Published On: Tue, May 20th, 2014

Remarks by the Honourable Carolyn Rodrigues – Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guyana and Chair of COFCOR

Carolyn-Rodrigues-Birkett

CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana - Remarks by the Honourable Carolyn Rodrigues – Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guyana and Chair of COFCOR at the Opening Ceremony of the Seventeenth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), Guyana International Conference Centre May 20, 2014.

It is a real pleasure for me to welcome you all this morning to the opening ceremony of the 17th Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations of CARICOM.  As I welcome our visitors to Guyana, I do so not only on my own behalf, but also on behalf of His Excellency President Donald Ramotar and the people of Guyana.  For our Special Guests who are visiting for the first time, even though your visit with us will be short, I hope that you would find it an enjoyable and a rewarding experience.  We are indeed honoured to host you all.

On behalf of my Colleagues, I would like to express our deep appreciation to Minister Winston Dookeran, for his expert stewardship of the Council during the past year. As I start my tenure, it is an aspiration of no mean order but I would endeavor to maintain the cool temperament and mild manner that Minister Dookeran brought along with his expertise. 

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our meeting comes at a time when the Caribbean Community is undertaking an introspection of how we can strengthen the systems and processes of our integration movement.  Key to this development is a Strategic Plan (which Secretary General LaRocque has referred to) that will address the areas to which the Community should give priority as it seeks to maximize its human and financial resources.

At the level of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, we have had to be aware and ready to respond to changes on the international scene that would consequently require a repositioning of our policies.  This has therefore been a central theme in several of our meetings.  Today, Guyana is the venue where our focus will be on the conduct of the Region’s foreign policy in a changing global environment. I am indeed looking forward to our own introspection, at the end of which I hope we will arrive at clear and practical actions that would reflect our adaptation in a rapidly changing world, and more importantly an approach that would lead to even greater coordination.

Remaining seized on the Climate Change issue

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year 2014 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This year is also significant in that the international community must be nimble so as to advance the climate change negotiating process to meet the 2015 deadline for a global agreement on climate change.  Needless to say we have in the Region, continued to advocate that climate change represents the greatest challenge to our planet and moreso for this Region of small-island and low lying coastal states where it is an existential issue. It is therefore in our interest to participate in the important upcoming meetings including those convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa and the UN Climate Change Summit in New York, both to be held in September, in order that our coordinated positions are advanced. We must do so even as we continue to build partnerships and seek support from our allies and friends.

Post 2015 Agenda and Financing for Development

This year is also the year when substantial work on the Post 2015 Development Agenda is being advanced. In the pursuit of an ambitious and transformative post-2015 development agenda, the means for implementation of that agenda must be considered in tandem. We therefore welcome the convening by the United Nations of a third international conference on financing for development and look forward to the announcement of the date and scope of the conference. As co-facilitator with Norway, Guyana will do its best to represent the CARICOM position by advocating that the financing for development process must contribute to the effective mobilisation of resources from all sources, public and private, domestic and international and to the creation of an enabling global policy environment for the realisation of our development objectives. For CARICOM, a key imperative is the building of resilience: resilience to climate change and environmental risk; and resilience to external economic shocks. CARICOM needs to remain fully engaged and to ensure that our priorities are duly reflected in the relevant outcomes.

Graduation and Debt

While many of us have recorded admirable performances with respect to some of the MDGs and we continue striving to achieve sustained economic and social development, some of our Member States are constrained by high levels of debt and graduation from concessional financing and development aid, based on an arbitrary categorization of our small developing states as upper middle income countries using GDP per capita.  We will continue to advocate for the international financial institutions and the various world decision making bodies to review this unacceptable categorisation by adding certain vulnerability indices in order that a true picture of our economies is reflected.

Security Council Reform

Under the Presidency of Ambassador John Ashe of the current session of the UN General Assembly, CARICOM was fully supportive of the new round which he initiated to bring new impetus to the negotiations for Security Council reform.  Notwithstanding the tendency to lean towards pessimism due to what appears to be a never ending process, we have no choice but to remain fully engaged in this process upholding our position that the interests of small developing states must be appropriately considered.

The Organisation of American States

In a few weeks’ time we will meet at the OAS General Assembly in Paraguay.  The OAS remains a critical hemispheric institution and in this regard we will pay very keen attention to the development of a new strategic vision for this body which will be one of the main elements of the General Assembly’s discussions.

Trade

Our foreign trade agenda is a top priority and central plank in our region's foreign policy. Several areas of great concern have arisen and require our urgent and focused attention.

The current arrangements with traditional trading partners have presented us with serious challenges relating to reciprocity, stringent conditionalities of reduced development support and growing non-tariff barriers.

Our member states, at varying levels, continue to make the dedicated effort to implement the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe.  This, as we are finding out, is a demanding task for our small developing economies in the region. Never mind that the Caribbean remained on course as the only ACP sub-region to successfully conclude the negotiation with Europe on schedule in 2007 and the only one to so do to date. No sooner was the ink dried that we find ourselves being graduated to “more developed country’’ status to lose access to much needed development resources.  And the market access under the EPA is faced with many hurdles for our fledgling business communities including tedious visa requirements.

