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Clement Rohee, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana and Chairman of CARIFORUM Council of Ministers, Hon Ministers, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Guests, Delegates, Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to this meeting of the Caribbean Forum of States with the Commission of the European Union.

I extend a particular welcome to our friends and partners of the Commission coming from Brussels where by this time, if my memory serves me right, the weather would normally have begun to become typically Brussels – that is, a fine word for simply damp and cold.

We are glad to have you in a sunny and dry Caribbean – specially arranged for you..

Mr. Chairman, you would forgive me if I feel a sense of deja vu, having stood in the same place in similar circumstances only two days ago. Indeed , our deliberations over the past two days will substantially have prepared us for the activities of today, and the thrust of my remarks at the commencement of those deliberations – namely, an excellent opportunity to grasp in furtherance of the welfare of the peoples of CARIFORUM – could equally apply to today’s activities.

There is, however, one significant difference in today’s proceedings which we all recognise. We meet today with our European friends with whom we have trod a path together for more than two decades. In this unique experience – as there has been no other like it – there certainly have been times when we have stumbled, and when strides were shortened, but in the main we have never lost that fundamental sense of purpose and fraternity that has guided us through that experience.

Mr. Theodorakis, the last time when we sat together in the Caribbean was in Antigua and Barbuda last February under highly propitious circumstances. Then we were signing the Caribbean Regional Indicative Programme (the CRIP) of the Eighth European Development Fund. Today we are here to implement it.

As you and I know however, much has happened since. The World Trade Organisation’s dispute panel has announced its verdict on the appeal against its negative decision on the European Union banana regime which is so important to our Region. I can assure you that decision has brought no comfort to the Caribbean. Instead, it has ushered in a period of great uncertainty in this Region. There has also been a decision by the European Union that we believe threatens to impact negatively on our rice exports to Europe. On the positive side, we have participated jointly and severally in extensive discussions on the Commission’s Green Paper on the Future Relations between the ACP Countries and the European Union, culminating with the recent closing sessions in Brussels at the end of September. Many of these issues will surface on today’s Agenda.

However, as we prepare to discuss and hopefully agree on a new set of arrangements, procedures, programmes and projects, it is worth bearing in mind that our relationship should never be measured only in Regional Indicative Programmes and Development Funds, but always also in the amity and fraternal relations built up over the period between our peoples.

It is in this spirit, Mr Chairman, that we may wish to consider whether the time has not come to demonstrate the strength of our relationship in other fora for our mutual benefit. With the recent enlargement of the European Union to include Austria, Finland and Sweden, and of the ACP to include South Africa, all friends to which we extend a hearty welcome to the ACP/EU family of nations, we are now in the ACP-EU cooperation some 86 states. Should we not, therefore, together seek, in promoting our common interest, to effect those changes in multilateral institutions which threaten to dismember our relationship? Should we not jointly confront those issues which arise in multilateral fora which have the capacity to destroy that which we have built over the last quarter century and to reverse the process of social and economic development initiated through our cooperation?

We in the CARIFORUM Region are aware that the global economy demands change and are eagerly working to participate in that process of change. Indeed, we recognise that we must get ready for ‘business unusual’. But in doing so, we must safeguard and indeed strengthen our fragile economies which, due to their size and to other factors, have so far been dependent on special relationships, such as Lome, to improve the circumstances of our people.

In keeping with this new realisation, we are conceiving of a new relationship with Europe which is one of development cooperation and not merely of trade and aid cooperation, intending thereby to use all available resources – financial, human and technological – for the development of our people and our Region. But neither time nor tide is on our side and therefore, we must act decisively , fundamentally and quickly with the support of our friends.

To that end, this Meeting provides, as I stated two days ago in my watchword, an excellent opportunity to be grasped. Mr. Chairman, Hon. Ministers, European friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, media , friends all, LET US NOT SQUANDER IT.

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