CARICOM SG emphasises benefits of building regional relationships

ARICOM Secretary-General, Amb. Irwin LaRocque, (3rd from right) addresses the Conference
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“…The spirit of co-operation that has brought us all here today drives us towards generating ideas to strengthen the capacity of our Region to resolve the challenges that we all face.” – CARICOM SG at 15th Annual Conference on Regional Cooperation Antilles-Guyane


Remarks by CARICOM Secretary-General at 15th Annual Conference on Regional Cooperation Antilles-Guyane 

Cayenne

27 November 2019

 

  • Honourable Annick Girardin, French Minister of Overseas Departments;
  • Rodolphe Alexandre, President of the Territorial Collectivity of Guyane
  • Alfred Marie-Jeanne, President of the Territorial Collectivity of Martinique
  • Daniel Gibbs, President of the Territorial Collectivity of Saint-Martin
  • Madame Micheline Jacques, Vice President of the Territorial Collectivity of Saint-Barthélemy
  • Diana Perran, Vice President of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe
  • Claude Dulac, Representative of the Departmental Council of Guadeloupe
  • Tricia Barrow of the Association of Caribbean States
  • Ambassador Colin Murdoch, Representative of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States
CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque shakes hands with French Minister for Overseas Territories Annick Girardin after a meeting in Cayenne on Wednesday night

I wish to thank Minister Annick Girardin for inviting me to participate in the 15th Annual Conference on Regional Cooperation Antilles-Guyane.  I welcomed this invitation as, among other things, it afforded me another opportunity to visit this beautiful land.  On behalf of my delegation, I thank our gracious hosts for the excellent arrangements and the generous hospitality extended to us since our arrival here.

Although Guyane is not located geographically in the Caribbean, I feel very much that I am in the Caribbean since you are part of our Caribbean Civilisation, just as the people of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Sint Martin and St Barthelemy, because of our shared historical and cultural experiences.

There is no denying the validity of the concept which lies at the heart of the Agenda for this Conference.  As it states in part, in spite of our membership in different organisations, we have to think together how to respond to the challenges of sustainable development and to look jointly at the possibilities of offering solutions for the benefit of our people.

Guyane, Martinique and Guadeloupe are seeking to become closer to us in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), through their application for Associate Membership.  The applications are being considered by the Community and my presence here today is evidence of my commitment to increase the dialogue in the coming months.

You are seeking to be part of an organisation that consists of 15 Member States and five Associate Members which includes Dutch-speaking Suriname and French-speaking Haiti along with its majority English-speaking nations. Our membership includes countries in Central and South America as well as the islands of the Caribbean.

CARICOM is built on four pillars; trade and economic integration; human and social development; foreign policy co-ordination; and security co-operation.

The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is the legal instrument which defines the Caribbean Community, its goals and objectives, and aspirations. It includes right and obligations which, along with similar decisions of the Councils, are binding and form part of Community law that can be adjudicated by the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Our current Associate Members, all non-independent Caribbean territories, are involved in areas of functional co-operation such as health, education, culture, youth development, the environment, disaster management and climate resilience, to name a few.

We have established the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).  The CSME is the platform for achieving sustainable economic growth and development for the Community as well as building economic resilience. It is designed for our Member States to increase production and competitiveness, and to grow by having access to and employing the human and financial resources of the Region as a whole. It would lead to an improved standard of living for our citizens.

It also provides a common platform for its members to trade with third parties such as the European Union (EU) under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Under that Agreement, there is room for CARICOM Member States and the French Overseas Departments to benefit from trade.

It will be beneficial for us – CARICOM, CARIFORUM and the Overseas Departments – to discuss how we can enhance trade and remove any perceived hindrances such as the octroi de mer, if only for a limited number of items. That is a win/win situation. That would be a significant step forward in our relations.

To support that initiative and to build the relationship between the three applicant countries and CARICOM, there are steps that can be taken to strengthen the bonds that exist.

The easier it is for our people to engage with each other, the stronger our relations will evolve. This calls for more efficient and regular transportation links.

I can attest to the transportation challenge, given the difficulty for my delegation and I to get to Cayenne from neighbouring Guyana.  The lack of adequate connectivity is a serious impediment to regional co-operation.

A consistent and reliable transportation link, whether by land, sea or air, will provide an opportunity for the people of the Region to build relationships as they travel to each other’s country.  It will also open greater possibilities for business and trade.

I can envision the building of bridges across the Maroni and Corentyne Rivers that would create a road link between Georgetown and Cayenne. The social, economic and trading boost such a link would provide to the three countries would not make this such a far-fetched idea! It is a matter for you to consider in the context of tourism co-operation among the Guyanas.

