Caricom llama a unidad ante grandes desafíos en 2020
La primera ministra de Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, destacó hoy que la Comunidad del Caribe (Caricom) enfrenta grandes desafíos en 2020 y convocó a sus líderes a actuar con unidad para lograr los sueños de la región.
Mottley en su condición de presidente de Caricom intervino en la apertura de la 31 Reunión entre sesiones de Jefes de Estado del bloque comunitario y en su discurso abordó temáticas de salud, economía, comercio, transporte y sobre las amenazas.
Sus primeras palabras fueron en agradecimiento para el primer ministro saliente de Caricom, Allen Chastanet de Santa Lucía, quién a su criterio mostró en los últimos seis meses pasión y compromiso en el enfrentamiento al cambio climático y la soberanía fiscal.
La anfitriona de la cumbre reflexionó en relación a la necesidad de perfeccionar la misión común y ‘reconocer que encontramos un mundo de desafíos, ejemplo de esos lo que sucede en la actualidad con el coronavirus, Covid-19’.
— Caribbean Community (CARICOM) (@CARICOMorg) February 18, 2020
En su alocución, pidió centrar los debates en los desafíos y en la respuestas en un momento urgente para la comunidad, pues manifestó que la familia viene ante de las ideologías y los pensamientos.
Resaltó la necesidad de enfrentar los retos globales con unidad y fortaleza, como la vía para tomar el control de los destinos de los pueblos caribeños.
‘Nos reunimos aquí porque somos familias, hermanos y hermanas, tenemos que determinar cómo avanzar y ser resilientes’, subrayó.
De acuerdo con la primera ministra barbadense, las naciones de Caricom deben crear negocios y apostar a la economía digital, la cual va más allá de precios, servicios e intereses.
En ese sentido, Mottley anunció que el bloque comunitario trabaja en un sistema de telecomunicaciones que propondrá una plataforma de recolección de datos del Caribe, que incluye las voces locales y regionales y con el tiempo ofrecerá mayores servicios.
Ante los líderes caribeños presentes en la Reunión, la primera ministra de Barbados señaló la urgencia de asegurar un transporte regional, costeable, que les permita a las personas del Caribe moverse y ser capaz de tener la logística para trasladar los bienes de los pueblos del área.
Igualmente, abordó el acceso a mayores fondos y concesiones, para que los más desposeídos puedan avanzar, así como atraer inversión y desarrollar la economía caribeña.
En la última parte del discurso, la presidente de Caricom reflexionó sobre las amenazas políticas y diplomáticas y afirmó que ‘nada puede separarnos y nadie se debe interponer entre nosotros’.
‘A pesar de los problemas en nuestra región y la comunidad global, recordemos que aquellos que lucharon, entendieron que con la unidad podemos lograr muchas cosas’, aseveró.
La 31 Reunión entre sesiones de Jefes de Estado de la comunidad sesionará hasta mañana en esta capital y en su agenda se incluye la propuesta de una Cumbre Africana de Caricom y el análisis de temas regionales como la delincuencia, la violencia y la seguridad.
A fixed single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals – CARICOM Chair
Community governance, a fixed single CARICOM roaming rate and a unified regional approach were among the key highlights of Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, when she addressed the opening of the Thirty-First Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference in Barbados, earlier on 18 February 2020.
On the issue of community governance, the Chair noted that “some self-examination” was in order. Her references included the under-resourced CARICOM Secretariat which she said was now functioning with 30 million Eastern Caribbean dollars less than it did 10 years ago and with 40 people less than it did 30 years ago”, despite increasing challenges and new mandates.
She questioned whether the “appropriate governance and funding models to ensure the sustainability of this `family movement’ that is so vital to our being able to bring prosperity to our citizens”, was in place.
She suggested a review of the 2003 Rose Hall Declaration and the entire issue of community governance with a view to finding a modality that would allow for more effective implementation of Heads decisions, particularly those related to the CARICOM Single Market and Single Economy.
Speaking on matters of the digital economy, the Chair reiterated the Community’s belief in this sector’s “powerful role in the development of our economies”. She used this opportunity to make a very well received (given audience reaction) announcement of ongoing work to provide a “a modest fixed single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals”, which she informed will be announced shortly.
