Conference of Heads of GovernmentMemberPress ReleasesSpeechesTrinidad and Tobago


It is my singular pleasure to extend a warm welcome to this distinguished assembly, at this opening ceremony of the Twentieth Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

I extend this welcome on behalf of the people and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

I must, as well, take this opportunity to extend warm and special greetings to the peoples of the Caribbean Community whose interests we are here to represent, and who are following this afternoon’s proceedings across the region, through the television and radio systems which are affiliated to CBU and to CANA.

I wish, also, to extend a warm and very special welcome to His Excellency, Don Jose Maria Aznar, President of the Government of Spain, and to the members of his delegation.

Your Excellency, your visit to Port-of-Spain will undoubtedly contribute to the strengthening of Euro-Caribbean relations. It would be most gratifying if your visit could also foster closer Euro-Caribbean relations., Mr. President.

This conference in Trinidad and Tobago is of special significance for me, since it is the first to be held here since the commencement of my Government’s first Term, in November 1995.

Moreover, ladies and gentlemen, this CARICOM Summit is the last for the century, and for the millennium.

This is, therefore, a Conference that will be expected to treat the business of the Community with the degree of urgency, purposefulness, and conclusiveness, that is required if we are to establish a platform, which, as we bring this century to its close, will propel us with increased velocity into a strengthened and strategic position in the new century.

As is customary, ladies and gentlemen, this Conference is taking place as all of our Member States celebrate CARICOM Day.

Twenty six years ago, on 4 July 1973, four visionary leaders of the Caribbean – the Heads of Government of Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago – signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas, here in Trinidad and Tobago.

That treaty established the Caribbean Community and Common Market.

Today, CARICOM numbers thirteen states, with Haiti still to take up membership; with two British territories as associate members and with one territory and four countries having Observer Status.

Since our last Regular Meeting in Saint Lucia in July 1998, several developments, which are worthy of mention, have taken place in the region.

Governments have been re-elected in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla.

A new Government has assumed office in Belize under the leadership of Prime Minister Said Musa.

Prime Minister Musa, I extend a special welcome to Trinidad and Tobago, to the Conference of Heads, and to this Meeting.

Your election and the other election outcomes on which I have just remarked make manifest the fact that democracy is vibrant, assured, and enduring in our region.

This affirmation of the healthy state of democracy in the Community, and the expression of the people’s will in free and fair elections, has especial application to Trinidad and Tobago, particularly at this time.

We are currently engaged in Local Government Elections, which in our case, are as spiritedly contested, as are national elections in our sister CARICOM states.

It is noteworthy that 34 percent – 90 of the 263 candidates contesting these elections are women, a number of them independents running on women’s platforms.

If I may be permitted a moment of political pragmatism, let me give you the firm assurance that these local elections will in no way presage any change of administration in our General Elections.

On a sombre note, the region was deeply saddened by the recent passing of two tireless advocates of Caribbean Integration – former Secretaries-General of the Caribbean Community, William G. Demas and Dr. Kurleigh King.

Last week, we were to be further saddened by the passing of a true West Indian Titian. Vere Cornwall Bird, former Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.

He was a founding father of the West Indies Federation. He was a founding father of CARIFTA, and by extension, a founding father of CARICOM,

A year ago, Vere Bird was, deservedly, albeit belatedly perhaps, awarded the honour of the Order of the Caribbean Community.

That award, fortuitous in its timing, was a fitting crowning of the life of this Caribbean giant.

I extend deep condolences to Prime Minister Lester Bird, on the loss of his illustrious father.

In appreciation of their immeasurable contribution to the region, we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to strive to achieve the ideals for which these departed stalwarts so arduously toiled.

We must record our appreciation for the zeal and competence with which Dr Jules Wijdenbosch, President of the Republic of Suriname, executed his duties as Chairman of Conference.

The region is at a critical juncture in its history.

I n the new global economic order in which we operate, trade is governed by the rules-based regime of the World Trade Organisation.

