Colleague Heads of Government,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Specially Invited Guests,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great
pleasure that, on behalf of the Government and People of the Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago, I extend a warm welcome to this distinguished assembly, at
this Opening Ceremony of the Fourteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of
Government of the Caribbean Community.
I take this
opportunity to extend, as well, special greetings to the people of the Caribbean
Community, in whose interests we are gathered here.
I am pleased to
extend also, sincerest congratulations to Dame Maria Eugenia Charles of
Dominica, Sir John Compton of St Lucia and Mr. Lloyd Best of Trinidad and
Tobago, on their selection for the Award of the Order of the Caribbean
recognizes their outstanding contribution and yeomen service to the region and
It reflects that
we in the Caribbean share a common pride in their achievements and contribution
in our respective fields of endeavor.
Permit me to
acknowledge, just as well, the excellent work of the incumbent Chairman of the
Conference of Heads of Government, the distinguished President of Guyana, His
Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo.
May I indicate
also, that we look forward to the incoming Chairman, the Prime Minister of
Dominica, the Most Honourable Pierre Charles.
This year, the
Community celebrates its thirtieth anniversary.
We meet, however,
at a time when the world is threatened by an impending war with Iraq, political
unrest in some countries in the hemisphere, world economic downturn and
increased oil prices, with its concomitant adverse effect on many countries in
Yet, for all
this, my friends, we should take some measure of comfort in the fact that, as
the longest surviving integration movement in the developing world, we have
proven our resilience and that we have what it takes to prevail.
gentlemen, yesterday, Heads of Government and other stakeholders in the region
engaged in rather useful consultations on “Options for Governance for
Caribbean Regional Integration.”
We ought now to
have a clearer understanding of where the region should be heading.
On that basis certain decisions were taken to advance CARICOM and,
additionally, concrete proposals will be put forward for consideration at the
next Heads of Government Conference in Jamaica in July.
Since our last
Special Heads of Government Meeting on Reviving the Regional Economy in Saint
Lucia in August, 2002, a number of occurrences worthy of note by the region have
The region was
deeply saddened by the passing of a tireless advocate of Caribbean Integration,
former President of Guyana Desmond Hoyte.
gentlemen, one of the best ways to honour his memory is to strengthen the
process of unity and integration in our region.
Late last year,
elections took place in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, and the Governments in
these countries were re-elected.
indeed vibrant, assured, and enduring in our region.
today’s world, this cannot be taken for granted.
It is imperative
that we continue to work together to ensure that our region continues to enjoy a
tradition of healthy democracy.
In this regard,
it is of significance that, after ten long months of a hung Parliament, Trinidad
and Tobago now has in place a Government with a clear mandate conferred via the
democratic traditions and processes to which the region has grown accustomed,
and to which we must continue to look.
We were indeed
surprised when negative advisories about Trinidad and Tobago were posted in a
few countries, recently.
related fears were real or imagined, or resulted from fact or hoax, the
Government of Trinidad and Tobago will not tolerate terrorism.
Rest assured, my
friends, that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is committed to ensuring
that the country remains safe from any undesirable and destabilizing element.
gentlemen, permit me to mention at this point a recent and significant
achievement of the Caribbean Community.
Hudson-Phillips, O.C., an eminent practitioner of criminal law, was elected a
Judge of the International Criminal Court.
We owe a great
deal to His Excellency Arthur N.R. Robinson, President of the Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago, for his unflagging commitment and resolve to have the
International Criminal Court recognized as a necessary addition to the corpus of
international legal institutions.
I wish also to thank you, my Caribbean colleagues, without whose support the
election of Mr. Hudson-Phillips would not have been possible.
Hudson-Phillips, like the West Indies Cricket team, is an offspring of the
His election at
this level is a victory, not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but the region as a
therefore, permit me to extend, from the CARICOM platform, regional
congratulations to the West Indies Cricket Team for their soldiering triumph on
the opening day of the ICC World Cup Tournament.
Never mind the
fact that we lost the very next match.
Our triumphs, as
with everything else, inclusive of our challenges, must serve as the basis for a
further rally of the Caribbean people.
It is with this
understanding, that I turn to matters of the regional economy.
gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends, Caribbean people, on July 4, 1973,
four visionary leaders of the Caribbean - the Heads of Government of Barbados,
Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago - signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas here
in Trinidad and Tobago.