“Our teams have been working with operators in the telecommunications sector across the Region and indeed, Prime Minister Mitchell, who is the lead prime minister in this area, has, along with the CSME team, worked with the operators to shortly announce a modest fixed single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals to cover the cost of data for popular social media platforms including, those that offer messaging and calls”, she said
“The rate will include an amount of local and regional voice calls, and over time this CARICOM rate will include more services. This is what it means to be family taking decisions”, she explained.
On the last issue of “family”, the Chair, throughout our presentation, reiterated the importance of a unified approach despite ideology, to surmount the ever present and changing global challenges before the Region.
‘We have to build a resilient Caribbean Community’- CARICOM Secretary-General
Madame Chair, Heads of Government, the scope of our Agenda illustrates the breadth of issues which we, as a Community, must address to further consolidate our integration and to position ourselves advantageously in an increasingly complex and challenging global arena. – CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque
Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
Honourable Allen Chastanet, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and Out-going Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
Other CARICOM Heads of Government and Heads of Delegation;
Honourable Francois-Phillipe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada;
Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of The Commonwealth;
Heads of Regional Institutions;
Representatives of the Private Sector, Labour, Civil Society and our Youth;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representatives of the Media;
People of the Caribbean Community.
I welcome you all, as we gather in Barbados for the Thirty-First Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government. As always, the Barbadian hospitality and efficiency have ensured both that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) family and our guests are well looked after, and arrangements for the conduct of the meeting are in good order. I am sure that all will join me in thanking the Government and People of Barbados, led by the Chairperson of the Caribbean Community, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley.
Prime Minister, welcome to the Chair and I look forward to continue working closely with you in advancing the goals of our integration process.
In the last six months of 2019, the Community and I have had the considerable benefit of guidance from the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Honourable Allen Chastanet, the Outgoing Chair. I thank you, Prime Minister, for the sterling efforts you have been making to promote and defend the Region’s interests, in particular, with respect to the need for funding to enhance our resilience, climate change and the challenges we face with blacklisting.
Also, your ready response, along with Prime Minister Mottley, to visit The Bahamas and demonstrate the Community’s support after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian was a significant display of your leadership.
I must welcome to the Conference of Heads of Government, for the first time, the Honourable Joseph Farrell, the Premier of Montserrat. Premier, congratulations on your victory at the polls and we look forward to your views on the issues confronting our integration movement.
Madame Chair, Heads of Government, the scope of our Agenda illustrates the breadth of issues which we, as a Community, must address to further consolidate our integration and to position ourselves advantageously in an increasingly complex and challenging global arena.
Whether it is the imperative of making significant progress with the Single Market and Economy; securing our financial sector; safeguarding our fiscal sovereignty; enhancing our technological capability and capacity; protecting the health and security of our people; expanding our foreign outreach – it is with one goal in mind. We have to build a resilient Caribbean Community.
To do so necessitates an all-inclusive approach that embraces the skills, talents and resources of the public and private sectors, labour, civil society, youth and indeed the entire society. It also requires co-operation and assistance from our friends in the International Community. These combined and co-ordinated efforts will serve us in good stead, as we strive to build that resilience to combat the challenges that we face, most particularly, the existential threat of climate change.
The decision by our Heads of Government to engage regularly with the private sector, labour and civil society is an indication of our determination to be more inclusive in our deliberations and to embed and all-society approach to our development efforts.
And today, we have included representatives of the CARICOM Youth Ambassador Corps.
How can we benefit from the CSME and successfully conduct trade negotiations with third countries without the involvement of the private sector and labour?
How can we maximise the use of technology for our development without the innovation and dynamism of the youth?
How can we combat the scourge of crime and violence without the input of ideas and actions from civil society?
And we all must do our part to stave off the epidemic of chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and the spread of the global viruses that threaten to engulf us.
The latest of these, the coronavirus, has been deadly, claiming more than a thousand lives globally so far and proving difficult to contain. There are no cases in CARICOM.
