(CARICOM.ORG) – Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, I assumed the Chairmanship of the Community at a time when, internally, we were vigorously pursuing measures to advance the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). We were also seeking ways to strengthen our security arrangements. Externally, we were and are still grappling with the situation in Venezuela, which is having a direct effect on some of our Member States.
Within the past six months, we have been making some headway in driving the CSME forward.
An Agreement on Public Procurement has been finalised and was opened for signature in February at the Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference in St. Kitts and Nevis. The Agreement would enable the creation of competitive and non-discriminatory conditions within the Single Market for access to bidding for public contracts above a certain threshold. When this Agreement enters into force, it will open up a significant market for our private sector expansion within member states.
However, there are still outstanding issues, which we must address, if we are to keep pace with the Implementation Plan to which we have agreed. If our people are to feel the impact of a fully operational CSME, we must make every effort to adhere to our timetable.
I must commend the efforts of the Lead Head of Government with responsibility for the CSME, the Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, who has been striving unceasingly to ensure progress in that area.
Security in the Community
Similarly, in the area of Security, which is of concern to us all, we must act urgently to fulfil the obligations to which we have signed on. Also, in February in St. Kitts and Nevis, the Agreement on the Return or Sharing of Recovered Assets was opened for signature. The Agreement seeks to enhance the effectiveness of regional security cooperation by establishing a framework for the return or sharing of recovered assets from criminal activity.
The Special Meeting hosted by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley, Lead Head for Security allowed us to identify concrete steps to combat the scourge of criminal activity. We do not have the luxury of time to introduce the agreed measures as the burden of crime is weighing heavily on our citizens and residents. The regional approach to support each other is critical to providing a safe and secure Caribbean Community.
Colleagues, our engagement in the attempts at resolving the situation in Venezuela has clearly demonstrated that there is a role for us to play. It also is now quite clear that our principled stance enunciated from the outset and our approach are now being accepted by other parties.
Along with my colleague Heads of Government, Prime Ministers Mottley and Rowley, and the Secretary-General, we have represented the Community in engaging with the UN Secretary-General and other interested parties, such as the International Contact Group. The CARICOM Secretary-General and I have met with the International Contact Group while our Foreign Ministers have engaged with Venezuelan Opposition representatives. We have consistently argued that the cardinal principles to undergird a resolution of the political crisis in Venezuela include: (1) non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela, (2) inviolability of the Sovereign State, (3) respect for democracy, rule of law and the constitution of Venezuela, (4) peace and resolution of conflict. The Montevideo Mechanism provides a guide to achieve peaceful resolution. Its core imperatives are:
Speaking to dialogue between both sides, I must commend the efforts of the Norwegian Government to bring the two sides together in an attempt to end the impasse and allow the country to return to stability. Venezuela is our neighbour, and our Member States are being affected by the crisis. For us, this is not a geo-political game of chess. It is a situation creating hardships for millions of people right on our doorstep, fostering instability in our already fragile economies and exacerbating criminal activity.
We must make clear that CARICOM plays a role of honest broker. All stakes are high. The undermining of the Caribbean as a zone of peace; disruption of tourism and trade; uncontrolled migration with risks to health, and socio-economic problems in member states, compounded by illegal trade in arms, cannot be whisked away. It has been a rewarding experience working with Colleague Heads of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago on the resolution of the impasse in Venezuela.
Importance of Multilateralism
For CARICOM, non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, prohibition of the threat and use of force, respect for sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law, respect for the constitutional framework and democracy, and the right of people to self-determination are core principles, which should not be violated. These are what we have to cling to in a world where international law and multilateralism are being undermined and small states are being increasingly marginalised. And despite whatever apparent differences appear in the ranks of CARICOM, I can assert that we ALL subscribe to these principles.
Multilateralism is the medium that ensures that we as small states have a voice in the global arena. It is what makes it possible for our Member State, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to be elected to the most powerful body in the UN system, the Security Council, and to promote and protect the interests of the small and vulnerable states. Let us give a round of applause to the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Colleagues, the deteriorating situation in our Member State, Haiti, is of great concern. The continuing violence causing loss of life and property must cease, and dialogue must begin to arrive at a solution to this cycle of instability. The Haitian people deserve to go about their daily lives in a calm and peaceful environment. I reiterate the Community’s call for all parties to act responsibly and in the interest of the country. We stand ready to offer the good offices of the Community to bring a resolution to this crisis.
Where are we?
The past six months have been very illuminating for me. They have made me even more aware of the efforts that must be infused to ensure that our integration movement keeps on track. It has been recognised that what we have may not be perfect, but it has been argued that it is improving every day. Yes, there has been progress in every one of our four pillars – economic integration, foreign policy co-ordination, human and social development, and security co-operation, but this progress has been incremental while our challenges have exponentially increased.
Our inherent vulnerabilities as Small Island Developing States, compounded by the growing existential threats, do not allow us the luxury of time. If we are to merely survive, we must accelerate our processes of common action; if we are to thrive we must be transformational and not incremental; we must leapfrog and not just keep up. The technological revolution, the volatility of the geo-political climate, the erosion of global principles, as well as the continual assault on every comparative niche advantage that we strive to carve, all necessitate a sense of urgency and continuous self-critical, unsentimental assessments to determine whether the pace of progress is commensurate to the magnitude of our challenges.
Quo Vadis: Where are we going?
In the context of the regional project, prosperity requires growth; growth requires equity. We come together as a region because we recognise that the aggregation of our demographics gives us viable market mass; that the combination of our respective advantages makes us more competitive, and that the resolve of our unity is what will make us unassailably strong.
The provisions of our Revised Treaty in Chapter Seven (on disadvantaged countries, regions and sectors) and the establishment of mechanisms like the Caribbean Development Fund (CDF) are interventions designed to address imbalances of size and scale, as well as promote equitable and inclusive growth across the CSME, which would guarantee a shared and universal prosperity for all.
Our Revised Treaty, Esteemed Colleagues, is visionary and robust enough to have specified these provisions; the question is whether our politics is pragmatic and visionary enough in its regional embrace to effectively utilise them.
Finally, a word of appreciation to the CARICOM Secretariat and more specifically the Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque for the sterling support given to me as Chairman and to the region generally. Working closely with Ambassador LaRocque and his team over the last six months, I can attest to their industry, ingenuity, reliability and professionalism. We are blessed to have such an excellent cadre of regional public servants working to effect our integration arrangements.
Forward on with CARICOM Integration! I thank you.