Remarks by COFCOR Chair at Opening of 26th Meeting of CARICOM Foreign Ministers
“We are meeting at time when our Community is at a pivotal inflection point. Our decisions will lay the foundation for the region’s future, and we must determine our ability to thrive in spite of myriad and constantly evolving global dynamics.” – Chair of COFCOR, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica
Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, assumed the Chairmanship of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), which began its 26th meeting on Tuesday in Kingston, Jamaica.
Please see below the Minister’s remarks at the opening ceremony of the meeting:
- Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM);
- Honourable E.P. Chet Greene, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda and Outgoing Chair of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations;
- Colleague Ministers of the Caribbean Community;
- Your Excellency Takei Shunsuke, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan;
- Your Excellency Juan Fernández-Trigo, Secretary of State for Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Spanish Language of the Kingdom of Spain;
- Your Excellency Gorad Renčelj, Special Envoy of the Republic of Slovenia;
- Dean and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
- Ambassador Donna Forde, Assistant Secretary-General, Foreign and Community Relations and other Staff members of the CARICOM Secretariat;
- Members of the Media;
- Distinguished Delegates.
I extend a warm Jamaican welcome to everyone attending this Twenty-Sixth Meeting of the Caribbean Community’s Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR). The City of Kingston is proud to host the Council for the second time, having been the venue for the Twelfth Meeting in 2009.
Our gathering today marks the first in-person regular meeting of COFCOR since 2019, and the first at which the Council will have the privilege of being joined in-person by Secretary-General Barnett since her assumption of duties in 2021. As this is the Secretary-General’s first official visit to Jamaica in her current role, I wish to extend a special welcome to her on behalf of the Government and people of Jamaica. Since she is a fellow UWI, Mona alumna, this may well be a homecoming for Madam SG.
I also wish to thank the team in the Foreign and Community Relations Directorate of the Secretariat, led by Assistant Secretary-General Donna Forde, for the guidance provided to the team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for the hosting of this Meeting.
This Twenty-Sixth Meeting of COFCOR takes on added significance as we celebrate the Community’s year-long commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of CARICOM, to be formally observed on 4th July 2023. Our Caribbean Community enjoys the distinction of being the longest surviving regional integration movement in the developing world. Our CARICOM half-century demonstrates our resilience and is a milestone of which we can be justly proud.
We are pleased that Mr. André Bartley, a Jamaican national, was the winner of the CARICOM50 Logo Competition, and we congratulate him on his creativity and success. I also look forward to taking part, alongside Secretary-General Barnett and colleague CARICOM Foreign Ministers, in a commemorative tree-planting ceremony later today, as the first of Jamaica’s official CARICOM50 events.
I am honoured to take over the mantle of Chairmanship of the COFCOR from our colleague, the Honourable E.P. Chet Greene, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade of Antigua and Barbuda, and outgoing Chairperson. I thank you, Chet, for your excellent stewardship over the past year, which has left us on good footing to undertake the critical work before us over the year ahead.
Over the next two days, as we work through our Agenda, we must deliberate and strategise on the issues before us, with the ultimate goal of achieving the best possible opportunities and outcomes for our Community, in our engagements with hemispheric and global partners.
We are meeting at a time when our Community is at a pivotal inflection point. Our decisions will lay the foundation for the region’s future, and we must determine our ability to thrive in spite of myriad and constantly evolving global dynamics. While we welcome the recent WHO announcement that COVID-19 no longer represents a global health emergency, the war in Ukraine has now passed the one-year mark, and we continue to feel the effects of geo-political tension including food and energy insecurity.
Moreover, the pernicious impacts of climate change as well as other issues such as transnational crime, continue to threaten communities and daily lives. Together with the developmental losses incurred by the pandemic, these interlocking crises underscore the vulnerability of developing countries, and especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
It therefore falls to the COFCOR to work with our development partners, like-minded states, Third States, and regional groupings, including the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), and the membership of ASEAN, to achieve equitable meaningful solutions from which the benefits can redound to our people throughout the region.
Our strength in working with extra-regional partners lies in our cohesion. The region must work collectively and effectively in a highly coordinated manner, to strengthen Community relations and institutions, and pursue regional foreign policy objectives. In fact, we are reminded of the driving force behind our Community and this Council, which is that “the interests of the entire Region can best be served by the maximization of cooperation by all Governments concerned”.
That principle was put forward by Jamaica at the Seventh Conference of Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries held in Trinidad and Tobago, in October 1972. It was part of a larger proposal by Jamaica, for the Establishment of (a) Standing Committee of Foreign Ministers of Commonwealth Caribbean Governments for the Coordination of Foreign Policy. How history reinvents itself!
