Conference of Heads of GovernmentMemberPress ReleasesSpeechesSt. Kitts and Nevis


Your Excellency Sir Cuthbert Sebastian, Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis; Honourable Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community; Members of the Federal Government of St. Kitts and Nevis and the Nevis Island Assembly; Hon. Justice Satrohan Singh of the Eastern Caribbean Appeal Court, Resident Judge, His Lordship Justice Neville Smith, Dr. Edwin Carrington, Secretary-General of CARICOM, Mr. Swinbourne Lestrade, Director General of the OECS, Mr. Dwight Venner, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Government and CARICOM officials, Representatives of Private Sector Institutions; Delegates; Members of the Media, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure to welcome each of you, on behalf of the Government and people, to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, and to the 11th CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting. It is our sincere desire that your short stay with us will be enjoyable and particularly productive as we seek to move the region forward in the integration process.

I am especially pleased to be back here again with my colleagues from the region. Those of us who are subject to the vagaries of an electoral process can never be sure when our employers will recall us and substitute others in our place.

I am therefore grateful to the people of St. Kitts and Nevis for permitting me to not only survive, but triumph in the event which took place on March 6, 2000.

By the same token, I wish here to congratulate as well as welcome the Hon. Rosie Douglas, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, to this August body. I wish to assure the new member of my Government’s commitment to assisting his administration on any initiative designed to promote and safeguard the interests of the beautiful people of Dominica. In the same breath, I place on record as Chairman of CARICOM, gratitude to the former Prime Minister of Dominica, Mr. Edison James, for the invaluable role he played in the Caribbean integration movement over the last five years. Former Prime Minister James excelled as the lead voice for the OECS and CARICOM on bananas and telecommunications matters.

Dominica has a long and impressive record as a team player in CARICOM and we look forward to working with Prime Minister Douglas in furtherance of the cause of Dominica and the region as a whole.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as I speak to you on this very auspicious occasion, international developments are taking place at a fast pace. Yesterday’s miraculous technological events represent obsolescence today.

The captains of international industry and multi nationals are constantly realigning themselves with fellow competitors in alliances which represent individual concentrations of power in economic terms, that are far greater than the collective economies of CARICOM countries.

I have no doubt that if such mammoth commercial entities find it necessary to combine forces to confront the global economy and take advantage of every available opportunity for profit, then we too as a region, must see unity and cooperation as the keys to survival and progress in our changing world.

It is in this ever-changing environment we come here once again to devise ways in which we can withstand the buffeting of these economic changes. It is a time of political and economic sturm und drang (German for storm and stress).

We gather here, Ladies and Gentlemen, united in the belief that the best way for our group of nations to confront the uncharted economic course which we must take, is to face the world united as one. Very often as we go back to our respective countries and we deal with the mundane local and parochial problems, we tend to either forget or subordinate the big regional picture to an area of irrelevance. This can only happen to our detriment.

This Eleventh Inter-Sessional Meeting provides an opportunity for a renewal of commitment to a regional plan of action as the best way to ensure the future of our people. As matters now stand, these are complex problems because our member states function at different levels of development and the vulnerabilities of one island’s economy may represent the strength of another island’s economy. The complex problem we face is finding a way to meld these differing problems.

In other respects, our economies are to some extent in competition with one another. All of us are seeking to invite the same pools of tourists to our country, all of us are seeking to encourage the same pool or pools of investors to set up businesses or financial services in our countries. All of us are trying to address the major players in the area of high technology to do business in our country.

The broadly similar objectives and strategies for our economic development, however, are not totally negative in consequence, but should make for more manageable harmonisation of our goals.

It is not beyond the ingenuity of our leaders to develop a monetary union which embraces countries with both fixed and floating exchange rate regimes. To give but one example, the OECS Stock Exchange which will be established here in Basseterre, St. Kitts later this year, with state of the art technology, should not only serve to create a single economic space in the OECS, but should also provide the impetus for the further integration of capital markets in the entire region.

The time for speechifying for effect, political or otherwise, must end now. We must make hard decisions without delay and avoid putting off until another day that which can be accomplished right away.

My delegation has come ready to make the hard decisions. St. Kitts and Nevis will not vacillate on any issue. We come ready to make any decision that will advance us closer to our goal of full regional integration. We are looking forward to the report from the Community Council of Ministers. Under consideration in this report are matters pertaining to the review of the role, structure and functioning of the CARICOM Secretariat, permanent headquarters for the Secretariat, a report on harmful tax competition policies, the OECS membership in the IDB, and an update on preparations for CARIFESTA VII.

We commend the work done by the Legal Affairs Committee in their February meeting that has resulted in clearing the way to move forward on a number of protocols to amend the original Treaty of Chaguaramas. The signing of protocols along with other relevant matters would clear the way for our people to really begin reaping the benefits of free movement in goods, services, capital and skilled human resources within the Community. The effective accomplishment of a Single Market and Economy would, therefore, be a major asset in the development process.

Essential to this achievement, however, is the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice. While there are matters yet to be resolved, particularly on the part of the OECS countries, the Preparatory Committee has been pursuing a number of tasks that brings us closer to the inauguration of the Court and its effective functioning.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are a number of other important matters on our agenda over the next two days, including those of assistance to Haiti in its integration into the Caribbean Community following ratification of the membership agreement by the Parliament of Haiti. Review of the CARICOM housing project on Montserrat and consideration for the continued financing for completing Phase II is also an important matter for discussion.

I believe we are all looking forward to the South-South Summit scheduled to be held in Cuba April 10 to 14. Among the significant issues that capture our interest are those on globalisation and its impact on developing countries, financing for development and the international trade and financial environment.

We must seize the opportunity that will be created by the South-South Summit to forge strong and meaningful links with non-English speaking nations of the wider Caribbean. It is already apparent that in the context of the Global Village in which we live, CARICOM as it is now constituted, is still relatively small and run the risk of marginalisation in an increasingly hostile and competitive world.

We must also revisit the Association of Caribbean States, with a view to ensuring that it meets its objective of widening the regional integration process.

In the global economy in which we find ourselves, the activities aimed at deepening and widening the regional integration movement cannot be pursued sequentially. They must be pursued simultaneously. Time is not on our side because the very fast paced world in which we exist is simply not waiting on us. We stand still at our peril.

These issues, along with others slated for discussion, are very pertinent to the future development of our countries and the welfare of our peoples.

The next two days, therefore, will be quite intensive and action oriented. I am certainly looking forward to making significant advances during this meeting.

Many years ago the distinguished West Indian Commission, led by Sir Shridath Ramphal, reported to the region that it was ‘time for action’. I will not attempt to evaluate the extent to which we were successful in responding to that challenge. I will only state that if ever there was a time for action, it is now.

I therefore say to my fellow Heads of Government, let the work of this very important Inter-Sessional Meeting begin.

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