This regime is not markedly sensitive to the limited capabilities and resources of developing economies.

The regional response to the changing global trade and economic environment is the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, which is scheduled for full implementation by the year 2000.

The objective of this deepening of the integration process is expanded production, optimal allocation of resources, increased intra-regional trade, and enhanced competitiveness and export capability.

We must, however, accelerate the pace of implementation of the various elements of the Single Market.

During the course of this opening session, Protocols defining policies for Transport and for Disadvantaged Countries, Regions and Sectors, will be available for signature by the Heads.

We must move swiftly to conclusion and implementation of the remaining Protocols for Trade Policy, Disputes Settlement and Rules of Competition.

These are vital if the CARICOM Single Market and Economy is to be fully operational in 2000.

I do not anticipate any undue delay.

I think it unlikely that we will suffer any unexpected setback by from any mysterious strain of the Y2K Bug.

If perchance we are not all ready, we risk invoking the wisdom of the late Prime Minister Bird, in whose memory I spoke a few moments ago.

In an interesting footnote to the insight, the wisdom of Vere Cornwall Bird, it is reported that on being asked his opinion as to why the West Indies Federation had collapsed, Vere Bird expressed the view that “it was a matter of wanting to walk too fast.”

Some sceptics might say, ladies and gentlemen, that CARICOM could never be accused of such impatience.

Some cynics might even say that in the matter of the Common External tariff, as in the process for the implementation of the Single Market and Economy, Prime Minister Bird, the First, would probably have said that “This is a matter of not walking fast enough.”

The programme for the reduction of the Common External Tariff is eighteen months late.

The revised structure of the Common External Tariff, embodying the Amended 1996 harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System, is yet to be completed.

Within the forum of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a number of CARICOM Member States are the only countries in the Hemisphere that are yet to convert to this system.

We must move aggressively to remove the remaining restrictions on intra-regional trade.

The matter of licensing the introduction of new non-tariff measures, such as environmental legislation and standards are pertinent to this.

These new non-tariff measures pose considerable challenges in the current global, economic and commercial environment.

In this context, the establishment of the Caribbean Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality is an important development.

We must be acutely sensitive to the rapid pace at which relevant changes are taking place.

The Millennium round of negotiations may well be launched at the Meeting of the Ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation in December, in Seattle, Washington.

The objective of this Round of negotiations is the further opening of the markets in goods, services and agriculture, in keeping with the consensus of Member States at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round.

There is, however, a strong lobby for the round to be wider in scope, to include new topics such as the environment, labour, competition policy , and electronic commerce.

This will be in addition to the existing topics such as agriculture and market access.

CARICOM will have to come to grips with requisite obligations and with the implementation of the necessary legal and regulatory changes that accession to the world Trade Organisation will impose upon us.

We in CARICOM were virtual by-standers in the Uruguay Round process,

Have we learnt the obvious lesson from that experience?

Are we geared for the necessary steps to ensure that we are active participants in this Round?

This Conference will no doubt answer these questions.

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 the Millennium round of negotiations.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas has become the major forum for trade negotiations within the hemisphere , and CARICOM has been participating as a single entity under the co-ordination

of the Regional Negotiating Machinery.

By virtue of its chairmanship of the Consultative Group on smaller Economies, CARICOM is at the vanguard of the smaller economies lobby in the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

It is thus opportune for the region to seek to enhance its collaborative relationship with the smaller economies in the Free Trade Area of the Americas forum, particularly with the Central American Common Market countries.

The negotiation of a successor agreement to the Lome lV arrangement is well under way.

In the African/Caribbean/Pacific forum, our concerns remain focussed on the European Union’s proposal for the negotiation of free trade agreements embodying divisive, regional criteria and the fulfillment of political conditionalities as a pre-requisite for the receipt of benefits under the post-Lome lV regime.

We continue to advocate a longer period of transition prior to our inevitable agreement to trade reciprocity.