Although the World Health Organisation WHO has deemed the risk to the Caribbean to be low, we adopted a pro-active approach and convened an Emergency Meeting of the Ministers of Health on the virus, with participation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). The Regional Security System has also played a critical role in transporting samples for laboratory testing at CARPHA.
I must commend the collaboration that is taking place, as another example of the co-ordination that is required in addressing some of the challenges to our integration process and to have a positive sustained impact on the lives of our citizens.
The discussions over the next two days come against a background of global uncertainty, including the increasing threats to multilateralism, the spread of tensions and volatility arising from unresolved conflicts and the acceleration of the devastating effects of climate change.
These issues demand that we act collectively to overcome the hurdles that confront us. We face an increasingly hostile international environment which demands more than ever that we come together to secure and promote our interests as a Community.
I thank you.
‘We are family’ – Hon. Mia Mottley
Distinguished colleague Heads, the Secretary-General of CARICOM, the distinguished Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, distinguished Foreign Minister of Canada, the distinguished former Prime Minister of Ireland, the Heads of all of the regional institutions: CARPHA, Impacts, Caribbean Development Bank, University of the West Indies, CARICOM Development Fund, the Regional Security System, our distinguished representatives from the US E and our representatives from the Caribbean Private Sector Movement and the Caribbean Congress of Labour and above all else, the young people of the Caribbean as represented here by the school children of Barbados.
I want to, first of all, thank the outgoing chair of CARICOM, the Honourable Allen Chastanet, for his passion and commitment over the course of the last six months with respect in particular to the fight against the climate crisis and for the fiscal sovereignty challenges that he has continued to carry the baton for us, whether on either side of the Atlantic as it relates to the list that I would prefer not to refer to colour, because we don’t accept the notion of the list being any colour for us.
I’d like to thank also members of the CARICOM Secretariat, because the truth is, without the hard work being done by this Secretariat, we would not be in a position to be here this morning to address each other and to advance the cause of Caribbean people.
We have reached an interesting point in 2020, and it is said that 2020 is usually associated with perfecting a finer vision of ourselves. In this instance, we need not only to perfect a finer vision of ourselves, but to act to create that finer vision. And it is against this background that we meet here at Bridgetown, recognising that we face a world in which challenges continue to present themselves. When we left Castries in July last year, we had no clue that we would be facing a potential pandemic in the world with COVID-19. We didn’t have any idea that our ability to function as a single domestic space would be threatened by that development.
Equally, we didn’t realise that we would be able to rely on one of our regional institutions to be first the front-line protection and another regional institution to be the platform and bedrock upon which we can fight this virus. And what am I referring to?
The creation of the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security in 2006, followed by the Joint Regional Communications Center, was done initially to prepare us for Cricket World Cup 2007. But we understood then that its legacy and its enduring benefits would serve a Caribbean community for much longer. It is that agency that is able to track the movement of people, thereby putting our border security officials on notice as to where risk is likely to occur with people entering our countries. The ability for that agency to be linked in real time to Interpol, to the US Department of Homeland Security and to be able to have access to the travel histories of persons allows us to be able to make that determination at the level of our border security officials who we thank for being our frontline warriors in the protection of our people. At the same time, CARPHA, a relatively new regional institution as well, has proven its worth to us by being able to ensure that along with the Pan American Health Organization, a number of our countries are today now in a position to be able to test quickly for whether persons within our jurisdiction have been infected with this dangerous virus.
I start at this point because I want our Heads to focus on the challenge and the response. And I want us today to remember that “F” comes before “I” and that I mean, specifically that family comes before ideology. This is a critical, critical moment for us as a community to understand that whether the challenges be with respect to chronic NCDs, which is the insidious killer among too many of our people, or whether the challenge be the more talked about and definite existential crisis of climate affecting us, not just through hurricanes as it literally, literally has torn many of our countries apart from Dorian with Bahamas to Maria and Irma with Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands, and too many of our countries to mention, or whether it is violence that has genuinely become a public health disorder with a level of killings across our community that is unacceptable for any community, any part of the world, or whether it is the challenges to our fiscal sovereignty or whether it is the challenges to multilateralism that are taking and making aim at the integrity of our freedom of association are small groupings. We have to determine how best to confront these challenges.
