Your Excellency Ambassador Jose L. Vignolo
Deputy Secretary-General, Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite
Members of Executive Management
Other Members of Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat
Representatives of the Media
Other Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour and pleasure to extend a warm welcome to you, Ambassador Vignolo, on the occasion of your accreditation as the first Plenipotentiary Representative of the Argentine Republic to the Caribbean Community.
Distinguished guests; Ambassador Vignolo is no stranger to our Region. He has served in Trinidad and Tobago and in the Eastern Caribbean as Ambassador since 2004. He has also served in the wider Caribbean where the Governments of Panama and Mexico awarded him their highest civilian honours. We are very happy to have a diplomat with such relevant experience and calibre accredited to the Caribbean Community.
Excellency, your accreditation as Plenipotentiary Representative to the Caribbean Community comes at a critical time for both CARICOM and Argentina. We are well aware of the social and economic challenges that face our countries due in part to the vagaries of economic liberalization and globalization. It is my belief, however, that in the face of challenges, emphasis should be placed on the opportunities that exist. In this case, opportunities for collaboration among our countries to forge strong and effective, political, economic, social and cultural linkages.
In that context, I must recall the existence of the “Agreement between the Argentine Republic and the Caribbean Community for the establishment of a permanent Joint Commission for Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination” signed in Kingston, Jamaica on 15 September 1998. I admit to the honour of signing on behalf of the Caribbean Community.
A further opportunity for collaboration is indeed before us. Here, I refer to, Trinidad and Tobago’s hosting of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009—an honour which Argentina had in November 2005. Your country, Ambassador, has already passed the baton to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
That country has already informed our hemispheric partners that it considers the hosting of the Fifth Summit of the Americas an unparalleled opportunity not just for Trinidad and Tobago but for all the Member States of the Caribbean Community. Trinidad and Tobago would no doubt benefit from the experience of Argentina as it steps up its preparations for the Summit.
Your Excellency, another gateway has already been opened for closer understanding between CARICOM and Argentina through the participation of two of our Member States – Guyana and Suriname – in the South American Community of Nations. This growing understanding was recognized at the Nineteenth Summit of the Rio Group held here in Guyana on the 3rd of March this year. As the President of Guyana commented on that occasion, these ties between the Caribbean Community and the Rio Group have evolved into a close and fruitful association. He added further that with the launching of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, we will hopefully see a rapid expansion of trade and other forms of economic cooperation with the countries of Latin America.
That process is already afoot with the rapid growth in our bilateral trade relations which, from your own estimates, grew from some US$45M in 2003 to US$122M in 2005 – a massive increase in a mere two years, much to Argentina’s benefit I must add. With the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Ambassador, investors and business interests from Argentina would have a much more harmonized environment in which to operate in all of the participating countries. The CSME will also be a key mechanism as we form closer economic relations with MERCOSUR.
In the very rapidly emerging services industries, CARICOM has the potential of becoming an excellent market for Argentine investors. With existing bilateral trade and investment agreements which CARICOM has with major markets in Europe and North America, Argentine industries would likely benefit by establishing operations in our Region to favorably access these developed country markets as well as those in the greater Caribbean.
The development of the tourism industry, of transport, and of small and medium size enterprises are strategic priorities for the Caribbean Region and areas in which Argentina has considerable experience.
But it is perhaps in the area of Agriculture that CARICOM may wish to have a closer look at Argentina, a country which has placed such a high priority on this industry that the statistics are impressive by global standards.
Research shows that your country, Excellency, is one of the greatest food-producing and food-exporting countries of the world, with an estimated 27,200,000 hectares (67,210,000 acres) of arable and permanent cropland. Agriculture and animal husbandry have traditionally supplied the nation with 70–95% of its export earnings. As of 2001, agriculture made up 5% of the GDP of Argentina. Agricultural products also accounted for 41% of exports by value.
Your accreditation to the Caribbean Community Excellency, coming just one week after the historic Donor Conference on Agriculture in CARICOM, held in Trinidad to plot the course for a regional transformation programme for Agriculture, therefore your coming at this time portends well for a significant level of collaboration between CARICOM and Argentina.
At the wider international level, we are optimistic that, working together with Argentina in fora such as: the European Union/Latin America and Caribbean Summit process; the Organization of American States; the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations, we can jointly address our many common challenges, such as multilateral trade issues, poverty alleviation and, increasingly, climate change.
It is against this background, that the Secretariat looks forward to working closely with you to foster the deepening of the Community’s bilateral relations with Argentina. We also feel confident that with the technical cooperation, will evolve cultural links including opportunities for language immersion and a consequent facility for our people to express themselves in both Spanish and English.
As a first step, therefore Excellency, I say to you, “Bienvenido a la familia CARICOM”; welcome to the CARICOM family.