In related context, the African/Caribbean /Pacific grouping suffered significant fallout in the newly liberalised international trading environment as a result of the successful challenges mounted by the USA against the European Union Banana import regime.

In consequence of this , banana producers in the region, particularly Dominica, Saint Lucian and St Vincent, face a crisis of catastrophic proportions, since banana exports account for over 50 per cent of the value of all exports of these member countries.

Moreover, it is estimated that the windward Islands Banana industry has been providing direct employment for some 56, 000 persons, including farmers, field workers and industry employees, and it has been contributing some 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the Windward Islands.

The ruling of the United States actions and the world Trade Organisation Banana Appeal Panel, and ongoing developments within the European Union, suggest that our current preferential arrangement for sugar may not be as stable as it has been over the past couple of decades.

The challenges facing the agricultural sector in the region are increasing and are increasingly daunting.

As members of the World Trade Organisation , we agreed to the principle of free trade among countries and consequently the attendant challenges.

We had no other option.

We must now immediately formulate strategies to correct the structural deficiences in our small and fragile agricultural economies.

We must develop collective strategies that will transform our agricultural sectors into strong, competitive, vibrant and efficient contributors to regional economies and to job creation.

Our strategies for the sector must mandate the full participation of the greatest asset of our region – our people.

Two months ago, our CARICOM Ministers of Agriculture and of Trade in Port-of-Spain to develop a common agricultural trade negotiation strategy for the coming of world Trade Organisation’s ‘Millennium Round’ , and produced a Draft CARICOM position paper for the World Trade Organisation agricultural negotiations,

These agricultural negotiations are important for us.

We have to ensure that the CARICOM voice is heard at all key fora such as the World Trade Organisation, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the African/Caribbean/Pacific alliances, and the European Union.

In this regard, the importance of the co -ordinating role and preparatory work of the regional Negotiating Machanism cannot be overemphasised.

It is critical that the particular problems of our member countries are persuasively articulated during these negotiations.

We are a group of developing countries, vulnerable to natural disasters, supported by small scale farm enterprises with resource-poor farmers.

We have high levels of unemployment with a high proportion of rural poor.

Our exports are limited both in terms of products and markets.

We need ample time for our farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs to retool and refocus in order to become internationally competitive.

Since so many of our people live below the poverty level, food security should be an obsession for policy makers in our region.

Agro-processing is already the largest component of the manufacturing sector in many CARICOM countries.

We must expand our agro-processing sector, as this can be a major vehicle for the future growth and development of the region.

It also represents the critical link between the large agricultural sector, where natural and human resources reside, and the industrial sector, which can increase the value of these resources in the process of rural development and equitable growth.

Agriculture must also be closely linked with tourism, a substantial importer of food into the region.

The pressing need for diversification of our economic bases brings the growing importance of services in our economies into focus.

Tourism, our principal service export, is now being joined by financial and other services as vital contributors to the economies of our region.

Indeed, for many CARICOM countries, they constitute the backbone of the economy.

When we consider that tourism is the major propellant to growth in so many Caribbean economies, it appears to be a contradiction of extraordinary dimension that tourism is accorded so seemingly low a priority in the CARICOM structure and on the CARICOM agenda.

In saying this, I imagine that a number of my Colleague Heads may be completely taken aback at the contradiction in such a concern for tourism coming from the country that is perhaps the least tourism dependent among CARICOM States.

The reality is that while Trinidad and Tobago may be energy rich, and in a position of global leadership in the production and export of certain energy derived commodities, because of the tourism sector’s capacity to produce direct and induced jobs , we are still looking to tourism as a viable option for development.

I do believe, and I strongly urge, that tourism be accorded the high priority in CARICOM affairs that its impact upon Caribbean economies dictate, and as its potential impact upon regional economies dictate.

In the sectors that are currently of principal focus for CARICOM, we have adopted an external trade policy focused on the negotiation of free trade agreements based on the exemptions list approach.

The underlying principle of reciprocity in today’s global trade arena is radically different from that of the one-way preferential arrangements to which we have become accustomed, and on which many of us had long been dependent.