I believe on behalf of the people of Barbados that there is always strength in unity. We have come from a movement across this region in the 1930s where we face common challenges and where our people, without the benefit of political organization or labour movements, found a way to respond and to be able to signal that we were prepared to take control of our destiny. I say to us today that if those who had no benefit or political organization and those who had no benefit of labour movements could find it possible to rise to the challenge to meet those challenges, which in some instances were far more devastating to the average citizen than these that we speak of today, that we ought to be able to find the resolve to understand that we meet here today, not because we share a common ideology, but we meet here today because we are family. We are kith and kin.
And whether it is at the level of countries or it is at the level of homes and communities, being kith and kin must stand for something. We will not always have sunny days. But it is when the days are cloudy that we determine how best to move forward with the character that defines us as being resilient and has been able to reach the mountaintop in spite of the valleys that we have to traverse on our way to the mountain top. I say so conscious that we have some self-examination to do as well. The CARICOM Secretariat, which keeps us together, is now functioning with 30 million Eastern Caribbean dollars less than it did 10 years ago. The CARICOM Secretariat is now functioning with 40 people less than it did 30 years ago.
But we demand more of them against the challenges that I identified at the outset of my speech. And we therefore need to ask ourselves whether we have the appropriate governance and funding models to ensure the sustainability of this family movement that is so vital to our being able to bring prosperity to our citizens. I ask us today whether the time has not come for us to recall the Rose Hall Declaration in Jamaica in 2003 that led to Prime Minister Gonzalves’s leading a prime ministerial subcommittee on the entire issue of governance within our community and our ability to be able to ensure effective execution and seamless implementation of decisions taken by Heads of government at this our highest decision making body within our community.
Indeed, I ask us to reflect on the parallel with our own sovereign entities. To have parliaments without an executive that is functioning is to have an idle exercise in frustration for our people. It simply could not work. And for us to believe that we can have a heads of government conference twice a year that will allow us to make decisions that have the force of law without the capacity to seamlessly execute is an idle exercise for us as well.
I therefore hope that we can summon the will within us to ask Prime Minister Gonzalves to dust off the papers and the technical working groups, and to come once again to us with a modality that can allow a more effective implementation of the decisions of heads of government, particularly as it relates to the CARICOM Single Market and Single Economy.
I am equally conscious that in life we have to be able to explain to people that in this modern world where everyone expects instantaneous action, that we are involved in activity that more often than not is about respect for process in order to attain the results that we want. It is against that background that we continue to labour in the vineyards of being able to create a more seamless opportunity for doing business and moving and living and enjoying this region for our people. We believe that our ability to have regional communication that is affordable and accessible is an absolute priority. It is against that background that we also recognize that the digital economy can play a new and powerful role in the development of our economies, period.
But power comes with responsibility.
Our teams have been working with operators in the telecommunications sector across the region and indeed, Prime Minister Mitchell, who is the lead prime minister in this area, has, along with the CSME team, worked with the operators to shortly announce a modest fixed single CARICOM roaming rate for all CARICOM nationals to cover the cost of data for popular social media platforms including those that offer messaging and calls. The rate will include an amount of local and regional voice calls, and over time this CARICOM rate will include more services. This is what it means to be family taking decisions. At Castries, we recognized and reflected that the roaming rates within this region are punitive and that in many instances people are bankrupted when they go from country to country because they have no idea as to what these roaming rates will present themselves to be.
Once we have reached agreement on the rate and service level, the operators will make the necessary technological changes and we have full expectation that the new fixed single CARICOM rate can go live in this year 2020. The appropriate regulation, however, of the digital economy extends beyond prices, services and taxes. Prime Minister Mitchell recognises this, as do other lead prime ministers for different areas that are affecting our society. Our people must therefore be safe from cyberbullying, from disinformation, from graphically violent language and images, from hate speech, from discriminatory and racial and xenophobic speech. Prime Minister Mitchell’s team shall be working with all of the other organisations within the region and the international community to ensure that we keep abreast of these developments.