Much has happened
Caribbean Community consists of fifteen Member States, with Haiti becoming the
We now have the
Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which provides the legal entity for the creation
of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) which, unfortunately, is yet to
My friends, in
the new global economic order, trade is governed by a rules-based regime, which
is not markedly sensitive to the limited capabilities and resources of
developing economies like ours.
global economic liberalization, and the proliferation of regional economic and
trading blocs, demand that we implement the CSME as a priority.
customs union, lacking at the level of implementation of policy, has not been
working as well as we would like to prepare Caribbean economies to cope with
globalization and trade liberalization.
We are being left
behind, and will in all likelihood recede further, unless we provide ourselves
with critical economic growth and development space, within the arena of
the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
Permit a return
to the cricket analogy – despite having lost yesterday by 20 runs.
Our situation can
be likened to the absolute necessity for appropriate warm-up matches within the
Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, before the bigger events such as the
establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005.
We must therefore
accelerate the pace of implementation of the various elements of the CSME.
This entity can serve as the motor to generate economic expansion and
increase production; ensure optimal allocation of resources and increase
intra-regional trade; as well as enhance our competitiveness and export
Tobago remains fully committed to the early establishment and operationalization
of the CSME, and we have committed Trinidad and Tobago to becoming CSME ready in
about one year.
General, distinguished Heads, may I now formally put on the Table Trinidad and
Tobago’s intention to enter into discussions with any Caribbean Country
willing to pursue with us the objective of Caribbean Political Integration.
Our view of what lies before us mandates this.
We believe that
the Caribbean region can rise to this challenge.
Related to this
is the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
The CCJ has already found a home in Trinidad and Tobago, and the work
towards its establishment must undoubtedly move into higher gear in 2003.
The fact remains
that the Caribbean Court of Justice is critical to the effective operation of
the CSME, given that the Court, in its Original Jurisdiction, is charged
exclusively and compulsorily with the responsibility to hear and determine
disputes that will arise in the application and interpretation of the Revised
Treaty of Chaguaramas.
But beyond that,
distinguished gathering, the Caribbean Court of Justice, in the exercise of its
appellate jurisdiction, will make for consummation of the true independence of
CARICOM Member States.
This year, my
friends, CARICOM intensifies its trade negotiations at different fora.
Given this, the
Regional Negotiating Machinery, in collaboration with the CARICOM Secretariat,
is expected to play a key role in co-ordinating regional positions and
strategies in negotiations in the World Trade Organization, the African,
Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) - European Union (Cotonou) negotiations, and that of
the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
countries, the plethora of issues being considered in these negotiations and
their effects on our region’s development are staggeringly complex, and even
However, we must
continue to champion issues of particular interest to small economies like ours.
In order to
strengthen our own position, we must enhance our collaborative relationship with
the smaller economies in the FTAA forum, particularly and if possible with the
Central American Common Market countries.
extend this relationship, assisting with resource capacity in a strategic
initiative to effect the “entity” of the FTAA when it manifests itself in
its final form.
Twenty-Third Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean
Community, Trinidad and Tobago’s bid to become the site of the Headquarters of
the FTAA was endorsed by the region’s Heads of Government.
Trinidad and Tobago launched its campaign at the last Meeting of
Ministers of Trade in Quito, Ecuador in October/November 2002.
We are proceeding
with our campaign, and with a strategy which will be outlined to you in the
We look to our
CARICOM colleagues for their usual support.
I wish to inform you that a Secretariat will be established in the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pursue Trinidad and Tobago’s bid.
gentlemen, our vulnerability as developing countries was evidenced in the recent
economic crises faced by some countries in the region – so much so that in
August last, CARICOM Heads convened as a matter of emergency in St Lucia to
consider initiatives towards the revival of the regional economy.
The recent global
economic downturn and the events of September 11, 2001 have adversely affected
the tourism sector in many of our countries.
constitutes the backbone of many Caribbean economies and is a major propellant
Tourism must be
afforded more attention on the CARICOM agenda.
gentlemen, the major social ills facing our societies today include crime,
illegal drugs and HIV/AIDS. In some
of our countries, large sections of our population are becoming engulfed in the
sea of misfortune that exists below the poverty line.