With respect to our current negotiations with Canada for a Trade and Development Agreement, the region has shown immense flexibility and remains committed to achieving a successful conclusion.

It is true that for most of our member states and for the region as a whole, the United States is still our largest trading partner in terms of value and volume of trade.   However, we cannot assume that the current arrangements will remain sufficient and resilient. We have to engage and pursue initiatives to improve trade, including through the maximum use of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Ongoing issues

Undoubtedly we remain seized of the developments unfolding in the Middle East, Syria and the Ukraine and will be discussing these.

Interaction with third States

We have sought to strengthen our relations with our traditional partners, and have equally pursued the cultivation of new alliances.  It is in this context that we welcome our interaction during this meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Ecuador, New Zealand and Spain with the aim of expanding our dialogue and cooperation.  Indeed their presence amongst us demonstrates the shared importance of our relations.

Joint Representation

We have been tasked by our Heads of Government to address the issue of joint diplomatic representation – an issue that had once been perennial on our agenda but one that we must now again confront with renewed fervor.  If developed countries – with much more human and financial resources than we have – can pursue with each other shared space of diplomatic premises or, as in the case of the Pacific Alliance countries, establish measures in the area of consular assistance to benefit their nationals, then our small Community of nations must recognize the merit of adopting either these or similar options and of course we will be examining this in detail.

Community Relations

While I have sought to reflect on the more significant aspects of our foreign policy, I am mindful that as a Council we are charged also with Community relations.  I am convinced that this Community can grow stronger if we are able to deepen the relations between and among our Member States and with non-State actors as well who no doubt have a stake in the Region’s development.  We must encourage more functional cooperation and look inwards to develop synergies.  Guyana and Barbados resuscitated their Joint Commission Mechanism and last October my Colleague Minister McLean and I had very substantial discussions here which led to agreement for cooperation in several areas including tourism, an industry in which Barbados has a wealth of experience and one which Guyana is trying to grow.  Guyana is also collaborating with Suriname in several areas and also with Trinidad and Tobago. We now have students from St.Vincent and the Grenadines at the Guyana School of Agriculture and very soon we are expected to have some from Belize.  We must take advantage of each other’s strengths in this collective for the mutual benefit of our peoples.  This can only lead to a more integrated Region with a renewed confidence of our people in its relevance and worth.

Foreign Policy Coordination

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, the issue of foreign policy coordination has endured its fair share of criticism from within our respective borders and from those who seek the creation of a stronger, more interdependent community of our nation states.  Yet it must be clear that coordination is not necessarily unanimity of positions even though one may question what was the objective in the first instance if this is the case. It is my firm belief that while there will be instances when we will have divergent positions for more reasons than one, we must continue our efforts to maximize our 14 voices and 14 votes.  We must be prepared at times, to sacrifice short term individual gains in order for the overall region to benefit on the longer term. My own assessment is that while we have much more to do, we have come a far way.  We have presented common positions on key foreign policy issues such as climate change, on the issue of differentiation and graduation, Security Council Reform, issues relating to Small Island Developing States, the Advance Passenger Duty and security. We have also led the effort in securing an Arms Trade Treaty always with a united front. The fact, that we have seen an increase in the number of Governments wanting to dialogue with us as a group, demonstrates not only that they see us as a group but also that our united positions have not gone unnoticed. I must pay tribute to our CARICOM Ambassadors for their role in advancing the consensus positions of the Region.

In all of this we are well aware that a diplomat’s job today is very much different to the past, and I dare say more complex. The information revolution has brought with it not only quite lot of information but the need for speed in analysis, coordination and reaction, and yes the need to be versed in blackberry diplomacy and idiplomacy. The strict bureaucracy that characterised Foreign Ministries has been dismantled to a large extent.   Diplomacy is no longer the sole domain of Governments. Today we see an increasing number of influential non-state actors and therefore the imperative for engagement is reinforced.  In this regard, we are happy to have Dr Mark Kirton, Professor Vaughn Lewis and Dr Justin Ram who will be joining us for the retreat to share with us their perspectives on CARICOM in this changing global environment.

Technology and a dynamic environment notwithstanding, what should not be in any doubt is our commitment both as individual States and as Member States of the Caribbean Community to uphold those basic, fundamental principles that are essential to the peaceful and ordered development of States within our Community, as well as the international community of nations of which we are an integral part. Among these principles are the commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes, to an unswerving respect for international law and a commitment to ensuring the unhindered right to development within national boundaries.

As a Community we become stronger the more we act in solidarity with these principles. That strength and that solidarity will undoubtedly make a considerable impact within the international community and enhance our own stature to a level that belies our physical size.

I cannot conclude my remarks without expressing my appreciation to the Secretary General and his staff, particularly Assistant Secretary General Colin Granderson and those of the Foreign and Community Relations Directorate for their hard work.

While their task of ensuring a successful COFCOR is not yet over, I want to also express my deepest appreciation to my own staff for their dedication and commitment.

It is an honour for me to assume the Chairmanship of COFCOR.

I thank you.

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