ADDRESS BY HUGO VERBIST ON THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENTATION OF CREDENTIALS AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE KINGDOM OF BELGIUM TO CARICOM
I am very honored to stand here today, although virtually, to present my letter of introduction by Minister Wilmès as the Plenipotentiary Representative of the Kingdom of Belgium to the Caribbean Community. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey the warmest regards of the Minister to you and the people of the Caribbean region as well as her wish to maintain and further strengthen the excellent relationship that exists between the Caribbean Community and Belgium.
Unfortunately, the COVID-pandemic has prevented me to hand over my letter of introduction in person. I sincerely hope that I will be able to meet you or your successor and your staff at the CARICOM-secretariat very soon.
We live in difficult times because of COVID 19, and I wish to convey my deepest condolences to the people of the Caribbean who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. The livelihoods of many have been affected by this crisis too. Despite all these setbacks, the management of this crisis by CARICOM and its member states, and the solidarity between them, has been exemplary. Most of the CARICOM member states have gone a long way to vaccinate their population and also Belgium would like to further contribute to this. As a sign of solidarity and in the knowledge that nobody is safe until everyone is safe, Belgium has, to this date, donated four million EUR to the COVAX facility, on top of the EU-contribution to that facility. Furthermore, Belgium will donate an additional four million vaccines to the facility in the coming months.
Belgium has excellent and warm relations with all countries within the Caribbean region, as well as with your CARICOM itself. The CARICOM-countries are, just like Belgium, all examples of true democracies in a world where democratic values are increasingly at risk, and we should continue to cherish this. Belgium and the Carribean Community are also strongly committed to multilateralism, peace and development through their engagement and cooperation in multilateral fora such as the UN, and I would like to thank the region once again for their support for Belgium’s seat in the Security Council in 2019-2020, during which we worked closely together with the region.
Belgium is very conscious of the value of regional cooperation and unity and is pleased to see the progress made with CARICOM in its path to further integration. Relations between the CARICOM region and the European Union, of which Belgium is one of the founding members and host of many of its institutions, have equally been strong. Hopefully, with the post-Cotonou Agreement and the new EU Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), this relation will further strengthen in the coming years and decades.
The Post-Cotonou Agreement has taken into account the problems, needs and challenges of the African, Pacific and Caribbean regions. It is a confirmation of the common core values and principles all of us aim for, like democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The agreement was adapted to the realities of the 21st century, taking into account topics like digitalization and the blue economy. Brexit posed a challenge for many Caribbean nations in their trade relations with the EU but this new agreement has the aim to contribute to better trade relations with the remaining EU member states. Latin America and the Caribbean are linked by more than geographic proximity, and the EU is a key partner to all countries in the region, both politically and economically.
At the Belgian level, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Brussels recently organized a virtual round table discussion with the resident Ambassadors of the CARICOM countries. During this discussion, The Director of the Americas Desk and the participating Ambassadors exchanged ideas of common interests and possible future projects between Belgium and the region. This meeting, although virtually, was much appreciated by its participants, and will be repeated in the future, to strengthen our ties in areas such as renewable energy, including electric mobility, the fight against climate change, infrastructure and waste management, but also training, education and cultural exchanges for both our young people and our professionals.
I wish you, Mr. Secretary General, to congratulate you for your 10 year term at the head of CARICOM and for all the achievements of the organization during your tenure. Your steady leadership will undoubtedly be greatly missed. I wish your successor, Dr. Carla Barnett, all the best for her upcoming tenure at the helm of the Secretariat of this thriving Community.
In the spirit of further strengthening and establishing closer and more intense relations between Belgium and the Caribbean Community, I am happy and honored to undertake today the task bestowed upon me by my Minister of Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès and I would be most honored, your Excellency, if you could be assured of my total dedication to the success of this mission. Thank you.