It is obvious, now, that our relatively narrow production base, and the limited exposure of our products to international competition, require a paradigm shift in our perspectives.

Our experience suggests that in keeping with the provisions of Protocol IV, which treat with Trade Policy, those countries which have the capacity and which are in a state of readiness to pursue bilateral free trade arrangements with extra regional countries, should be permitted to do so without compromising the integrity of their treaty obligations.

This Twentieth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government should represent, for all of us, an important junction in the ongoing process of regional integration.

The work of the Committee of Central Bank Governors on convergence is an important process for entry into monetary union, and the Committee’s latest report provides us with a great deal of comfort – that our economies are moving in the right direction.

We must ensure the appropriate institutional arrangements are strengthened and that decisions taken are speedily implemented.

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy will bring macroeconomic stability, lower transactions cost, a single means of payment and increased economic growth, ultimately.

This should translate into a rising standard of living for all of our citizens.

During our three-day deliberations, colleague Heads, we will focus on a wide range of issues.

Considerable progress has been made with regard to some of these matters.

The establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice is one such matter.

On this note, Mr. Chairman, it would be remiss of me not to pay glowing tribute to the driving force behind this initiative, the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Arthur N.R. Robinson.

Our Ministers of Legal Affairs met recently in Grenada and approved a number of Instruments related to the establishment of the Court, which, we expect, will become operational in Trinidad and Tobago in the near future at an already identified facility.

I am pleased to confirm, ladies and gentlemen, that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has identified a site to house the Court.

At the Summit of Heads of States and Government of the Association of Caribbean States in the Dominican Republic in April of this year, Mr. Chairman, the role for the Caribbean Community in its interaction with the Association of Caribbean States was once again emphasised.

Our Member States should now take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Association of Caribbean States, which is headquartered in Port-of-Spain, to foster further cooperation and consultation, along with the trading possibilities that this enlarged region presents.

During our Conference, our attention will also be directed to Haiti, with whom discussions have been held on the terms and conditions of that country’s membership of the Caribbean Community.

Haiti is soon to deposit its Instrument of Ratification of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, thus becoming a full member of the Community.

On behalf of the Government and People of Trinidad and Tobago, I am to extend our sincerest congratulations to Dr. Jocelin Massiah, born in Guyana and now a citizen of Barbados – a true Caribbean citizen – the recipient of the 1999 Triermial Award for Women.

The Award is in recognition of her outstanding contribution in the areas of research, education and woman in development.

While in celebratory rnood, I will, with your permission, extend congratulations to my close neighbour, Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados, on the win awarded to Barbados’ Obadele Thompson at the Bislett Games in Oslo.

This was after Ato Boldon was disqualified, when he was adjudged to have stepped on the line dividing the lanes in the 200 meter Grand Prix event.

We know, of course, that two days ago, with true West Indian fortitude, and panache, Ato Boldon continued his winning ways when he hit the tape ahead of world-record holder, America’s Maurice Green, and ahead of Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks, in the 100 meters at Lausanne.

In similarly celebratory vein, Prime Minister P. J, Patterson of Jamaica, may wish to congratulate

Trinidad and Tobago on its recent string of victories over the Jamaica national soccer squad.

The last such victory over Jamaica was in our unbeaten match to the Copa Caribe Championship.

Which all brings us, ladies and gentlemen, to West Indies cricket.

My Colleague Heads of Governments can consider themselves fortunate that I had to opt out of the cricket match with the University.

Nothing so depresses a West Indian as losing a cricket match, as you all know.

Seriously though, I simply can not see how CARICOM can avoid urgent intervention to join the people of our countries in Rallying Round the West Indies.

There is the view that people of the West Indies expect this of us.

We must not let the people down.

We must not let West Indies cricket down.

We must accept an obligation to mobilise the resources of CARICOM, modest though they are, and we should mobilise the goodwill which CARICOM enjoys – and that is quite considerable – in support of West Indies cricket.

