July 06, 2017
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Thirty-Eighth Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
I bid a special welcome to the Rt. Honourable Dr. Hubert Minnis, Prime Minister of The Bahamas who is attending his first Meeting of the Conference. Prime Minister, we look forward to your active participation in the deliberations as you share with your colleague Heads of Government your fresh ideas on advancing the interests of our Community.
Allow me to welcome again President Moïse as he addresses this opening ceremony and offers his views on Haiti in the Caribbean Community.
I must thank His Excellency President David Granger for his stewardship over the last six months as Chairman and the progress of the Community in that time.
I welcome Prime Minister Keith Mitchell to the Chair and look forward to continued progress under his guidance.
The discussions over the next two days will benefit from the excellent arrangements put in place by the Government of Grenada.
I am sure I speak for all delegations when I express appreciation for the generous hospitality extended to us by the Government and people of Grenada during our stay. Thank you Prime Minister Mitchell.
I wish at the outset to congratulate Ms Shirley Pryce who, this evening, will be bestowed as the Twelfth recipient of the CARICOM Triennial Award for Women. This award recognises an outstanding CARICOM woman whose work has made a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the Caribbean.
Ms Pryce has earned this award through her championing the empowerment and rights of domestic workers in the Region and around the globe.
She is a true ambassador and a global leader who is making a difference in the lives of so many women, and marginalized workers. Congratulations Ms Pryce.
Mr Chairman, Heads of State and Government, Grand Anse is a venue that will always hold a special place in the history of our integration movement. It was here in 1989 that our Heads of Government, “moved by the need to work expeditiously together to deepen the integration process and strengthen the Caribbean Community in all of its dimensions”, responded to the challenges and opportunities presented by the changes in the global economy at that time.
So here we are again. And it is true to say that there are distinct parallels with the situation today. For the most part, our Region continues to experience economic challenges, brought about by the global economic and financial crisis of 2008. This is exacerbated by climate change which is manifesting itself by a series of increased and more severe climatic events.
There is a resulting negative effect not only on the lives of our people but on our economic development. Our Member States must continue to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the onslaught of climate change thereby incurring more debt at graduated interest rates in some instances.
The discussions over the next two days will have a significant focus on economic issues and issues that have the potential to contribute significantly to our economic growth, competitiveness and sustainable development.
We will discuss the opportunities for financing for development of small states. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) is already working with our Member States to access the Green Climate Fund.
We will discuss a proposal by UNECLAC on debt for climate adaptation swap.
We will hear from the chairman of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy.
The President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) will speak about the establishment of Implementation Units in all our Member States to galvanise growth.
Prime Minister Mitchell is well placed to spearhead the required follow up to the decisions in these areas within the next six months. Not only is he chairman of CARICOM but he is also chairman of the CDB and the World Bank Small States Forum.
Here in Grand Anse, we must recall in 1989 the determination “to work towards the establishment” of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The CSME remains to this day the best vehicle for providing sustainable economic development for our people. Indeed, at this meeting we will be discussing ways to improve its operations and accelerate implementation of the measures still outstanding.
Having created the Single Market, the task now is to ensure that the private sector utilise fully its provisions. We must move to strengthen the enabling environment to support their efforts. Trade facilitation and the ease of doing business, at a regional level, are at least as equally important as fiscal incentives.
We must come to a conclusion on issues such as government procurement, harmonisation of customs rules and regulations and transparent and harmonised sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures. An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study indicated that if we were to address such issues, including transportation, intra-regional trade could be doubled. All of these measures would have a knock on effect on competitiveness and external trade, as well as on our ability to attract investment.
We are very much aware that transportation is a significant cost factor in trading goods and in the movement of our people, including intra-regional tourism.
The New CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA), which is before us, could result in reduced freight rates and passenger airfares, increased air transport services, leading to more options for consumers and expanded intra-regional tourism.
This will be good news for our tourism sector which accounted for 14.8% of GDP in 2015, with a projection of 17.5% in 2016. The improvement in air services should spur an increase in demand for travel to, and within the Region.
As we accelerate implementation of the CSME, the thrust in the areas of technology, the Single ICT Space, renewable energy, education, health and security, while important in their own right, will serve as critical enabling factors to drive the process of economic growth and development and boost our competitiveness.
Action is being taken in all those areas. I am pleased to advise that the Agreement for the establishment of the Caribbean Community Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), which is in Barbados, will be open for signature at this meeting.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) must play a transformative role in building the future of our Region. The creation of a Single ICT Space is at the heart of this transformation.
The Commission on Human Resource Development (HRD) will present the HRD 2030 Strategy to address the development of skills for the 21st century economy and society. The important factor in education and training is providing employable skills, opening the mind to identify opportunities and encouraging the process of lifelong learning. The plan is to have by 2030, a globally competitive, innovative, and seamlessly integrated education system.
Mr Chairman, distinguished Heads of State and Government our lifestyle, and the choices we make are causing the growing incidence of Non-Communicable Diseases to reach almost epidemic proportions. While it affects our individual health, it also has serious social and economic repercussions. It is a drag on our economy resulting in absenteeism from work, lower productivity and increasingly subsidised health care services.
A recent study in one of our Member States showed that the cost of NCDs is as high as five percent of GDP. We must reassert our leadership in this fight. And our people must also accept responsibility for their lifestyles and what they consume.
As this meeting assesses the progress 10 years after the Port-of -Spain Declaration, there remain areas of significant concern with regard to major risk factors for NCDs, in particular childhood obesity.
The safety and security of our citizens is of serious concern. Crime and security is a regional problem that requires a regional solution. Since the last meeting of the Conference, we have made significant progress on regional legal security instruments which will add to the arsenal in the battle to secure our Region. It is my hope that the CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty, which was approved by the Legal Affairs Committee, will be opened for signature at this Meeting.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Heads, the threats to the well-being of our Community are diverse and rendered more complex by the ongoing systemic changes and policy uncertainties afflicting several of our major traditional partners.
Climate change, crime and security, a heavy debt burden, stagnant economic growth, high youth unemployment, the management of the Community's external relations, all require considerable attention. Each has its own subset of issues, including graduation from access to concessional development financing, and the black listing of some of our Member States as non-co-operative tax jurisdictions.
As daunting as these challenges may seem, none can survive the collective ingenuity and creativity of the people of the Caribbean Community.
It is what has sustained us and ensured that we find solutions regardless of how intractable the problem may seem.
It is what enabled us to play that important role at COP 21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris; it is there in the creation of the Caribbean Festival of the Arts (CARIFESTA); and it was there in Grand Anse when we conceptualised the CSME.
We have proven that no challenge can daunt us.
Finally, I invite you all to Barbados for CARIFESTA XIII from August 17th to witness the creative talents of our people, the bedrock of our creative industries. Come and have some fun.
I thank you!