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His Excellency the Deputy Governor General, Mr. Denniston Bobb
Secretary General of CARICOM, Dr. Edwin Carrington
Outgoing Chairman of CARICOM, Dr. Denzil Douglas
Colleague Heads of Government
His Excellency Dr. Cesar Gavaria – Secretary General of the Organisation of American State
His Excellency the Hon. Don Mc Kinnon, Secretary General of the Commonwealth
Your Lordship the Judge
Honourable Ministers
Hon. Leader of the Opposition
Hon. Members of Parliament
Sir Shridath and Sir Alister of the Regional Negotiating Machinery
Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps
Heads of religious denominations
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines it is a distinct pleasure for me to welcome you to Canouan for this 21st Summit of the Caribbean Community in the dawn of the new millennium.

I remember well the first Heads of Government Conference thirty-two years ago in Barbados when we created the expanded Free Trade Area. I remember the faces that were there in the room, the late Errol Barrow of Barbados, Bird of Antigua, Gairy of Grenada, Bradshaw of St. Kitts/Nevis/ Anguilla, Shearer of Jamaica, Burnham of Guyana and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, all legends in their own right who have passed into the pages of our history. I was then a young Trade Minister charged with CARIFTA responsibilities that created this Community.

Thirty-four years ago, the people of Canouan and other islands of the Grenadines entrusted me with their destiny. At that time, no where in any of these islands were there any jetties, paved roads, telephones, electricity, airports or running water. No one in these islands could get a loan from a bank in St. Vincent, or quite frankly had any hope.

Conquering the stormy seas was then the source of our strength in these isolated islands as we sailed the far oceans on foreign ships to bring sustenance home. Our greener pastures were unknown lands. Who would imagine as you relish the splendour of Canouan today that one of my early jobs here was to ship water in drums to roll up on the beach for people to drink.

Who would have imagined a mere ten years ago, that Canouan would be host to a Caribbean summit. A decade ago, the site where this resort stands was the venue for jungle training for our Regional Security System. When the investors arrived, there was only one vehicle on the island, a gift to the police from the South Korean Government.

In my youth, these idyllic islands exported firewood to Barbados for smokey kitchens in the yards. Today, the lands from which that firewood was sourced are the sites of luxurious villas, appealing to the elite of the world.

On these lands too, our women folk toiled for a pittance, picking cotton in the sun. Where have these cotton fields gone, and who misses them today!

Our youth, addicted to the television screens, know nothing of this history, or care, but a lesson for them is there. In this era of threat to our traditional livelihood from bananas and sugar posed by trade liberalization, there is comfort in our history that tells us we have transformed our economies in the past and we can do so again.

The sailing ships took days to reach Barbados with their cargo of firewood. Such were the origins of our single market and economy as fashioned by opportunity of the time. What matters now is that we, with our enhanced education, find answers for our generation, which measure up to the impositions of the information age and new technology.

It is appropriate that a small island like Canouan is the venue for this particular conference, coming at a time when the era of protection for our bananas and sugar over the last fifty years seems to have closed with the end of the twentieth century. Here we can demonstrate beautifully the kind of tourism that provides the direction of the future.

This is the century of the pre-eminence of services, not the production of commodities. Tourism, telecommunications and financial services are our destiny. If you are going to go for tourism, target to ensure that you receive the highest foreign exchange per square inch of beach. This has been our strategy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the disadvantage of being a plural country with savagely high costs of infrastructure development is paying dividends with our appeal to the top end of the market.

A decade ago when we faced the implications of the establishment of the Single Market in Europe by 1993, we were worried that recession in the banana industry would mean the collapse of the Eastern Caribbean dollar.

Today, in the Windward Islands income from Tourism is eight times that from bananas, and over thirteen times as much in the Eastern Caribbean as a whole. So the value of our currency in the OECS is not now under threat. Our continuing concern about the banana industry relates to employment in the countryside, the weekly distribution of wealth and the social stability it engenders, without which tourism cannot thrive.

I wish to pay tribute to Sir Neville Nicholls who immediately agreed to finance the airport expansion project through the CDB after he had visited Canouan and seen the plans for this resort. He appreciated the magnitude of the investment and what it would do for other projects that would be attracted in its train in these islands.

The pressure we face daily looking for some period of grace to continue to allow us to sell bananas is totally absent from our tourist industry. We can sell a quality hotel room for the same price as London, Paris or New York. We need only to blend our landscape into beautiful architecture and provide the comparative excellence of service, and our future is assured. It should be inspiring for us all to conceptualize that Spain makes more money out of tourism than Saudi Arabia earns out of oil. The Spaniards and other colonisers see tourism as an important vehicle of their progress. Very few of our visitors come to us for their first vacation, so they know the quality of service industry in other places.

It is opportune too that we are meeting at this time, one week after the condemnation of the operation of our financial services by the OECD countries. I find it difficult not to state that we are doing little different from what obtained in the past in countries under OECD supervision, and all this hype derives from the attitude that we have no business in financial services.

