- Distinguished Heads of Government
- Secretary-General of CARICOM
- Heads of regional institutions
- Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corp
- Ladies and Gentlemen
A warm welcome to Belize. I am especially happy to welcome you all to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye batter known as La Isla Bonita.
San Pedro is a destination which attracts many foreign and local tourists.
It epitomises beauty and leisure — which unfortunately many of us will not get to fully enjoy this week!
But San Pedro is truly a microcosm of the challenges we are all facing as small islands and low lying coastal developing states.
Beaches here are eroding because of rising sea levels; the Belize Barrier Reef, a World heritage Site, is struggling due to coral bleaching; a growing population is testing the limits of the island’s capacity.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a devastating blow to San Pedro’s lucrative tourism industry.
But the resilient people of San Pedro did not succumb.
When tourism ebbed, they pivoted to fishing.
Pioneering coral transplantation is restoring the reef.
And a herculean beach reclamation project is underway.
Yes, we are adapting and mitigating.
We are spending millions to meet these crises because we must even though we did little to cause them. Unfair, yes. The harsh reality of the 21st century.
Prime Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, this 33rd Intersessional Meeting is a particularly consequential meeting.
We meet at a time when unprecedented and existential challenges coincide with our citizens expectations for relief and prosperity.
The international climate is riddled with crises, conflicts and suffering.
Every country, every region is managing, they say, unprecedented challenges, with, they say, inadequate sources.
The global unraveling is occurring against the backdrop of what appears to be a new cold war.
As we meet Russia has invaded Ukraine.
This is a flagrant violation of international law.
We condemn in the strongest terms this unjustified invasion.
There must be an immediate cessation of hostilities and immediate and unilateral withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine.
We call for all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The uncertainties that exist are proof positive that multilateral cooperation and support are indispensable to effectively countering the immense challenges we face.
At the same time at national and regional levels, we bear the responsibility of meeting the aspirations of our people for development, for improved standards of living and for opportunities. This is our primary duty.
Our enduring mission.
Current State of the Region
Across CARICOM we are contending with the worst economic recession in modern history.
In 2020, our countries saw double digit economic contraction, thousands of our citizens were suddenly unemployed, remittances dried up.
In Belize we estimate that the poverty rate has increased from 50% in 2018 to 60% in 2021 — two thirds of all Belizeans are poor.
That is clearly unacceptable.
No doubt, similar circumstances obtain across the region.
The robust economic recovery that appeared to be at hand in first part of 2021 is now slowing.
In August 2021, ECLAC projected that the Caribbean would grow by 4.1% in 2021; by January 2022, ECLAC revised its projection to 3% and a measly 1.2 % excluding Guyana.
For 2022, ECLAC has already revised downward its projections for the Caribbean from 7.8% to 6.1%.
In addition to these circumstances, many of us are carrying unsustainable debt loads and have limited fiscal space to mount the necessary economic response.
Unfortunately, only four CARICOM Member States are participating in the IMF’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
And in 2020 only five Member States, including Haiti, received concessional financing from the World Bank.
This is wrong.
It is also unjust.
While it is imperative that we continue to press our case, which is fair and just; we know from experience that the wheels of international cooperation grind slowly.
And we cannot afford to lose further ground; we cannot afford to lose our future.
Therefore, we must be more strategic and coordinated in our advocacy.
We must demand an immediate reform of the international financial system.
Demand urgent climate action, and immediate access to vaccines.
Returning to Our Roots
The foundational Georgetown Accord of 1973 eloquently articulated the ambition of Heads to unify the region around the common purpose of regional development.
The Accord conveys a breathless urgency and need for unrelenting speed to achieve regional integration. Heads expressed a shared “common determination to fulfil within the shortest possible time the hopes and aspirations of the Caribbean Territories for industrial and agricultural development, full employment and improved living standards”.
In 1973, at the height of the Cold War and the waning days of colonialism, Heads had the vision and foresight to embark on the path of regional integration aspiring to achieve development of our region.
They looked inward for the solutions to satisfy the development aspirations of Caribbean people and for the strength to engage externally.
I turn to 1973 not out of any romantic nostalgia, but to remind us of our roots.
And more importantly, to suggest that we need to rekindle that founding vision.
Both as to the scale of its ambition for our integration, and the speed with which we need to achieve its consolidation.
Integration is the instrument by which we have committed to advance our development and quite frankly, for our small states, integration is really the only modality we have.
I am well aware of the criticisms in many quarters, and perhaps well founded, about the state of our integration.
For many we are not moving fast enough or going deep enough; others feel their fledging national identities at risk.
But none have challenged the inevitability of integration for our small Caribbean States.
Integration is not only a sine qua non for our development; it is also imperative for our recovery.
The spirt of solidarity and cooperation and the steely commitment to integration which animates the seminal undertakings of the Grand Anse) and Rose Hall Declarations must inspire us now to lay out a new framework of action for the next decade.
Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of CARICOM, of the conclusion of the Georgetown Accord.
This is an auspicious milestone.
I propose, Colleagues, that during 2022 we embark on a journey of regional consultation so that we can mark the anniversary of the Accord with the adoption of a re-purposed, re-imagined, revitalized accord that presents an irreversible prescription designed to achieve our regions just objectives.
The future holds few guarantees, but our common destiny compels us to walk boldly into the future together.
Secure in the belief that promise of a greater tomorrow is ours.
A New Development Path — Regional Agenda
Our recovery should be aligned to a new regional agenda that is centered around creating prosperity for our people.
We must continue, more intensely, to harness the resource endowments whilst building sustainability and resilience across our development interventions.
That would naturally include digital transformation, transformation of agri-food systems, and empowering the CSME to deliver on its objectives.
Already the elements of a new regional agenda are taking shape.
The COVID 19 pandemic has underscored the urgency of advancing our Single ICT Space.
All our countries have begun integrating digital technologies into our economic, social and governance structures.
We need an expansion and acceleration of this effort together with investments to increase connectivity, ICT education and to guard against cybercrime.
And yes, we will achieve regional roaming freedom!
I must commend H.E. Irfaan Ali, the President of Guyana, for his leadership and personal commitment to transforming the regional agri-food system.
The Special Ministerial Task Force on Food Production and Food Security has already made substantial progress to identify priority commodities, levels of investment required, and policy reforms needed against a timeline.
Colleague Prime Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The CSME is at the center of our integration.
Reflecting on our undertakings in the St Ann Declaration of 2018, we need to re-double our efforts to complete the removal of the remaining barriers to intra-regional trade, empower our private sector and give full effect to the regime for free movement, including by addressing administrative obstacles.
The CSME is the answer to the questions of how do we reduce the region’s food import bill?
Of how do we generate economic growth?
How we improve and benefit more from trade with extra regional partners?
A robust CSME is indispensable to building resilient economies; it is central to our economic recovery.
Integration binds together our Community; and this Community is at its core family.
The situation of Haiti is of despair for all of us.
We have devoted significant time over the past year in considering how the Community can best support Haiti in grappling with a multitude of crises on top of which is now a constitutional crisis.
We do not have any easy or quick fixes.
But what we know for sure, is that the Community will continue to walk alongside Haiti; we will continue to offer our support, solidarity and cooperation; and we will continue to advocate for an international response that is commensurate with the needs of Haiti.
As we seek to fortify our region, we do so in the context of profound global crises.
We are entering the third year of a global pandemic that has permanently changed the way we live and work.
Whether our region transitions to the endemic phase of COVID 19 will depend on accessibility to vaccines, COVID-19 specific treatments and other therapeutics.
Unfortunately, vaccine access and hesitancy remain challenges for several of our Member States; we will discuss during our meeting how to overcome these setbacks.
It is time to live with COVID!
Global action to reverse the trajectory of a climate catastrophe has fallen dangerously short.
The world is perilously hurtling towards breaching the global temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees centigrade.
Accessibility and scale of climate finance is not commensurate with urgent needs for adaptation and mitigation.
We are countries on the frontline of this climate emergency, our existence is at risk.
We must send a clear message on our expectations and demands for global climate action including the strengthening of 2030 emissions reduction targets to safeguard the 1.5 degree temperature goal, scaling up of the climate finance beyond the US$100 billion through 2025 and of the need of SIDS for finance for loss and damage.
Let me wind up by acknowledging that this is the first Meeting of the Conference at which the new Secretary General is joining us.
Welcome Madam Secretary General.
I want to commend the reform and restructuring of the Secretariat that the SG has already undertaken to better align Directorates, workflow and synergies.
We look forward to seeing the review of Community institutions in due course.
In the same vein I sincerely believe that the Conference also needs to reform our working methodology to make better use of our meetings, so that we are focused on the critical and strategic decisions that need to be made on the future direction of the Community
I want to also thank the Secretariat for all their support in the preparation and conduct of this Meeting.
Let me also welcome those colleagues who are joining the Conference for the first time: Prime Minister Davis of The Bahamas and Prime Minister Pierre of St Lucia.
Prime Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, we meet today at this place called San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. It was first settled by the majestic Maya and became an important trading place for the Mayas.
The Maya civilization was advanced, it flourished and then mysteriously waned.
Life forever is guaranteed to no one.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda and the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California are both scheduled for June this year.
COP27 is expected to be held in November in Egypt.
These are signposts on the road we will travel.
They are forks in the road.
We will face radically divergent paths on each occasion.
Like the Mayas let us remember that choices have consequences.
Nevertheless, as I look to the future of our region, I am hopeful.
I am optimistic.
I am confident.
Like the good people of San Pedro, we will have to dive deeply into our reservoir of resilience, ingenuity and creativity to elaborate our own path for development and prosperity with trust and faith in each other.
I thank you.