As we meet here in Kingston for the Twenty-Sixth meeting of the COFCOR, the imperative of fifty years ago has not changed. The COFCOR’s role in defining the region’s place in the world through strategic engagement of bilateral partners and hemispheric and multilateral institutions, is key to the elevation of the Caribbean voice and world view on the international stage. And with that voice, we will continue to offer the world Caribbean-grown solutions, while championing the interests of the sixteen million citizens who make up our Community, across the fifteen Members and five Associate Member states.
Our Caribbean Community, like other regional groupings, must continually provide opportunities for thorough and productive introspection. We therefore look forward to this Meeting, and particularly to our Retreat, for the opportunities to be open about our collective growth opportunities and to actively delineate specific, measurable, and achievable methods to strengthen its systems and processes. We do this even as we seek renewed commitment from Member States towards concerted Community action and to consider how best to have robust, efficient Community institutions adequately resourced to execute their mandates.
This will require agile, adaptive, and strategic policy decisions and mechanisms to predict, respond and leverage changes in the international landscape. Our decisions will also need to benefit from active Community engagement, as with full participation and active engagement in the COFCOR decision-making, we can better equip ourselves to realize the vision enunciated in Article 16 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The COFCOR’s agenda will allow us to attain some of these objectives as we give focus to ongoing processes at the United Nations (UN), including in relation to Security Council Reform, the development of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) and the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent.
We will also consider preparations underway for the region’s engagement in several upcoming UN High-Level Meetings on issues such as Financing for Development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SIDS, Health, and Climate Change.
It falls to us to consider and seek to coordinate positions as we prepare to engage at the hemispheric level in the Fifty-Third OAS General Assembly and the Third EU-CELAC Summit.
The COFCOR will also be looking at how to further leverage the outcomes from the Ninth Summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), held last week in Guatemala, as we deepen our cooperation with the countries of the Greater Caribbean.
As it pertains to CARICOM’s bilateral relations with Third States and other regional groupings, the COFCOR will prioritise discussions on deeper and more strategic engagement with the United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Central American Integration System (SICA), India, and Africa.
We will also interface in-person with the Governments of Japan, Spain and Slovenia. These engagements will allow the region to deepen the opportunities for collaboration.
Relations with the United Kingdom will also merit attention, as we prepare for the convening of the 11th UK-Caribbean Forum on Thursday. This will be the first in-person meeting of the Forum in seven years, and an important opportunity to collectively engage the Rt. Honourable James Cleverly, UK Foreign Secretary, together with the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
At the Community level, focus will rightly be placed on the ongoing political, security and humanitarian crisis facing our sister nation Haiti. Following the CARICOM Mission to Haiti in February, led by the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Community has remained actively engaged in the search for sustainable, Haitian-led solutions, and is committed to keeping Haiti on the international agenda at the highest levels.
Only yesterday, Prime Minister Holness held discussions with the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during his visit to Jamaica, and reaffirmed Jamaica and the region’s commitment to actively support the cause of Haiti. We are agreed that CARICOM will not allow Haiti to be forgotten in its time of greatest need. The COFCOR will discuss next steps as the Community continues to fulfil its Good Offices role and explore options for technical and security assistance.
In order to accomplish all this, we must effectively utilise our existing mechanisms, and candidly acknowledge when new frameworks or approaches are required. In line with the decision of our Heads of Government, we must continue the process of renewal to ensure that our Agendas can benefit from more strategic thinking and informed discussions.
We must apply analysis-based decision-making and principled foreign policy to achieve more meaningful outcomes from our engagements with international partners.
We must work as a unit to continue to promote the value of multilateralism and expand and elevate the influence and contributions of our Community and of Small States generally.
We must continue to strengthen our relationships, both with our traditional partners and those with whom we can advance, South-South cooperation.
We must also create an environment that enables collaboration, cooperation, and strategic partnerships with all sectors across civil society and national, regional and international partners.
To those ends, the mission of the COFCOR is clear and it is my expectation that our deliberations will be rich and productive. It is my sincere hope and intention that the outcomes of this Meeting will strategically position the Community to face the challenges to grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.
Having oriented us with the mission at hand, I would like to end on a note of hospitality for which Jamaica and our region are well known. So even as we conduct the region’s business, it is my hope that you and your delegations will still find time to delight in the many culinary, cultural, natural and other wonders on offer in the City of Kingston and perhaps in the rest of our beautiful Jamaica.
I thank you.
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