BASSETTERE, St. Kitts — Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government were welcomed by the group’s Chairman and Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris.
“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the beautiful Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis,” said Dr. Harris. “I trust that while here you will find the time to enjoy not only the warm hospitality of our people, but also the amazing beauty of our country. Our Country has become the home for many persons from our region and beyond.
“At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the exemplary leadership of the Community by the immediate Past Chairman, Prime Minister Holness of Jamaica. Let us give the Prime Minister a round of applause.
“Colleagues, although it has been only two months since I became Chair of our Community, the level of engagement has made it appear to be of a longer duration. In that time, we have had two Special Meetings of the Conference, I along with the Prime Ministers of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago and the Secretary-General travelled to New York on behalf of the Community to meet with the United Nations Secretary-General and other UN officials, and to Montevideo, Uruguay.
“I have also been to Guyana to visit the Secretariat and to have discussions with His Excellency President Granger on Community issues. I took the opportunity on behalf of the Conference of Heads of Government, and indeed the entire Community, to wish President Granger well and a full recovery as he goes through his course of treatment.
“While in Guyana, I also called on the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo.
“It has been a busy introduction to the Chairmanship of CARICOM. What that has done, however, is to strengthen my belief in the value of our integration movement. It also made me better appreciate the role of the Chairman, the high investment of time and other resources, which our integration efforts require. We the people of the region owe a debt of gratitude to our CARICOM Secretariat, the Secretary-General and all its employees for sterling work for which they should be better rewarded and appreciated. They do outstanding work with their hearts full of love – love for our people and love for our region. Let us give our Secretary-General and his support staff a round of applause.
“The power of our unity, when it is channelled with purpose to achieve an objective, can provide remarkable results.
“It must therefore be used to inspire us to do what is necessary to make the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) the vehicle that we want to propel our sustainable development and make a positive impact on the lives of the people of the Community. Colleague Prime Minister of Barbados has shown a tenacity and diligence in advancing the CSME agenda on behalf of our people that is worthy of commendation. Clearly more is achieved when we work together.
“We have to do and be better at resolving the seemingly intractable challenges to provide affordable, safe and efficient transportation for people and goods around our Region. Unity of purpose must be at the fulcrum of our efforts to build a strong, progressive and prosperous CARICOM Community.
“We must use it as the foundation upon which we support our security architecture through providing the resources for the agencies that serve and protect us. Together we must work to reduce the level of violent crimes in our region, preserving the peace and tranquillity consistent with our acceptance of our region as a zone of peace.
“That power of unity must be our weapon and shield in the global arena, as we seek to advance and defend our interests. As small states, it is our duty to stand together and advocate for adherence to the principles espoused and codified in the international multilateral organisations and institutions. It is our only hope to stymie those who would conduct global affairs on the basis of might being right.
“In that regard, our Community could be justifiably proud of our stance and our efforts to help the people of Venezuela resolve their crisis. I have no doubt in my mind that the principled position taken by CARICOM, working with like-minded countries, has prevented, so far, a catastrophe on our borders. We will continue to urge that dialogue is the only way to achieve a lasting solution.
“I commend Prime Minister Mottley of Barbados, Prime Minister Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago, and Secretary-General LaRocque for their commitment and dedication to our efforts at promoting and supporting a peaceful resolution to the situation in Venezuela. Peace in Venezuela portends well for peace in our region. We equally wish for a peaceful resolution of the issues in Haiti. Haiti has played a pivotal role in our history from slavery to Emancipation and we wish that Haiti should take on a pre-eminent role in our region.
“I commend Prime Minister Chastanet of Saint Lucia for taking up another challenge on our behalf. Last week, he led a delegation, which made our case forcefully to the European Union and its agencies with respect to the labelling of our countries as non-co-operative tax jurisdictions. That practice is being followed by individual Member States of the EU.
“The continuous addition of onerous requirements to comply with new regulations is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. The EU and its Member States are going well beyond the regulations and requirements of the OECD, of which they are a part, and with which our countries are largely compliant. Further, the selective application of their strictures does not apply to everyone and has a distinct bias.
“These unbridled attacks on our sovereignty and disturbing intrusion into our internal affairs hark back to a different era of us having to heed the dictates of our colonial masters, who imposed mercantile laws that restricted our development scope and space.
“The question that must be asked is this: why are the revenue earning measures of small states such as ours being deliberately targeted?
“The EU preferences for sugar and bananas have long gone.
“Financial services are under threat.
“Denial of correspondent banking services affects our tourism sector and indeed our capability to engage in international transactions such as when credit card transactions are delayed and also affects remittances, a significant financial element in many of our economies.
“Citizenship by Investment Programmes are being attacked.
“Ship-flagging is being questioned. In sum, stumbling blocks are put in our development pathways.
“How are we to finance our development?
“These matters are compounded by the increasing effects of climate change, with its plethora of climatic events wreaking havoc and necessitating heavy reconstruction costs. Invariably, to meet those costs, we have to add to our already heavy debt burden. We also note the inextricable link between climate change and health. The challenges, which climate change poses to achievement of our health career goals, are matters which we must address.
“To exacerbate the problem, many of us are unable to source concessional development financing, having graduated out of access by the use of GDP-per-capita as the major criterion rather than the more comprehensive vulnerability index.
“We have to press the case at every level that, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recognised, we have significant vulnerabilities that set us apart from other middle-income states. It is therefore mandatory that vulnerability be the major criterion in determining access to concessional development financing. This is a cause for which we must continue to advocate fervently.
“Colleagues, these are not easy times but we have been there before and emerged unbowed. In today’s world, we must reposition CARICOM. To do so, we must harness our collective wisdom, identify our competitive strengths and use our creativity to carve out a space for us to thrive. However, even as we pursue that goal, we must also confront the inequities being visited upon us by forging strategic alliances, by strong, sustained advocacy and by cleverly using the avenues open to us to contest the unjust actions.
“Innovative thinking and intellectual capacity do not have borders and are not constrained by punitive idiosyncratic rules and regulations. Our Community possesses enough of both to design solutions and craft responses to the challenges that have been thrust upon us.
“Colleagues, these are the realities of life as a small state in today’s world. None of us could survive and prosper individually. Together we can forge a path and find creative solutions to ensure progress towards sustainable development. That is the power of unity,” Dr. Harris concluded. “May this Inter-sessional be crowned with outstanding progress for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the people of our region.”