Similarly, we have recognised that we need to be able to resolve the issue of transport and that is a work in progress. While all of the members of the Conference of Heads are not shareholders in LIAT, it is fair that is necessary for me to report that LIAT now has a new board with a renewed mandate to be able to ensure that regional affordable transportation is made available to Caribbean people. To run a country without transport is to condemn that country. Similarly, to run a Community without affordable transport is to condemn that community.
Indeed, we are conscious as we welcome the Honorable François Philip Champagne with us today, that he is here in the stead of his prime minister, who, because of similar reasons for blockade of transport, cannot be with us and we empathize with the people of Canada as they resolve this difficult challenge that they are facing this week.
We look forward, however, not just to be unable to resolve matters of air transport, but we also want to move aggressively towards the resolution of the maritime transport issues. The private sector who will be presenting to us later this morning on the production integration plans that we settled at Port of Spain in the St. Anne’s Declaration of December 2018 will have the opportunity to be able to reinforce that we need to have the logistics for the movement of our goods and our people in place if we are going to be successful with respect to expanding the economic pie of the region through their continued investment.
Similarly, the CSME and CARICOM depends on the ability to recognise that in a single market and a single economy, there will be winners and there will be losers. Those who had the precedence to settle the revised treaty of Chaguaramas understood this by the inclusion of Chapter 7 in that revised treaty. For those unaware, Chapter 7 establishes the CARICOM Development Fund that is intended to assist disadvantaged countries, disadvantaged sectors and disadvantaged regions. With the best will in the world, this fund cannot be sustained purely from the contributions of the more developed countries as they are known in the revised treaty of Chaguaramas.
It is against this background that I hope that this meeting will reflect and resolve on the best way to ensure that the CARICOM Development Fund is capable of better accessing funds both regionally and internationally, to ensure that those who may have been affected or been disadvantaged as a result of our commitment to come together can benefit by being able to have access to concessional funding that they would not otherwise have access to.
Indeed, the reality is, that we have discussed on so many occasions that there are over 50 billion US dollars in savings within this community, most of which are attracting no more than 0.1 percent, and we give the return on investment to foreign depositors when we pick up foreign loans but we are not finding a way to unlock the savings of Caribbean people, to finance the development of Caribbean people. We trust and pray that this conference will make appreciable progress in that regard this day and tomorrow.
I’d like to finally reflect on the threats once again as I close.
Threats are part of life, we take risks every day. Indeed, our grandparents taught us that nothing ventured, nothing gained. I hope and pray, particularly in the presence of these young people for whom we act today, but who will act for us tomorrow, that we take courage and recognize that it is in the interests of those who are not of this community to advance their own individual causes. The only people capable of defending our causes and our future and our development is us ourselves. We may not do it overnight. We may not do it in a year. We may not even do it in a decade, but if we recognize that this integration movement is one of the most successful integration movements that was established in the 20th century, we then better appreciate the responsibility that we have to care it, to nurture it and not allow for any kind of political or diplomatic embolism to threaten its existence.
I trust and pray that we come to this moment, therefore, conscious that as family, nothing can separate us and no one shall get in between us. It is against this background that we therefore recognize that it is principles that shall guide us always. And if we are faithful to those principles, then we shall always find a way home. Principles may be inconvenient, but they guarantee our protection and our integrity. I trust and pray, therefore, that in spite of the problems either of our region, within our community or outside of our region and community in our globe, global community, that we will remember that we stand here because those who fought in the 1930s and those who created the political institutions that flowed therefrom understood that without unity they could achieve nothing but with unity they could turn back the mighty hands of global empires who sought to suppress people for centuries.
Let us today pray that we hold on to those examples. And in holding on to those examples that we use the opportunity to bring along our brothers and sisters within the region conscious and I use know the words of that distinguished Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite, who has now gone to a different place and who we will officially bury on Friday. I can find no better way to end than to use his language of his great poetry, included in his 1999 “nine mesongs fe the new millennium”.
And I quote, “If you live on an island. Love it. Love it. Love it. But remember, no man is an island. And that no island belong to one man. Be always part of something larger than yourself. Something that will make you larger than yourself. Part of the island. Part of the region. Part of the main. Educate yourself, your children and your community into these things in the way they should go, in the way we should grow. So think on these things. Dream on these things. But above all else, act on these dreams.”
