Opening Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Peter David at the 22nd Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).
Your Excellency Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of the Caribbean Community,
Colleague Ministers for Foreign Affairs,
Fellow Members of the Cabinet of Grenada,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Permanent Secretaries and other Senior Government Officials,
Specially invited guests,
Members of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A warm welcome to you all, and in particular, a warm welcome to my fellow Foreign Ministers, His Excellency Irwin LaRocque and his team to the Isle of Spice, Grenada. I am sure that this is not the first time that many of you have visited. As I recall, the last COFCOR hosted by Grenada was in 2006, and Grenada was also host to the Conference of Heads in July of 2017.
This time I urge you to take a few brief moments aside from our intense deliberations to savour Pure Grenada, the Spice of the Caribbean, and the beauty it has to offer. I trust that the arrangements made have been sufficiently accommodating and that you take with you pleasant memories of the brief period spent here in St. George.
I take the opportunity to extend congratulations to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and Hon. Darren A Henfield for a job well done as outgoing Chair of COFCOR. You presided over a very challenging period that has witnessed escalating regional political and social tensions and adverse security concerns and demanded prescient analyses and prudent decision-making. Grenada assumes the mantle and will work assiduously to ensure that gains are cemented, that the fundamental principles of the Community are espoused in all undertakings, and that we coordinate all policy efforts to the benefit of all Community Member States and to ensure that the Region remains a Zone of Peace through meaningful dialogue.
Colleagues, we are meeting together in St George’s over the next few days at a crucial time as our resolve and consistency to our collective national interests and to the tenets of international law and diplomacy are being tested.
We can indeed say that Caricom has a proud history that has been defined by one phrase in a speech given by late Barbados Prime Minister Errol Walton Barrow to the United Nations 57 years ago next month.
He declared then, and it is aptly relevant now that – we are friends of all and satellite of none.
It is against this background – and this context that we meet – to discuss not just continued relations and arrangements between ourselves, but also to strategise on some of the urgent matters of the day.
One of those is the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela that has severely tested our long-held policy of non-interference, and also our own desires for the Caribbean to remain a zone of peace.
We must seek to explore here, how, even we as small nations, must resist the pressures of the strong, which through arbitrary and wrong interpretations of international law, could move outside of the boundaries of the United Nations.
For in dealing with such matters, it is not safe to regard who is involved, but the dangerous precedent it can set, should we conveniently ignore the process through the United Nations, to which we all subscribe.
In this regard, we recall the January 2019 Meeting between the Community and the United Nations Secretary-General which was part of our concerted effort to seek resolution on the
crisis in Venezuela; we also recall our support for the rule of law and the requisite of dialogue for peaceful resolution whilst maintaining our adverse perception and non-acceptance of the threat or use of force.
Even as individually sovereign states, we must seek to act together on many of these matters, for in doing so, it helps protect the very sovereignty we so want to guard.
We are at a juncture when the dynamism and versatility of the external environment is cause for the re-examination of commitments and reassessment of objectives and achievements as we seek to attain and consolidate our development goals.
We must seek the consolidation of relations with our traditional partners and the forging of new alliances which offer beneficial possibilities to regional development undertakings.
We need to ensure that our arrangement through the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) and the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) is maximised; that the thrust towards extension is realised. At the same time, cognisant of the importance of services to our economies, emphasis must be placed on its inclusion in new and expansive arrangements. Over 70% of Grenada’s GDP is in Services, particularly the Tourism and Education sectors with the former generating significant employment. No doubt this reflects the situation in a number of Caricom’s lesser developed Member States.
Cooperation on matters of mutual concern beneficial to the Region must also critically address issues of transportation, energy security, governance, resilience and energy alternative initiatives.
In this regard, we welcome engagement with the United States through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). To complement this, we must continue to render support towards resolving the problem of exorbitant energy costs within the Region.
We welcome the Caribbean Energy Resilience initiative and anticipate positive developments in devising best practices through revised regulatory policies and the pursuance of renewable initiatives. This will render complementarity to the work of ECERA within the Eastern Caribbean and by extension, to the wider Caricom region.
