Press release 35/2003
(15 February 2003)

OPENING ADDRESS BY HON. PATRICK MANNING, PRIME MINISTER, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, AT THE FOURTEENTH INTER-SESSIONAL MEETING OF THE CONFERENCE OF HEADS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY, 14-15 FEBRUARY 2003, PORT-OF-SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

 
 

Mr. Chairman,
Colleague Heads of Government,
Honourable Ministers,
Secretary-General,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Specially Invited Guests,
Delegates,
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 Community. 

This Award recognizes their outstanding contribution and yeomen service to the region and beyond. 

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 our region. 

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. 

Ladies and 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 taken place. 

The region was deeply saddened by the passing of a tireless advocate of Caribbean Integration, former President of Guyana Desmond Hoyte. 

Ladies and 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. 

Democracy is indeed vibrant, assured, and enduring in our region. 

However, in 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. 

Whether the 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. 

Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to mention at this point a recent and significant achievement of the Caribbean Community. 

Mr. Karl 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. 

Notwithstanding, I wish also to thank you, my Caribbean colleagues, without whose support the election of Mr. Hudson-Phillips would not have been possible. 

Mr. Hudson-Phillips, like the West Indies Cricket team, is an offspring of the Caribbean soil. 

His election at this level is a victory, not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but the region as a whole. 

You would, 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. 

Ladies and 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 since then. 

Today the Caribbean Community consists of fifteen Member States, with Haiti becoming the latest addition. 

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 materialize. 

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. 

The present global economic liberalization, and the proliferation of regional economic and trading blocs, demand that we implement the CSME as a priority. 

Our current 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 capability. 

Trinidad and 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. 

Mr. Secretary 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. 

For CARICOM countries, the plethora of issues being considered in these negotiations and their effects on our region’s development are staggeringly complex, and even daunting. 

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. 

CARICOM must 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. 

At the 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 upcoming weeks. 

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. 

Ladies and 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. 

Tourism constitutes the backbone of many Caribbean economies and is a major propellant of growth. 

Tourism must be afforded more attention on the CARICOM agenda. 

Ladies and 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 youth. 

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. 

However, a redeeming factor is that there are many success stories among our youth in the areas such as sports, culture and the professions. 

CARICOM must 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 Sport”. 

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. 

Ladies and 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 examples. 

These developments have already resulted in substantial increases in the price of international crude and petroleum products. 

Not surprisingly, 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. 

Furthermore, 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. 

These facts 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. 

At the 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. 

Colleague Heads 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 region. 

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. 

The pipeline, 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 independence.

 

As 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.
 

 
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