NASSAU, Bahamas, May 7, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Foreign Ministers began a two day meeting here Monday amid calls for closer unity in tackling the various global issues confronting the 15-member grouping.
Bahamas Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Allan Henefield told the opening ceremony that the 21st meeting of the Council for Foreign and Commonwealth relations (COFCOR) was taking place at a time “when the urgency of our call to solidarity as a Caribbean Community, some near 45 years ago, could not be more critical.
“Our inchoative objectives, “to encourage economic integration and cooperation; to even-handedly share therefrom; and to coordinate foreign policy” in the interest of the collective, are as urgent today as they were at Chaguaramas in 1973.”
Henefield said even though, Caribbean countries will not always agree, “it is incumbent upon us as foreign ministers and ambassadors, who invariably set the tone and tenor of the foreign policies of our respective nations and our region, to remain cognisant of our unspoken commitment to be our brothers’ keepers.
“And so, during those most infrequent and odd occasions, then, when our collective and individual goals misalign, let us always remember a sage saying I have come to love, which opines, “alone I am just a voice, but together, we are a force,” he told the meeting.
The Bahamas Foreign Minister said that there were a number of issues that had to be discussed over the next two days, including the region’s position regarding the upcoming negotiations between the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the European Union for a successor accord to the Cotonou Agreement that expires in 2020.
“Therefore, we must engage in meaningful discourse that will inform our negotiations on a successor agreement,” he added.
Henefield said that despite the region’s “best collective and individual Sisyphean efforts, we continue to struggle under the spectre of being named and shamed as uncooperative tax jurisdictions by the European Union and OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).
“It is pleasing that member countries of both of these entities are here for the next two-days, so that we might have mutually beneficial discussions toward addressing our concerns relative good tax governance, whilst appreciating the sovereign right of States to determine their tax policies.
“In this same vein, we must address the troubling issues associated with de-risking and correspondent banking,” he added.
In his address, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque,said there was “ample evidence” to prove the Community benefitted when acting in concert on the international stage.
“What we do as a Community continues to make a difference. Just recently, we were successful in pressing the case of the undocumented British citizens of Caribbean descent long resident in the United Kingdom (the Windrush Generation).
“We have brought global attention to issues of non-communicable diseases, graduation from access to concessional financing, climate change and the vulnerability of Small States to name just a few,” he said.
LaRocque said tackling a major global issue like migration requires “effective multilateralism and concerted action,” as he welcomed the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on International Migration, Louise Arbour, who will facilitate deliberations at the special retreat on the issue.
LaRocque said other external challenges including blacklisting, the withdrawal of correspondent banking services, transnational crime, and the threat of violent extremism, must also be addressed by the multilateral system, rather than by “individual action by countries or groups of countries in fora in which we have no voice.”
He said as the foreign ministers examine the region’s increased engagement in the hemisphere, of concerned was the reality that the “major mechanisms and processes of inter-American political dialogue – the OAS, the Summit of the Americas, CELAC, UNASUR, even the GRULAC coordinating mechanism for candidatures at the United Nations in New York – are increasingly under strain, and in some cases have become dysfunctional.
“This meeting will no doubt weigh the causes and the repercussions of this development, and its impact on the Community’s interests. However, it will also ascertain to what extent the Community is in a position to contribute to narrowing the divisions,” LaRocque said.
He said the Caribbean was still recovering from the passage of Hurricane Irma and Maria last September which would take years and more than five billion US dollars to rebuild.
He said with the start of the new hurricane season, a mere 25 days away and predicted to be equally, or even more active than last year’s “our charge, therefore, is to reduce vulnerability to these disasters and the effects of climate change by building a climate-resilient Community.
The Secretary-General expressed the Community’s “perpetual gratitude” to partners who have supported affected countries in their efforts at recovery and building resilience.
He said such assistance is most welcome, particularly as most of CARICOM countries are denied concessional development financing due to the use of GDP per capita as a primary criterion for access to such funds.
The Bahamas in particular suffered three consecutive years of significant damage by hurricanes amounting to more than half a billion US dollars, but is one of those countries affected by this denial of access, due to its categorisation as an upper middle income country.
LaRocque said that with the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the Commonwealth, among others, international financial institutions are beginning to consider vulnerability as a factor in providing development financing.
“This is essential if our countries are to successfully become climate resilient,” he added.
Regarding the negotiations on the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, LaRocque said “we must be prepared to advocate vigorously for our position for one ACP-EU Agreement containing Regional Compacts, but all negotiated at the All-ACP level.
“It is in our interest to promote the value of our three regions staying the course and negotiating as one,” he said, noting also the Caribbean has been actively engaging the United Kingdom with respect to its future trade relations to ensure that there would be no disruption following BREXIT.