Remarks delivered by Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ambassador Irwin LaRocque At the Opening of the 22nd Meeting of the Council For Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) St. George’s, Grenada 13-14 May 2019
Posted in: Press Releases by volderine | 14 May 2019 | Release Ref #: 75/2019 | 552
I welcome you all to this Twenty-Second Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR). I am confident that I can speak on your behalf in thanking the Hon. Peter David and the Government and People of Grenada for the generous hospitality and excellent arrangements that they have put in place to facilitate this Meeting.
I wish to extend a special welcome to the Honourable Dr. Karen Cummings, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, who is attending the COFCOR for the first time. Madame Minister, we look forward to your contribution to the deliberations as you will no doubt bring a fresh perspective to the issues to be discussed.
Let me take this opportunity to express sincere appreciation to the Honourable Darren Henfield, Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Bahamas, for his dynamic leadership and capable stewardship as Chair of the COFCOR during the past year, which has been, in many ways, quite a challenging one for our Region.
May I also take a moment to acknowledge the contribution of a great Grenadian and Caribbean man, Sir Alister McIntyre who recently passed away.
Sir Alister served as the second Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Chief Technical Adviser in the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery and the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, as well as many senior positions in the UN System. His contribution to the Region’s development and its international stature was outstanding and is a fine example of the fact that being from a small state is no hindrance to the achievement of excellence.
Mr Chairman, over the years, the COFCOR has been the key forum where Foreign Ministers of CARICOM meet to reflect on regional, hemispheric and international matters. It is within this Council that they strategise and co-ordinate our foreign policy positions on issues of critical importance to the Region. The meetings of the Council also provide the opportunity to engage with representatives of Third States in meaningful dialogue on matters of mutual interest as well as to initiate or strengthen relations.
We also share perspectives from the experience of individual Member States on best practices suited for our collective, all of which are critical to strengthening our foreign policy co-ordination and outreach.
The diverse range of issues which this Twenty-Second Meeting of the COFCOR will focus on, will guide the foreign policy positioning of the Community.
When we met in May last year, while conducting an assessment of our relations with traditional partners, we also engaged in productive discussions with representatives of Third States with which the Region wishes to forge and strengthen partnerships.
We also looked at the common challenges faced by Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS) like ours and reaffirmed the importance of continuing to strengthen our existing relations with small state groupings in other parts of the world.
Further, we reflected on the implications for the Community of the developments taking place in our hemisphere, and held a lengthy discussion on strategies for promoting the Region’s interests.
Since that meeting, the Community has had success in broadening its diplomatic relations through the accreditation of Ambassadors to CARICOM from Georgia and Romania and meeting with Estonia at the highest level.
Our relations with Romania led to a visit by the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia the Honourable Allen Chastanet and myself to that country while it was in the chair of the EU to discuss the issue of blacklisting. Romania, through its chairmanship of ECOFIN brought our concerns to the attention of that Council.
Our Foreign Ministers also attended an “International Conference on Building Resilience to Natural Disasters” in Bucharest in March 2019, an issue of existential importance to CARICOM.
Romania’s invitation to the Community to participate in this meeting also afforded the opportunity to engage Romanian authorities on a number of other matters of mutual interest and to strengthen cooperation. This has resulted in the offer of scholarships in a number of areas and assistance in disaster management.
Also in this widening context, CARICOM representatives participated in the First Cooperation Forum between the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Caribbean in November 2018 in Dubai. Our participation in that important event will nurture cooperation and bolster ties between our Region and the UAE.
It will also build on existing partnerships such as the UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund and pave the way for new ones.
The Community has not neglected its other partners and has also been very active in its efforts to build on its existing relations through engagements at various levels. Heads of Government met with His Excellency Sebastian Pinera, the President of Chile last July which further strengthened our ties with that country.
Our bilateral meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of State last September led to the organization of a meeting on resilience to disasters last month. Our co-operation relations with the US, the UK, Canada, Spain, Germany and Italy, to mention but a few, continue to make valuable contributions to the well-being of the people of the Community.
Next month, the Community will host the Sixth Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of CARICOM and Cuba. Cuba has been a long-standing, supportive partner particularly in building the Region’s human capital in fields such as public health and sport. Our Community reiterates its call for the lifting of the unwarranted economic embargo and sanctions on Cuba which were strengthened recently.
In continuing our outreach, we are pleased to receive the Minister of European Affairs of Ireland, Her Excellency Helen McEntee, at this Meeting. We look forward to an interesting exchange of views on matters of mutual interest and to the possibility of advancing our relationship.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Guests, this meeting is taking place at a time when our hemisphere continues to face great challenges. The ongoing political situation in Venezuela is worrisome and requires an urgent and concerted response from all actors.
Since the beginning of the year, CARICOM has been very active on the issue and spared no effort on its own as well as working with like-minded countries and other parties, towards a peaceful internal outcome to the crisis, an objective on which all Member States agree.
In this regard, a delegation of Heads of Government, led by the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr the Honourable Timothy Harris, and including the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon Mia Mottley, and the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr the Hon Keith Rowley, has been operating within the framework of the Montevideo Mechanism process established with Mexico and Uruguay.
The Community has been resolute in reaffirming its guiding principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of states, prohibition of the threat or use of force, respect for sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the constitutional framework, human rights and democracy.
Just a week ago in Costa Rica, Prime Minister Harris, led a CARICOM delegation including myself and the Assistant Secretary-General for Foreign and Community Relations to the outreach session of the third Ministerial Meeting of the International Contact Group, where perspectives on the situation in Venezuela were exchanged.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, other issues of interest to the Community’s welfare also feature on your Agenda. The implications of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), and the ongoing Post-Cotonou negotiations which will determine CARICOM’s and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) future relationship with the EU.
Our meeting today will have to consider several issues as we formulate the Community’s position going forward. We are facing a world where major actors are showing a decreasing interest in a collective approach to global problems. It is an era where the multilateral architecture has come under increasing strain. Geopolitical competition in a multipolar world has increased, as well as the exercise of state power by the powerful to the detriment of international law and of smaller countries.
CARICOM, as small states, must therefore rely more than ever on focused and coordinated diplomacy, bolster its relations with like-minded states and continue to advocate for multilateralism.
The theme for our Retreat “Leveraging the Community’s Voice in an Era of Challenges and Disorder” is more than timely. It constitutes a wakeup call that reminds us as small states that the best way to protect the Region’s interests in such a challenging time is to be cohesive, to work together as a collective, and to speak with one voice.
In closing Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, the COFCOR has a full Agenda before it. I am, however, confident that we will have a stimulating and fruitful meeting that will advance the co-ordination of our foreign policy and promote our collective interests for the benefit of the citizens of the Community.
I thank you.
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