Let us, as a conference of heads of government of the Caribbean Community, represent the dreams and aspirations of the Caribbean people. Let us act on these dreams. Thank you.
‘Step on regional integration pedal a little more’ – PM Allen Chastanet
It was a great honour for me over the past six months to have held the chairmanship of the Caribbean Community. Given that I am still virtually new to the scene in terms of political pedigree, the role allowed me to follow closer up, and to be more deeply involved in, the tremendous strides which this Community continues to make on behalf of our people.
Today, I am giving way to another newcomer to Caribbean political leadership, the distinguished Prime Minister of Barbados, but one who has been around the arena for some considerable time and who I am sure is familiar with the issues and challenges which face our Caribbean region. I know that Mia Mottley is fully prepared, and I am sure, quite capable of carrying the torch forward.
When I took over the chairmanship at the 40th meeting of the Conference of Heads in Saint Lucia in July 2019, I identified some of the areas that were troubling to all of us: climate change, blacklisting by the EU, the adversities facing small island states in the international community, the ongoing situation in Venezuela, the withdrawal of from the region, among others.
Unfortunately, none of these issues have gone away and it will be up to the incoming Chairman to continue to lobby on our behalf, because in most cases, the urgency is even greater.
In November last, as a direct result of our Saint Lucia meeting, a delegation from the Community led by the distinguished Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda took the issue of correspondent banking and de-risking to Washington in light of the threat of our financial institutions losing critical relationships with US banks.
I can report that we have moved the needle on de-risking and that the OECS is working on a single compliance department.
We were able to draw the attention of the members of the Financial Services Committee of the United States’ Congress and senior representatives of major US banks, including Bank of America, to the catastrophic effect which the stringent measures being imposed on domestic banks by correspondent banks in the United States and the negative impact which the withdrawal of such services was having on economies in CARICOM Member States.
Our own information indicates that up to the middle of 2018, 25% of the 50 banks operating across CARICOM had reported termination of correspondent banking services, while 75% reported they were facing certain correspondent banking restrictions.
Other negative consequences have been an increase in operational costs, an extension in the processing time for international payments, as well as increased difficulty in account opening or securing banking services.
Another CARICOM delegation interfaced with the European Union on the troubling issue of black listing, which continues to this day. Member States of the Community, however, continue to take the necessary steps to comply with the demands of the regulating agencies, but while they do, countries in our region are still being penalized.
Some of us remain on the grey list, while only one Member State remains on the blacklist. We must continue working until all of us are off the list, but more importantly, we must make every effort to ensure this undemocratic and discriminatory practice of a public blacklist is discontinued.
The lack of resolution to the ongoing situation in Venezuela continues to concern us. So far all efforts at mediation have failed; in fact from all indications conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate despite a recent lull and this is likely to make finding a solution even harder. The involvement of outside forces in the controversy, however, could only escalate the crisis and make a resolution that more difficult, while at the same time testing and stressing our own attempt at a common position on that issue.
Solution to the long standing difficulties in Haiti also remains elusive. While understandably we have ring-fenced some of Haiti’s rights and privileges in our Treaty, more importantly we must be honest brokers and admit that we, like many others, have failed in our attempts to find a solution and need to collectively chart a new course. We owe it to the people of Haiti who deserve much more, given our common histories.
A team from the Community observed last December’s general election in the Commonwealth of Dominica. We are pleased to see that efforts are underway to resolve contentious issues which arose there in the lead up to the voting. Likewise, a CARICOM delegation will be on duty in Guyana for the upcoming election. No doubt, we will, as is customary, provide support to the five other Member States which will be holding elections during the course of 2020. These postings are crucial in ensuring transparency and accountability in the electoral process.
While we were supposed to have met with the distinguished Prime Minister of Canada, we are very pleased to welcome Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Francois-Philipe Champagne.