Intra-regional tourism is a significant part of the tourism market in our region.

The INTERREG Caraibe has assisted in boosting air links in the Eastern Caribbean through a project that sets up cooperation among three airlines to improve air services among Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin and Dominica.  This will provide passengers with a connected network across those countries.

Insofar as maritime links are concerned, I am aware of the ferry service between Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia.  There is no such service among CARICOM Member States at this time, but the existence of the Guadeloupe to Saint Lucia service raises the possibility of it being the axis upon which we can expand.

It presents an opportunity for private sector investment from the French territories in a joint venture or a public-private partnership that could open up the maritime space as an avenue for strengthening our co-operation. The potential for increasing the movement of both people and goods via ferry should be enticing enough to encourage interest.

Increased movement of people and goods brings into focus issues of public health including vector borne diseases. CARICOM and the French Caribbean territories have forged close links in those areas including with respect to animal health and veterinary public health issues.

The veterinary officials of the French territories and the Caribbean Community have had a long partnership through CaribVet which promotes regional harmonisation.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the French Public Health Institutions are also working closely to strengthen regional health security.

The scope for collaboration in many other sectors could be enhanced through a closer link between the INTERREG Caraibes and Amazonia, which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and the Caribbean Regional Indicative Programme which is financed by the European Development Fund (EDF).

Regional economic integration and co-operation; crime and security; and climate change and the environment, including disaster management and renewable energy are important areas for all our countries.

They are priority areas under the EDF Caribbean Regional Indicative Programme, and I am certain there is synergy in some of the areas with the Interreg programmes.

The value of our strong partnership in disaster management for example and the recognition that we must work closely together was exemplified in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

No one will forget that Martinique was one of the first responders to the plight of the people of Dominica, who benefitted from the swift allocation of helicopters for airlift support for search and rescue.

That assistance gave impetus to the on-going negotiations between CARICOM and France on a Memorandum of Understanding on Disaster Recovery and Management which I am anxious to conclude.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, a CARICOM institution, will play a critical role in implementing the MOU.

There is also room for enhancing our co-operation in crime and security matters.

For our region, there can be no issue which demands greater collaboration than that of climate change in all its aspects. It is an existential threat.

CARICOM countries are some of the smallest emitters of the greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming but are among the most vulnerable to its effects.

The increased intensity and frequency of the mega storms, unusually heavy unseasonal rainfall, extended periods of drought, and the threats of sea-level rise pose serious challenges to all of us.

The extremely active 2017 hurricane season with the ravages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the recent Hurricane Dorian and its devastation in The Bahamas, are testimony to the vulnerability of our countries to this phenomenon.

It is why we are striving to build the resilience necessary to withstand climate change. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent in resilience building prior to a disaster, seven dollars is saved in reconstruction and rebuilding costs after the disaster.

But building resilience is very costly.

Therefore, we are advocating strongly for Small-Island and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS), such as our Member States, to access the necessary financing prior to the onset of disasters to enable us to become more resilient.

However, the continued use of GDP per capita by international financial institutions and development partners as the principal criterion for access to concessional development financing is a major impediment to our cause.  We strongly believe that vulnerability should be the most appropriate measure of SIDS’ eligibility for concessional development financing. It is crucial that the criteria be changed urgently. That change must start with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

France is a member of the OECD. We are not.

The challenge for some of our countries in seeking to build that resilience is further exacerbated by the insistence of EU Member States to label them as non-co-operative tax jurisdictions.

This unilateral blacklisting is imposed even though the countries are not so designated by the relevant global regulatory authorities. Blacklisted jurisdictions face major reputational damage and difficulty in conducting international financial transactions with third countries such as those of the EU.

The reputational damage of blacklisting has an additional adverse effect as it triggers the “de-risking” measures of international banks, resulting in the withdrawal of crucial correspondent banking relationships. This development has had a negative impact on investment flows, trade and the financial operations of our economies.

The denial of access to non-concessional development financing and the strangulation of our economic and financial operations together pose significant difficulties for us in our efforts to build resilience against climate change.

It is certainly an area in which we need the voices of our French neighbours to be raised on our behalf at every opportunity with the leadership in Paris.

Mr. Chairman, the spirit of co-operation that has brought us all here today drives us towards generating ideas to strengthen the capacity of our Region to resolve the challenges that we all face.

I can commend to you words from the Vision Statement of CARICOM which emphasises that we are striving towards a Community that is “integrated, inclusive and resilient; driven by knowledge, excellence, innovation and productivity; a Community where every citizen is secure and has the opportunity to contribute and share in its economic, social and cultural prosperity”.

I look forward to the same for our Caribbean Civilisation including the Antilles-Guyane.

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