Opening Remarks by the Honourable Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guyana at the Eight UK-Caribbean Forum.

CARICOM Secretariat
Media Release

TURKEYEN, Greater Georgetown, Guyana (CARICOM) — It is indeed my pleasure and honour to address you on behalf of the Caribbean States present here today on the occasion of this Eighth UK Caribbean Forum.

Secretary of State, let me at the outset express on behalf of the Caribbean delegations our appreciation for the splendid arrangements made for us to participate in this Forum, and also our pleasure at the warm hospitality extended to us. Some of my colleagues were delighted to take advantage of the opportunities offered to get a taste of your British traditions by attending the Trooping the Colour ceremony where they were the guests of Prime Minister Cameron and spending a few hours at Lords yesterday.

The fact that we are gathered today for our Eighth Forum testifies the long-standing relations between our Caribbean countries and the United Kingdom. For us in the Caribbean, it underlines our collective desire to enhance this relationship and deepen our levels of co-operation. This Forum provides an excellent opportunity for the Caribbean and the UK to engage in productive discussions towards reaching agreement on concrete measures that will contribute to improving the quality of life of our citizens. It is an opportunity that we should grasp with both hands.

Mr Co-Chairman, we meet at a time of increasing complexity in the global political and economic environment with profound systemic changes taking place. This evolving political and economic environment is at the same time particularly unfavourable to the small developing economies of the Caribbean. The developed countries like yours can speak of a post-crisis economic recovery though it remains weak.

We in the Caribbean for the most part are still in global economic crisis mode, reeling from its continuing severe impact on our economies. There is little reason for us to be optimistic in the immediate and short term. The external resource flows, private and official, on which our economies rely to stimulate growth, continue to dwindle. This trend is exacerbated by our classification as Middle Income Countries and the resulting imposition of “differentiation” and “graduation” which impedes access to concessionary funding. You will recall we had discussed this issue with you when we last met in Grenada.

This inequitable classification is based on one metric, GDP per capita, a flawed assumption that cannot be a sound measure of development. It utterly ignores the susceptibility to external economic shocks, the debt situation and several other vulnerabilities and peculiarities of our small economies.

An alternative metric must be considered that takes into account resilience and vulnerability in the context of sustainable development. When a natural disaster strikes us, unlike in the United Kingdom it is not a localised occurrence with circumscribed effects but a devastating national event which wipes out significant percentages of our GDP. Instead of going forward we are constantly rebuilding and replacing lost infrastructure which no doubt has contributed to the high debt situation in several small Caribbean countries. In addition, the increasing frequency and severity of climactic events along with the deepening threats to our security from the mounting illicit trafficking in drugs and small arms through our region, as well as the growing incidence of health pandemics further burden our attempts at economic resilience.

Mr Co-Chairman, we are not however throwing up our hands in despair. Indeed many of our countries notwithstanding the challenges we encounter are set to meet several of the MDG’s by the 2015 deadline. We are worried that these gains may be reversed if the current trends continue. I must indicate that we are taking steps to address the difficult economic situations in which we find ourselves, undertaking the required structural reforms and applying the bitter fiscal medicine necessary despite their potential unpleasant political side effects.

We are however counting on our long-standing friends and international development partners, including the United Kingdom, to better understand our present situation and the many constraints that impede our best efforts and to highlight these realities on our behalf in the European Union and in the international decision-making fora such as the G20 where our voices are not heard and our realities perceived as insignificant and thus marginalised. We are only asking that the method used to classify us be amended accordingly.

Mr Co-Chairman, I wish to take advantage of the opportunity to express our sincere appreciation for the assistance provided by your country last December following the devastation inflicted by severe storms on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Dominica. Needless to say this was one example of the vulnerabilities we face.

The Caribbean also welcomed the announcement earlier this year by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer of the decision to amend the Air Passenger Duty bands consistent with your commitment when we met in Sri Lanka in the margins of CHOGM. However, the tax remains, even if it will be at a reduced level. It will therefore continue to impact negatively on the region’s tourism industry, an industry that is the economic mainstay of many of the Caribbean States. Relying on the close bonds of friendship between the Caribbean and the UK, we see this action as a first step in the right direction.

I would also wish to signal the difficulties being experienced by our business persons and artistes in obtaining visas for EU countries including the United Kingdom, in their efforts to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Economic Partnership Agreement to undertake trade in goods and services. Indeed for some the situation has gotten worse since the signing of the EPA. Our students in the United Kingdom are also experiencing difficulties in obtaining job-training placements because of immigration impediments. As I said earlier, Mr Co-Chairman, we are more than willing to help ourselves but in attempting to do so we find ourselves hemmed in by obstacles of all sorts. I believe that many of them can be resolved through dialogue leading to a better understanding.

In this context, we look forward to the exchange of views under the theme of building stronger partnerships for prosperity with emphasis being placed on energy security, the enhancing of skills and education levels that redound to the benefit of youth employability and of our economic development, and on crime and security which are increasingly impinging on our economic and social development.

In the course of our dialogue on more political matters we will without doubt touch on issues related to the forthcoming Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States and the Post 2015 Development Agenda. The outcomes of these two processes are of paramount importance for us in the Caribbean. CARICOM together with other SIDS will seek a commitment from all states, particularly developed states; to not only recognise the special needs and vulnerability of SIDS but also the paramount importance of taking actionable measures to address them.

For The Caribbean Community, progress at this Summit will be key as we move towards elaborating the Post 2015 Development Agenda where we need to draw the lessons from the reasons for the disappointing overall performance with regard to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and to place greater emphasis on the financing dimension. We also look forward to an exchange of views on the common challenge of climate change, increasingly a matter of survival for small island developing states. We remain optimistic that a legally binding agreement will be finalised in 2015.

At the Seventh UK Caribbean Forum an ambitious Action plan with thirty one points was agreed. Regrettably, this Action Plan has provided few tangible results. The challenge for the Forum over the next two days is to agree on actions that are focused, actionable and measurable in order to make good on the promise of the Forum as a vehicle for cooperation.

In closing, Secretary of State and Co-Chair, I must once again reiterate the high value that the Caribbean places on its relationship with the United Kingdom. We look forward to further strengthening these relations over the next two days.

I thank You.

You might also like