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Hon Ministers
Distinguished Delegates
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of Parliament
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to this the Eighth Meeting of the Caribbean Community's Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).

Hon. Fred Mitchell, Foreign Minister of The Bahamas, welcome to the Chair of this vital Organ of the Caribbean Community.

Firstly Mr. Chairman, allow me to convey sincere appreciation to Hon. Dame Billie Miller, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Barbados for her outstanding leadership of this Council over the last year.

Allow me also to extend a special welcome to a number of Ministers now joining this Council for the first time – Dr the Hon. Edmund Mansoor, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Antigua and Barbuda, Hon. Charles Savarin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Labour and the Public Service, Dominica, Hon. Delano Franklyn, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Jamaica, Senator the Hon. Petrus Compton, Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation, Saint Lucia, and Hon. Michael Brown, Minister of Foreign Affairs, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Finally permit me to extend congratulations to Hon. Maria Levens, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname on the recent successful national elections in her country and from which her party emerged in good shape.

Mr. Chairman, Hon. Ministers, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, states in Article 6 that one of the objectives of the Community is:

“enhanced coordination of Member States' foreign and (foreign) economic policies”.

In pursuance of this objective and with the objective of strengthening of relations among Community Member States, the Treaty established as a vital Organ of the Community, this Council for Foreign and Community Relations and charged it with the overall responsibility of determining relations between the Community and international organizations and Third States.

To this end, this Council is required to:

promote the development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations among the Community Member States themselves;

establish measures to coordinate the foreign policies of the Member States of the Community, including proposals for joint representation, and seek to ensure, as far as practicable, the adoption of Community positions on major hemispheric and international issues;

coordinate the positions of the Member States in inter-governmental organizations in whose activities such States participate;

collaborate with COTED in promoting and developing coordinated policies for the enhancement of external economic and trade relations of the Community;

coordinate, in close consultation with the Member States, Community policy on international issues with the policies of States in the wider Caribbean Region in order to arrive at common positions in relation to Third States, groups of States and relevant inter-governmental organizations”.

Mr. Chairman, it is not only important that we be reminded, from time to time, of the critical responsibility falling to this Organ of the Community; it is equally important that our population, and indeed the world at large, be also so reminded.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as this Council meets here in Freeport, Grand Bahama, for its Eighth Meeting, it does so at a time of major regional, hemispheric and global developments. Within our Community, the progress towards the establishment of a Single Market and Economy continues apace. This Year 2005, designated the Year of the Single Market, is expected to see the completion of the arrangements for the coming into being of the Single Market as from January 2006. Work towards the Single Economy targeted to be achieved by 2008, is just beginning.

A critical pillar of our enhanced integration arrangement – the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) – was inaugurated on 16 April this year. It should soon commence functioning in its original jurisdiction for all Contracting Parties, and in its appellate jurisdiction for some.

Progress continues in advancing our regional integration process, as Saint Lucia prepares to assume the Chair of CARICOM and to host, in July, the Twenty-Sixth Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government – the Supreme Organ of the Community. This Meeting will be preceded by a Meeting between the Heads of Government and national Parliamentary Leaders of Opposition – a further and indeed unique step in inclusiveness and democracy in our Community arrangements.

At the hemispheric level Mr. Chairman, the Organization of American States (OAS) has settled the issue of the choice of its Secretary-General, in the person of His Excellency José Miguel Insulza of Chile, to whom we extend our warmest congratulations. In a few days, its General Assembly will be holding its Thirty-Fifth Meeting in nearby Fort Lauderdale. We hope to see the completion of the leadership of the Organisation with the election of Ambassador Albert Ramdin of Suriname – the CARICOM candidate to the position of Assistant Secretary-General.

Our participation in the preparations for the Fourth Summit of the Americas to be held in Argentina in November, continues apace, as indeed must our cooperation and preparation for the sub-regional Summit of our own Association of Caribbean States, to be held in Panama in late July.

Mr. Chairman, at the global level, this Council is currently faced with a very critical task as it seeks to ensure that in the upcoming UN Meetings, commencing this month of June, on the issue of the Reform of the United Nations, our countries emerge with an enhanced position in that quintessential multilateral body.

