ceremony at the Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel. The Norwegian Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, has accepted an invitation to address the General Assembly.
There will also be speeches by the ICA President, Ivano Barberini, from the Italian co-operative movement; Steinar Dvergsdal, President of the Norwegian Organising Committee and a video message from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mr Barberini, ICA President, said: "It promises to be an excellent event, which will emphasise Norway's commitment to co-operation.
"The detailed programme will enable discussions to be held on the role and contribution of co-operatives to democratic, social and economic development in all regions and throughout the world.
"We need to raise the profile of co-operative globalisation and show how co-operation provides a solution to many of the world's problems."
Chief Co-ordinator May Woldsnes added: "Russia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, India and Italy will be represented by large delegations, while smaller groups are coming from Botswana Burkina Faso, Kuwait, Mauritius and Vietnam."
As well as Norway's Prime Minister opening the conference other politicians will speak at plenary sessions.
Minister of International Development Hilde Frafjord Johnson will talk about the advantages of the co-op model in development co-operation while Minister of Agriculture Lars Sponheim will speak to the ICA Agricultural Committee about the World Trade Organisation negotiations and their consequences for farmers.
Juan Somavia, Director General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has agreed to be one of the speakers at the plenary session.
Norwegian co-ops are best known in the grocery trade, housing and agriculture ? around 1.8 million people (a third of Norway's population) are members of one or more co-op. The Norwegian Federation of Co-operative Housing Associations represents 4,300 housing co-ops with 260,000 dwellings.
Coop NKL has about a quarter of the Norwegian groceries market while agricultural co-ops Tine, Gilde and Prior are among the most trusted brands in Norway.
Despite the large membership and market share the co-operative model is a relatively unknown form of business in Norway.
Ms Woldsnes commented: "We want to use the world congress to make the co-operative better known as an organisational and commercial form in Norway ? as a supplement to joint-stock companies and personally owned companies."