Canada has been and continues to be a true friend of the Caribbean. This relationship dates back to Prime Minister Trudeau’s father in the 1960s, thanks in large part to his close relationship with three former stalwarts of this Heads of government grouping, Prime Ministers Errol Barrow of Barbados, Sir John Compton of Saint Lucia and Sir James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
We look forward with great anticipation to our discussions with Canada on further strengthening our ties. While the West Indian diaspora has made major contributions towards the development of Canada, Canada has represented many of us at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is a member of the G7, G20 and a leading voice at the Commonwealth, as well as being a major contributor to the Caribbean Development Bank.
As impressive as our ties have been I believe there is still more that can be done, and while not attempting to preempt the discussions we will be having here, we need Canada’s voice and leadership on climate change, de-risking and blacklisting. Despite the withdrawal of some Canadian Banks from our region, we continue to see major Canadian investments through both public private partnerships and privately. We are also keen on the reinstatement of visa-free access to Canada and support from Canada in fields where it has achieved world class status such as Education, Health Care and Security.
Mobilizing funds to tackle the issues of disaster risk financing as a consequence of climate change is another major imperative for this Community. All these matters that I have mentioned, along with the continuing debate on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy are again major agenda issues at this meeting and it is my hope that we can arrive at some decisions to demonstrate to the people across the region our determination to make the integration process work for them.
On climate change, we must continue to press for the re-classification of SIDS by the OECD, to take into consideration our vulnerability and the adverse implications of current protocols governing debt classification and our access to financing. Moreover, we must redouble our efforts towards the establishment of a dedicated fund for SIDS. Interestingly it is the Ministers of Finance from the developed countries who may have found the solution through the introduction of a carbon tax. While I agree that would be a truer representation of the cost of carbon, the question is, who should the revenue go to? While the emissions occur at the point of production, the impact is felt globally. We must as a region look to establish and advocate for environmental justice so that offenders are appropriately and effectively sanctioned.
As we all know by now, the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union at the end of this year. Since 2017, and under the umbrella of CARIFORUM, we have been involved in discussions with the UK on an agreement that would govern trade between us post-Brexit and replicate the effects of the CARIFORUM-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). This will ensure continuity in the preferential trading relationship and avoid disruption in preferential trade between the CARIFORUM States and the United Kingdom. The UK market is important to us as it currently absorbs approximately 25 percent of our total exports to Europe, which comprise bananas, rum, sugar, rice, agro-processed goods and methanol are among others. With regard to services and investment, the UK has provided significant guarantees of access to its market and CARIFORUM is committed to working closely with the UK to ensure that our service providers can take further advantage of this market. The new CARIFORUM-UK EPA goes into operation from January 2021 and seems a fair compromise between the CARIFORUM and the UK, as well as a testament to the commitment and willingness of both sides to do what is best for their economic operators.
On assuming the chairmanship six months ago, I asked whether we were satisfied with our current status; whether we believed that all our citizens or even the majority were satisfied and also whether we were pushing ourselves hard enough. These questions remain relevant today. The people of the Caribbean Community have a lot riding on this integration process. They recognize that we have achieved a lot, but they are also convinced that we can do more.
A great example of our regionalism working is in our approach to the spread of the Corona-virus. As many of you are aware a week ago Saint Lucia was on high alert and thankfully the RSS stepped in to help get our samples to CARPHA for immediate testing and they quickly came back to us with news that we were Coronavirus free.
We are so thankful as a nation to the RSS and CARPHA for going above and beyond. This reminds us of the importance of being part of a union; being part of a group that in times of emergency have your back. You had Saint Lucia’s back and we thank you. This is what being part of CARICOM is about.
I say again, that as the elected leaders we must be prepared to rise to the various challenges that confront us, and like our forefathers we must inspire our citizens by finding the solutions to counteract them.
The time has come when we should be stepping on the regional integration pedal a little more to bring greater benefits and opportunities for all.
So let us move more purposefully and decisively in advancing the cause of this movement and implement those measures that are required to give it a new direction, vibrancy and purpose that will serve to guarantee its future and the future of our people on the whole.
In closing, I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to my colleague Heads of Government and to The Secretary General, other officials and staff of the CARICOM Secretariat for their cooperation and assistance which made my tenure as chairman smooth and rewarding.