Published On: Tue, May 14th, 2013

CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana – Opening Remarks by Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

SIXTEENTH MEETING OF THE COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN AND COMMUNITY RELATIONS (COFCOR)

 

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

13 May 2013

larocque1I have the honour and distinct pleasure to welcome you to this the Sixteenth Meeting of the Council of Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).

I wish to extend a special welcome to the new members of this important Organ of the Community – the Honourable Nickolas Steele, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Business of Grenada and the Honourable Patrice Nisbett, Minister of Foreign Affairs of St. Kitts and Nevis.  A special welcome is also extended to the Honourable Winston Dookeran, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, and new Chair of the COFCOR.

This year, 2013, marks 40 years of the Caribbean Community.  Even as the Community takes the opportunity to celebrate its remarkable achievements and milestones to date, it is well aware that it is also evolving and the landscape in which we operate has changed, requiring a new modus operandi.  Therefore, CARICOM is engaged in a period of profound introspection and constructive self-criticism which should lead to creative problem-solving.  Over the past two years, CARICOM Heads of Government have led the process of reviewing the Community’s strategies and policies to ensure successful navigation, in order to emerge stronger out of this period of change, challenge and opportunity.

The era of transition in which the Region finds itself is taking place also within the context of a dynamic and rapidly changing global environment. This is characterised by globalization and its practical effects; major shifts in the balance of power; the management of shared problems in an increasingly interdependent world; balancing the often-competing forces of globalization and regionalization. These present formidable challenges, especially for small states.  These transformative changes at the international and hemispheric level, influence or shape our economic and trade policies, our human and social development agenda, our regional security initiatives and our resource mobilization efforts.  These all inevitably impinge on the formulation and coordination of the Community’s foreign policy.

Since the COFCOR last met, the severity of the global financial and economic crisis would have diminished in some parts of the world but not for all small states, including the highly indebted countries, labelled as middle income of the Community.  Indeed, in a report entitled “Caribbean Small States: Challenges of High Debt and Low Growth” published in February 2013, the IMF states that, to varying degrees, and with some exceptions, Caribbean small states are facing extreme versions of the problems faced generally by small states – low growth, high debt, significant vulnerabilities to natural disasters and low resilience to shocks.

The slow recovery from the financial and economic crisis, as well as the added burden of graduation, and its close relative differentiation, and their resulting decrease in access to concessionary financing; the deleterious effects of climate change and the lack of adequate access to mitigation and adaptation financing; the continued challenges to citizen security, have all challenged forty years of socio-economic development as a Caribbean Community.

In addition to efforts at the national level, CARICOM has responded to these economic and financial challenges by continuing to lobby international financial institutions as well as seeking the support of those external partners sympathetic to the peculiarities and vulnerabilities of our challenges as small states. We have requested them to articulate these concerns on our behalf in international decision-making fora in which the Community does not now have a voice, the G8 and G20.  After substantial lobbying in this regard, some progress has been made.  The IMF, for example, has started paying greater attention to the special macroeconomic issues facing Small States and their implications for Fund engagement.

One of the more recent issues to be grappled with – another notable outcome of an international economy whose dynamism has been diminished – is developed countries’ on-going review of their revenue base as well as a scrutinising of their development cooperation with Third States.  The introduction of offsetting austerity measures such as the Air Passenger Duty; the unilateral imposition of stringent compliance requirements on the grounds of curtailing perceived tax evasion that will further undermine the financial services sector of the Community; and the decrease in overseas development assistance, are all further measures put in place by developed countries which have added to the crushing burden of the global and economic crisis on the Member States of the Community.

Given these profound and disruptive changes, the Caribbean Community must remain alert, proactive and responsive as it confronts the shifting priorities of the world’s dominant players, including our traditional partners.  So, what are our strengths, as a Region, as we face this sometimes daunting global scenario?

Survival in the current global environment demands a commonality of ambition and vision, as well as a deep level of coordination to ensure the strategic positioning of the Community in the hemispheric and global arena.  Such foreign policy coordination is one of the four pillars on which this Community rests and an important weapon in the diplomatic arsenal of our Member States.  The Community’s track record of a coordinated approach to foreign policy issues and of speaking with one voice continues to earn the attention of the international community.  As a consequence, we are witnessing the increased interest of Third States in the Community to a large extent because of our cohesion as a regional grouping.  In addition to lobbying as a Community regarding the need for the appropriate responses to address the effects of the global economic and financial crisis,   CARICOM States have spoken recently at the level of the United Nations (UN), for example, with one voice regarding Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations and have seen positive results in this regard.  We must continue to coordinate at the regional level in preparation for the post-2015 Development Agenda and for the 2014 Global SIDS Conference – two issues of critical importance to the Community moving forward.

CARICOM must also continue to leverage this coordination even as we engage like-minded States and other regional and hemispheric groupings such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Group of African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP).  Our partners in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific have much to offer and indeed are filling a tangible void left by some of our more traditional partners.

Honourable Ministers, this leads to another strength of the Community in addressing this “new global order” – our ability to build on long-standing ties in order to forge stronger relations with emerging economies or like-minded States to assist in addressing global, regional and national problems. We are all well aware that the Region’s “development diplomacy”, as it is sometimes called, has seen Member States place increasing emphasis on external outreach to those countries, both industrialised and non-industrialised, which can assist in developing our resources, strengthening our economies  and expanding our market space.

Continuing to foster good relations with our International Development Partners is also essential. The Community has been well served by the on-going relations with our traditional partners, both bilateral and multilateral.  However, it is well understood that at this time when the Community is intensifying its efforts at meeting sustainable development goals, international development resources for the Region are becoming less easy to access and the continuing financial crisis compounds the situation.  It is therefore critical that efforts continue to be made to both deepen and broaden existing ties and to develop new relations beyond the traditional spheres.

The COFCOR is acutely aware that its role in these challenging times remains critical. Foreign Ministers have the extremely important responsibility to ensure that the interests of CARICOM are enduring and that  the Community’s Development Agenda is promoted, expanded and accelerated  by adapting to  the developments and changes that occur in the international system.

Accordingly, this Sixteenth Meeting of the COFCOR is expected to focus on a diverse range of issues which form part of the foreign policy positioning of the Community.  It provides an opportunity to adopt, adapt and to strategize on the policies and best practices suited for our Member States.  The COFCOR will also review our strategic bilateral relationships, our international development cooperation, preparations for 2013 and 2014 multilateral engagements and matters relating to community relations. I look forward to robust and rich debate on these important issues.

The COFCOR is also expected to engage several high-level representatives of Third States. In this regard, we are pleased to receive the Foreign Ministers of New Zealand and the Dominican Republic as well as the Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Special Envoy of the Government of Japan. The COFCOR’s engagements with these countries, with which we have varied relations, are indicative of the Community’s continuing efforts to deepen existing relations while simultaneously exploring new ones with like-minded States – all to the benefit of the citizens of the Community.

As I conclude, allow me to express warm appreciation to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the excellent arrangements made for this COFCOR.  This will certainly ensure that our Meeting takes place in an atmosphere conducive to advancing our Community’s foreign policy interests.

I Thank you.

 

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