Significant in any such enhancement of our position, will be our progress in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the same time as we pursue the abovementioned, we cannot afford to lose sight of other major international consultations, such as the Second South Summit which is scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar, from 14-16 June, the upcoming Meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) to be held in Malta in November and the WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Hong Kong in December. Our effective participation in all of these critical fora will call for significant preparatory work by us all and intensive coordination among all our Institutions and Member States.

It is against this background Mr. Chairman that this Eighth Meeting of COFCOR is taking place here in The Bahamas – a Member State of the Community renowned for its culture and hospitality.

Mr. Chairman, Hon. Ministers, our Agenda is not only extensive but complex and delicate. It is well that we were able to begin with a retreat yesterday to afford us the opportunity to set the right tone for these deliberations.

Important among these issues, will be an examination of our Community's relations with its traditional friends and the building of relations with others.

As regards the former, we look towards the return of a political situation in Canada – the country in this hemisphere with which our Community has enjoyed perhaps the longest historical relationship – which will allow us to continue to work to advance our development and in support of Canada's own world vision as articulated most recently in its International Policy Statement (IPS).

Also in this category, our relations with the USA – a major player in our Region's trade, economic and political relations – will certainly occupy a significant place in our deliberations requiring as it does some buttressing. This Organ will no doubt seek to do so consistent with the fundamental principles on which our Community is based.

The Community's relations with the United Kingdom will similarly receive the special attention of the COFCOR, particularly given the presence of the UK in the Caribbean through its overseas territories – many of which are Associate Members of our CARICOM Community. The recent security cooperation programme between that country and the Community and the existence of a CARICOM-UK Transmission Mechanism to give voice to CARICOM's concerns in fora in which the Community unlike the UK, has no membership, attests to the great value of this relationship. This is even moreso at a time when the UK assumes the presidency of both the G8 and the European Union (EU).

As regards our newer relations with other countries, the COFCOR will no doubt give due consideration to our cooperation with Japan, India and Italy. Relations with Japan are expected to be heightened through further Ministerial dialogue in the near future; while those with India will be pursued through proposed meetings of the CARICOM-India Joint Commission and a CARICOM-India Trade Forum. As regards Italy, we are soon to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation. A similar Instrument to that was signed with Spain in July 1999.

Mr. Chairman, our Community has been taking active steps to enhance relations with the Latin American Region, in particular with Brazil. Also, since the COFCOR met in April 2004 in Barbados, the South American Community of Nations was established. Two of our Member States – Guyana and Suriname – are members of that grouping. Further, CARICOM, which participates as a bloc in the Rio Group, will through its representative on that Group – Guyana – assume the Presidency on behalf of the Region in January 2006. These various initiatives, among others, will no doubt strengthen CARICOM-Latin America cooperation.

Our relations with the African Union have not been forgotten and will also receive the attention of the COFCOR particularly as we take account of and seek to pursue the recommendations of the very successful “South Africa-African Union-Caribbean Diaspora Conference held in Jamaica” in March of this year. This unique initiative, for which Jamaica must be complimented for its part as joint host with South Africa, brought together representatives of governments and civil society organisations from across Africa and the Caribbean.

Mr. Chairman, to end where we began – at home – Foreign Ministers will also devote time on their agenda to the situation in our newest Member, Haiti – a country that continues to face challenging times. Recent reports continue to cause great concern, as security remains fragile, violence persists, respect for human rights deteriorates and development stagnates. Our leaders have called on the international community to hold the Interim Administration to international human rights standards and to accelerate the fulfillment of their financial pledges to Haiti. No doubt the COFCOR will consider re-emphasising these concerns.

The people of Haiti however, will be the only ones who will be able to find lasting solutions to their difficulties. To that end, CARICOM looks forward to the holding of proper elections in Haiti, to permit that country to resume the democratic path it tentatively began in December 1991. CARICOM is committed to assisting that process through working with the electoral unit of the MINUSTAH.

Mr. Chairman, it is evident that your Council is faced with a mammoth task in tackling your Agenda, over the next two days. Let me therefore conclude this broad overview with the extension of our thanks and gratitude to the Government and People of The Bahamas for the hosting of this meeting and wish your deliberations all success.

It is with pleasure, honour and great privilege that I invite the Outgoing Chairman of the COFCOR – Hon. Dame Billie Miller, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Barbados – to deliver her remarks.

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