It strikes me as being not entirely accidental that the dependent territories are not listed for harmful tax competition. Be that as it may, let it be known that we in this Caribbean Community do not aspire to become a refuge for drug barons or money launderers. Money laundering is already a criminal offense in our jurisdiction. We have signed the treaty with the United States on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and will be prepared to sign similar treaties with others should they see this as protection?

We need to bring our collective wisdom to bear on these matters as we have done in the past when faced with similar challenges, and I am confident that we can do so in a manner that satisfies international codes of conduct and our own self esteem as Independent countries.

To this end, and in this conference, we can set out our agenda and time frame for improved legislation and new regulatory procedures. For a start, and inside our own currency union of the OECS, a separate Financial Intelligence Unit could be established with autonomous authority to inspect and regulate all aspects on any money laundering.

Our integrity will depend on the performance of such a regulatory body. It will have to be understood by all that we will not let our credibility be disrespected. There is room for all of us in this business and we should not leave anyone to fall behind.

In more generous times, a few decades ago, when the Lome Convention was conceptualized, it was deemed appropriate that vulnerable developing countries with no natural resources should have some special dispensation so that they become better markets for their industrial goods. Today even while the OECD recognize we need assistance in poverty alleviation they are postulating that we are engaged in tax competition.

Let it be clear that harmful tax competition has nothing to do with drug money or money laundering. We are doing nothing that is illegal or immoral. Tax competition is really about whose treasury gets the money. The international financial community urges competition and open markets but when we succeed they declare it unfair.

The other dimension to their pontification is its similarity to extraterritorial legislation by the powerful over the weak. We need a framework of multilateral discussion to resolve these issues.

Other important issues which we need to tackle are AIDS and Telecommunications. The rate of increase in HIV infection requires serious public education, and the issue cannot be allowed to drift.

The rate of change of technology in telecommunications requires too that we are positioned in the mainstream of those changes. We are not ungrateful for the services we have received in the past, but even as we are positioning ourselves in the top end of tourism we must have comparable advantage in telecommunication. The opportunities for employment for young school leavers in this field are immense and we cannot allow the agreements of the past with limited vision restrict our avenues today. We have to harness technology and modernize our societies. Top quality service in tourism, top quality service in telecommunications, top quality service in financial services has to be our vision of the future.

A recent study in the United States has revealed that the most threatened job in the new millennium is that of the teacher, engendered by new techniques of communication. The global village is here to stay and we must be ready to reform all or any of our institutions.

When CARIFTA was launched three decades ago and the energy crisis descended later, we postulated policies of import substitution. We also set up protectionism for our legal education, and now the antiquated rules are restricting our own nationals at home, and in the diaspora, from accessing employment in the legal profession. It is ridiculous that this should continue when opportunity for legal education is available even at home on the internet. In my view no clause in our Treaty or Protocols is inviolable when they restrict opportunity for our young people. A quarantine around our legal education today is as irrelevant a policy as introverted import substitution when we are creating a single market and economy in readiness for globalisation.

In our Conference we will not only be devoting attention to regional matters. The distinguished Secretary General of the Commonwealth will be briefing us on violations of democracy in Sierra Leone, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Zimbabwe. But we have to be careful with taking the moral high ground in regard to the despicable behaviour in these countries, deploring the mote in their eyes when the beam is in ours.

In this vein, I refer to my own country St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Guyana and the recent actions in Suriname. The collapse of law and order, or the use of force to resolve disputes, ignoring parliamentary procedures or dialogue, cannot be blessed and should not be allowed to become a norm in our region. The price for chaos is too high. The speed of progress in well ordered societies is ever increasing and we cannot afford to be left behind if we are serious about maintaining the quality of life to which we have become accustomed, and wish to continue to create new opportunities for our youth.

Now that many of you have come to the Grenadines for the first time you may have some patience putting up with our long name St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But even as we contemplate our visions for the future in up-market tourism and new technology, let me tell you that Bill Gates himself has already cruised the Grenadines and played golf here in Canouan.

My dear Colleagues, I expect that here in Canouan you will be anxious to come to quick decisions so that you have time to indulge in our beautiful scenery.

To our Caribbean people I wish them to focus on the way we respond to the wars we have to fight, emanating from beyond our shores, be they about bananas, sugar, the WTO, LOME, FTAA, or the now so-called harmful tax competition in our offshore sector.

We pitch our moving tent and in response to these dire threats, always return to seek shelter in our common Caribbean home. Will this be a continuing perspective throughout this new century, yearning, but never founding a political identity with some meaningful strength!

In his reflections on the martyrdom of Joan of Arc when she tried to direct the destiny of France, the playwright Bernard Shaw wrote:

O Lord who gave us this beautiful earth
When will it be ready to receive thy saints!

To the young people of our Region I simply want to leave the question for them to ask themselves:

O Lord who gave us these beautiful islands
When will we be ready ..
How long, O Lord, how long!

Colleagues, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you again for coming. I pray that this conference will once more demonstrate the brilliance of our intellect in the Caribbean and our capacity to lead the changes that create an enhanced quality of life for our people.

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