- Honourable E.P. Chet Greene, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade of Antigua and Barbuda, and Chairman of the COFCOR;
- Senator the Honourable Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize and Outgoing Chair of the COFCOR;
- Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean Community and other Heads of Delegations;
- Ambassador Donna Forde, Assistant Secretary-General, Foreign and Community Relations and Other Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat;
- Distinguished Delegates.
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this Twenty-Fifth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) being held virtually once more. I wish, to first of all, to express appreciation to the Honourable Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize and Outgoing Chair of the COFCOR, for his enlightened leadership and the astute manner with which he has represented our Community during the past year. I also wish to extend a special welcome to Minister E.P. Chet Greene to the Chair of the COFCOR.
Minister, I look forward to your own enlightened leadership of this august body and pledge my full support and that of the staff of the CARICOM Secretariat to you during your term.
Chairman, Honourable Ministers, this Twenty-Fifth Meeting of the COFCOR is being held against the backdrop of global, hemispheric and regional developments that signify transformative changes of significant relevance for the conduct of the Community’s foreign policy.
The Member States of our Community continue to address the overwhelmingly negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on the social and economic progress made by small developing countries like ours in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Russia-Ukraine war, the disruption of global supply chains and rising costs of fuel and food further exacerbate the challenging economic outlook of our Member States already grappling with exceeding high debt burdens, loss of correspondent banking relations, blacklisting, lack of access to concessional financing and, most critically, the existential threat of climate change.
CARICOM has responded to the new environment by continuing to sensitise its international partners to its concerns, through the consolidation of its existing relationships with traditional partners and the widening of its diplomatic outreach.
Heads of Government of the Community exchanged views with their counterparts in Central America during the Fourth CARICOM-SICA Summit in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye earlier this year. Leaders of both sub-regions committed to strengthening foreign policy consultation in international fora, particularly where CARICOM and SICA share membership.
Recently, our Leaders also had a virtual engagement with US Vice President Kamala Harris, where discussions focused on several issues of mutual interest, namely post-COVID-19 economic recovery, climate change, energy security and security cooperation.
Also during the course of this year, our Foreign Ministers engaged in significant dialogues with their counterparts from Colombia and Canada. Just two weeks ago, they met with their counterparts from Central America and the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice President of the European Commission in Panama. One constant in these engagements was the need to strengthen the relationships, and to join efforts to address current hemispheric and global challenges.
Our recent discussions with Canada will lead to the establishment of a permanent mechanism aimed at deepening our partnership, and advancing our collaboration and cooperation with that country. This mechanism is expected to be launched at the CARICOM-Canada Summit to be held sometime later this year.
Chair, as we look to the rest of 2022, the Community must prepare itself for several multilateral engagements. These include the Ninth Summit of the Americas, the Twenty-Sixth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) next month, the Seventy-Seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly and COP27 later this year. All of these processes will have a significant impact on international development priorities and relations. As such, they will also have an influence on developments in our Region.
As Small States, we must therefore rely more than ever on focused, organized and coordinated diplomacy. We must seek to bolster our relations with like-minded states, and continue to advocate and ensure that our interests are protected and promoted.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, our Meeting today will have to consider, among other issues, our relations with our neighbours of the Americas. The choice of the subject for our Discussion Paper “CARICOM-Hemispheric Relations” is more than timely, given the evolving political dynamics in the hemisphere and the upcoming Summit of the Americas.
In closing, I recall the statement by one of my predecessors at the inaugural Meeting of this Council, in 1998 in Suriname, “I therefore call on the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, as a strategic Organ of the Caribbean Community, to spearhead, to guide and promote the policies and strategies which we as a Community must pursue, if we are to earn and retain a place in the world of the twenty-first century, worthy of the highest aspirations of our people.”
I commend those words to you.
I thank you.