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His Excellency, the President of Guyana and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government;
Other Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community;
Other Heads of Delegations;
Honourable Ministers;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Representatives of Regional and International Organisations;
Distinguished Delegates;
Professor Rhoda Reddock;
Other Specially Invited Guests;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Boys and Girls;

It is my privilege, honour and pleasure this evening to welcome you to this, the Twenty-Third Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

A special welcome to the Conference of Heads of Government is extended to the new Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Hon. Perry Christie. We look forward with anticipation, Hon. Prime Minister, to your contribution to the building of a viable Caribbean Community, including the Single Market and Economy. A special “welcome back” is extended to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon . Patrick Manning, who exactly a decade ago, served as Chairman of this Conference and made a lasting contribution to the design and functioning of the Community as it is now structured. We look forward, Hon. Prime Minister, to another seminal contribution.

Distinguished Heads of Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we enter tomorrow, the 30th year in the life of the Caribbean Community – making it the longest surviving, functioning integration grouping among developing countries in the world, there are grounds for a measure of celebration. But there are grounds moreso for stocktaking and rededication. Our agenda, emphasising as it does, the Community at 30, should help us to do so. More importantly, it should help us to begin to set the course for completing the Single Market and Economy and for moving beyond.

I see before me the homestretch of implementation, but we must now race to the finish line – the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The prize is well within our grasp, but we must act with haste to seize it with both hands.

But what is the true substance of that prize? It is the opportunity to enable the people of the Caribbean Community to secure for themselves and their offspring, a viable and prosperous society – a society able to take its place in the global community.

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States sub-region of the Community, which celebrated its 21st Anniversary on June 18, has already indicated the determination of its members to move ahead. They should not only be congratulated but emulated as well.

Thirteen years ago (in 1989) at Grand Anse, Grenada, our visionary leaders took the bold decision to move CARICOM from a Common Market to a Single Market and Economy. No one at that time had even conceived of a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Fortress Europe was three years away. But out leaders, sensing the impending tidal wave of liberalisation and globalisation, sought then to devise practical means of protecting and advancing our social and economic well-being. Subsequent events have confirmed their wisdom and foresight. That imperative is even more urgent today as we seek not only to establish a platform for our continuous development, but also a springboard to engage the international community in the various fora that demand our involvement.

Let us, as Caribbean People, not delude ourselves. There is no way that our small and vulnerable states can hope, on their own, to dodge between the raindrops of the deluge of globalisation. The cloak of deeper integration is our only shield against that storm. Indeed, as it intensifies, we will all need to shore up our defences by taking that step beyond the Single Market and Economy.

The best birthday present therefore that we, the citizens of the Caribbean Community, can give ourselves as we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of CARICOM next year, is to ensure that by that time all instruments relating to the Single Market and Economy have not only been signed and ratified but have been put into national law by all Member States. That may sound like a tall order, but with all hands on deck, I am confident that it is one we can meet. As we heard this morning at the Civil Society Encounter with Heads of Government, the People's support is there and it is clear that the political will is also there. We would need both to face the reality of having to devolve some degree of national sovereignty to the regional centre without which we cannot have a truly effective Single Market and Economy – the only means to reinforce our common sovereignty in a world dominated by large countries and powerful economic blocs.

Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, we can therefore countenance no further delay. Nor can we afford to have the well-being and future of our Community compromised by insularity. Instead, we must have faith in ourselves and each other as we advance along the road of regional integration. Let us never forget the words of one of the Founding Fathers of our Caribbean Community, the then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, on the occasion of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973: “…all our strength is in our union, all our danger is in discord.”

Over the last two days, we have seen the fruits of another far-reaching initiative of the Conference of Heads of Government with the staging of the Civil Society Encounter, Forward Together. There, the participants were quite clear about the paramount importance of the regional interest. This point of view, coming so soon after a similar call, for the early establishment and functioning of the Single Market and Economy, from the business community at the Caribbean Transnational Conference in Jamaica last April, underscores the fact that all sectors of our Community are ready and willing to take the next step on the way forward. The People were asked for their views and they have spoken unequivocally. We ignore them at our peril!

Two weeks ago, in the spirit of CARICOM Day celebrations 2002, I undertook a whirlwind mission to North America to meet with the diaspora and hear their views. The message from Ottawa, Washington D.C. and New York was the same: We are ready. How can we become more involved in developing our Region? The enthusiasm and concern reached across all strata. They also asked me to convey to Heads of Government their very best wishes for a successful conference.

Mr. Chairman, our Community is on the brink of something special. Yesterday, July 2, 2002, was a landmark in the building of our Community, as indeed it was for the wider Caribbean. The Government of Haiti has deposited its Instrument of Accession with the CARICOM Secretariat, thus completing the necessary legal requirements for its formal entry into our Community. It is an act of the greatest historical significance for the Caribbean.

Today, we are also pleased and proud to welcome the Cayman Islands as the newest and fourth Associate Member of our Community.

And adding distinction and, indeed, lustre to this evening's proceedings, we will be conferring the CARICOM Triennial Award for Women on the seventh recipient, Professor Rhoda Reddock of Trinidad and Tobago.

When added to the recently concluded Civil Society Encounter, these events demonstrate clearly a Community on the move.

But there are still many obstacles to our progress and not all externally imposed. Our challenge must therefore be to remove now those hurdles that divide us for, who knows, if we miss this train, we may never catch another one. It may well be the last train to Caribbean Unity. ALL ABOARD ?!

I thank you.

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