I am confident that an alliance with corporate Caribbean, in support of West Indies cricket, can be a winning proposition.

Let us just do it.

On this score, the time has surely come when we must explore options for a strong support programme for sport, generally, in the region.

Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, among other Caribbean countries, have collectively produced, and are, producing, a most impressive pantheon of worldbeaters and Olympic medallists in various sporting disciplines.

One option would be a regional programme in which our sporting superstars in various disciplines would travel the region conducting clinics and talking with our student population.

Such a programnie could find ready private sector support.

CARICOM can provide the leadership and the co-ordination.

Such contact with their “Home-Boy” heroes can be of immense benefit to young people who are now being seduced by merchants of destruction whose merchandise and whose currency are drugs.

Sadly, in many societies, and not only in Caribbean societies, these merchants of destruction, with loads of cash and flashy lifestyles that can dazzle impressionable young minds, far too often succeed in entrapping young people who see them as folk heroes.

We all know the traurna that our communities endure when we lose out young people to the inducements of the drug merchants.

We must formulate strategies that, will offer our region’s youth healthy lifestyles and positive role models.

And let us take possession of the Caribbean Sea.

After our greatest resource, our people, the Caribbean Sea is our greatest asset.

It is time that we exercise ownership of the Caribbean Sea.

Our goal must be the protection of our marine biology.

Our goal must be the preservation of the purity of our waters against pollution by merchant fleets and cruise liners and the custodians of nuclear waste.

Our goal must also be a fair return from the pleasure craft that reap rich harvest in the Caribbean Sea.

Our goal must be banishment of the drug fleets from our seas.

Dare we tackle this agenda?

Should we fail to do it, ladies and gentlemen, we will be failing the generations to whom we will be leaving our Caribbean.

For reasons related to influences which contribute to shaping the perspectives, and indeed the character of our youth, I wish to take this opportunity to commend the Caribbean Broadcasting Union for providing Caribbean societies with a positive, though lirnited, alternative to those categories of imported television product which have no socially redeeming value whatsoever for Caribbean audiences.

It is a welcome feature of CBU programme policy that they take the time to provide our societies with the good and the beautiful of the Caribbean, as well as the bad and the ugly; which, in any event, they never allow to dominate their programming.

It is valuable that CBU is holding up a positive mirror image to Caribbean people that can inspire a sense of self worth, a sense of community, and a sense of oneness with a wider Caribbean family.

I raise this, ladies and gentlemen, to make a case for CARICOM to actively engage the media in bringing the Organisation closer to the Caribbean people, by becoming an active participant in the people’s forum, the media.

As we move to a closer union, we must move to greater transparency and expanded real-time dialogue with the people whose destinies we shape by the decisions that we take during our meetings and conferences.

This appeal implies no criticism of the Secretariat.

It is a matter of collective policy, as well as individual philosophy, for the heads who comprise the Conference.

We can start by factoring into these Meetings of the Conference of Heads, opportunities for close encounters between our Heads of Government and the people of Caribbean countries other than their own.

On this note, it is with a sense of culpability that I concede that the Agenda for this Twentieth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Governments of the Caribbean Community will allow limited encounters with large numbers of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, including the many immigrants and residents from across the Caribbean.

However, I assure our visiting heads and Delegations that you will be overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome with which you will be embraced by everyone with whom you come into contact while you are with us.

Everything we do, we should be doing for the people of the Caribbean.

That is what we are all about.

I am confident that with this conviction uppermost in our minds, that by the time we adjourn this meeting on Wednesday, we would have significantly advanced the interests of all of our peoples.

In conclusion, Colleague Heads, ladies and gentlemen, let us recognise that the national anthem of every CARICOM member state declares a reverence of God.

I therefore invite you to acknowledge in collective, reverence, the presence of the Almighty in our midst, today.

Let us pray God’s guidance in our deliberations.

May God Bless All Our Nations.

I thank you.

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