In looking at the
future of the region, we have to put greater emphasis on the welfare of our
They are the
future of our region, but are most vulnerable in relation to involvement in
crime, illicit drugs and the contraction of HIV/AIDS.
On this basis the
future of our region is significantly imperiled.
redeeming factor is that there are many success stories among our youth in the
areas such as sports, culture and the professions.
explore the creation of a regional programme that will allow such persons to
travel, conduct clinics and interact with all our young, in a context that will
enable them to exhibit adequate influence as role models.
It has to be
significant that the theme of the Eighth Meeting of the Council for Human and
Social Development, which will take place in Suriname in April, is “Meeting
the Challenge of Human and Social Development through Culture, Youth and
This should be
used to advance the regional strategy for our youth.
I wish now to
turn to recent external developments that have been the cause of anxiety among
some regional leaders.
gentlemen, time and time again, the vulnerability of our Community to external
cataclysm and convulsion has been demonstrated.
This has been
like a recurring decimal in the Caribbean fraction.
The impact of the
severe disruption of Venezuela crude oil production since December last,
together with the increasing likelihood of war in Iraq, are but the most recent
developments have already resulted in substantial increases in the price of
international crude and petroleum products.
therefore, CARICOM Member States are very concerned about the possibility of
further price increases if war breaks out against Iraq.
Permit me to say
that we are not unaware of a sentiment in the region that Trinidad and Tobago
should attempt to provide a cushion against this development, through the
guaranty of a pre-Iraq war oil price.
My friends, our
willingness to empathize, even at this level, is not supported by the realities
of our own situation.
Even with the
best will in the world, the proposition is difficult to consummate, given that
Trinidad and Tobago imports 50 percent of the crude it refines, and is also
subjected like everyone else to the vagaries created by the escalating conflict.
given the nature of this country’s agreements in terms of the purchase, sale
and transportation of oil, our domestic market is also adversely affected by the
upward adjustments in freight rates and other shipping charges.
In short, we have
been experiencing difficulties of our own.
notwithstanding, Trinidad and Tobago has made a late request for Petroleum
Product Pricing in the Region to be included as an agenda item at this 14th
Inter-Sessional Meeting. We are
prepared to examine the issues involved as dispassionately as we can.
My Colleagues and
the Caribbean Community should know that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago
had already been studying this issue with a view to making an appropriate
proposal to Heads at this meeting in Trinidad if we could.
The matter however has turned out to be more complex than on the face of
it, it might appear.
appropriate stage we will propose that these studies continue in collaboration
with our CARICOM Colleagues (if only to avoid suspicion).
Trinidad and Tobago is prepared to do its part within the context of the
constraints that face us.
should also know that if war breaks out in the Middle East, a much larger issue
will face us, and it is the question of Security of Supply.
With the United States amassing a strategic oil reserve, and Europe
accumulating stocks to supply European countries for a period of ninety days
without imports, and with no such provision having been made in the Caribbean,
the Refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre will not be able to compete with United States
Gulf Coast Refineries. But nuff said.
I wish to submit,
ladies and gentlemen, that developments such as these provide the backdrop for
the Trinidad and Tobago proposal to establish a Natural Gas pipeline across the
We continue to
hold to the belief that such a system could provide for a win-win situation
between the source and destination countries in the Caribbean, and one which
will ensure that we are not subjected to the pressures exerted by external
caprices emanating from the wider international oil market.
therefore, will shield CARICOM Member States from the external elements, and
liberate us from the characteristic Caribbean vulnerability to external
convulsion and cataclysms.
It will serve as
a virtual channel to liberation of the region in terms of its energy.
Having said this,
I leave it up to my CARICOM colleagues to engage in further discussions as to
how we might, together, establish this pipeline to Caribbean freedom and
decision-makers in the region, in everything we do, we should have uppermost in
our mind the improvement of the standard of living of our people.
I am confident
that mobilized in this conviction, the decisions adopted at our Meeting over the
next two days should advance the interests of our people.
In conclusion, I
hope that our visiting Heads and Delegations have an enjoyable time and
experience the warmth of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, especially at this
time of Carnival festivities.
I ask God’s
guidance in our deliberations, and for a successful Meeting.
I thank you.