The issue of intra-regional transport is one that has been a challenge for as long as this regional body has existed. Its biggest manifestation is in the continued precarious state of one of our main regional airlines LIAT.
The service LIAT offers is crucial to regional integration and our overall economic development. While we accept that there is an urgent need for overhaul to ensure its survival, we must also come to the table with the understanding that it is too important to fail.
These are the guiding realities that influenced the Government of Grenada to recently become a shareholder government. Grenada considers it important and necessary to have a formal seat at the table to help influence the drive for LIAT become a more viable regional transport system.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When we refer to the consolidation of relations with our traditional partners we are particularly concerned over post Brexit, and Caribbean-UK, Caribbean-EU relations. Without question, Brexit will affect the Caribbean’s relations with the UK, and, with the EU.
Statistics indicate that a significant percentage, approximately 21-23%, of Caribbean goods exported to the EU is destined for the UK. Exports to the EU in 2015 has been put at approximately US $3.1 billion worth of goods of which US $718 million went to the UK.
It is particularly difficult to predict trading arrangements with the UK following Brexit as there is no insight as to whether a deal would be struck or whether there will be an impasse and no deal.
Of principal concern is access to the European Development Fund (EDF) which has funded many cooperation development programmes in the areas of economic, human and social development and which has been used by the UK to champion the interests of Caricom Member States. Likewise, of paramount importance is the provision of comparable assistance post Brexit, and the reassessment of continued classification of our member states as High and Middle Income Countries that deprive many Caribbean countries from qualifying for development assistance.
We, however, welcome the reopening of British High Commissions in some of our Member States and anticipate the commencement of a new and beneficial chapter of consolidation in our traditional relationship with the United Kingdom. Indeed, Grenada and the rest of Caricom remain committed to consolidating our bonds with our traditional partners.
Also problematic is the unilateral and unfair blacklisting that originated in December 2017 with the EU’s listing of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. Despite reforms, dialogue and advocacy, a number of Caribbean countries remain subjected to sustained negative scrutiny.
The Community requires a re-examination of strategy and consolidation of approach in seeking to alleviate the situation; and particularly in the face of proposed tax governance scrutiny by the EU.
In this regard, we thank our friends and allies within the EU who have advocated on our behalf on this issue which threatens our very survival.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to pause here and remind you of the devastation wrought on a number of our Caricom Member States by natural disasters just shy of 2 years ago. This has been a major cause for concern.
Our collaborative efforts must extend to ensuring the provision of adequate financing to assist vulnerable countries like ourselves in adapting to Climate Change. To complement this, implementation of the Paris Agreement and more ambitious revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are vital towards efforts aimed at mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Caricom Caucus of Ambassadors in New York has advised that the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, to be held during the upcoming General Assembly Session, will promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement and seek to motivate countries to revise and update their NDCs.
We should strive to ensure that our voices are heard at this Climate Action Summit and that outcomes adequately address the challenges we face.
While I reiterate and underscore the importance of consolidation of relations in our regional development undertakings, I also underscore our multilateral and hemispheric performance. As Members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN), as part of the global community of nations, we must continue to heighten our viability and establish visible niches while seeking to ensure sustainability.
The upcoming July meeting between Caricom and the UN System offers a unique foundation for addressing issues pertaining to the sustainable development of the Region, the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the challenges derived from their pending implementation. It also offers the Region a platform upon which functional cooperation may be further advanced. Caricom Members are urged to use the opportunity presented to promote strategic collaboration on our common challenges.
Likewise, the upcoming OAS General Assembly’s focus on Innovating to Strengthen Hemispheric Multilateralism is particularly timely and should provide a platform focused on ensuring the voicing of concerns. Caricom needs to prioritise interests and pursue these collectively, particularly in respect of its development agenda. And, most importantly, the Region should give due consideration at this juncture to contesting the post of Secretary-General.
In closing, I take the opportunity to again extend congratulations to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas for its work as outgoing Chair of COFCOR.
Over the next two days, as I stated earlier, our discussions would be focused on re-examination of commitments, the coining of new commitments, and, reassessment of objectives and achievements as we seek to attain and consolidate our development goals.
I welcome my colleagues to Grenada and look forward to fruitful deliberations.
I thank you.