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For the second time in less than a week, it is a great pleasure for me as Secretary-General of CARIFORUM to be participating in a signing ceremony with a representative of the European Union.

Just last Saturday in Barbados, Ambassador Amos Tincani, the European Delegate to that Member State in he Region, and I signed a rider to an agreement which benefited the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association (WIRSPA). That was a good agreement.

Today, the spirit of our co-operation is taken even further by the signing of this Financing Agreement for support to the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network (CKLN).

For us in the Region, the CKLN represents a major step in addressing and solving the problems of connectivity – in and outside of our Region – and access to quality education by all CARICOM Citizens. These are critical building blocks in our efforts to foster the growth of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME); to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to build and sustain a Caribbean information society.

The main objectives of the CKLN are to enhance the competitiveness and productivity of the Region’s labour force by developing human capacity to access and utilise affordable Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Additionally, the project will address the need to upgrade and diversify the skills and knowledge of the Caribbean people by improving the technical environment and ability of institutions to deliver cost-efficient and effective ICT-based education and training. Thirdly, the project is designed to significantly enhance the region’s ability to access international communication networks cost effectively.

These three elements, successfully brought together, will not only develop our human resources but will also enhance the Community’s capacity to participate effectively in this increasingly knowledge and technology based global society. This undoubtedly speaks to the development dimension which must form part of any relationship between the region and the European Union, or for that matter between the Region and any of its partners in the developed world.

Education, including E-education and E-learning, has been identified in all policy papers emanating from the European Union as a critical pillar towards the development of the EU information society. Indeed it is the same for us in this region. The Connectivity Agenda of 2003 speaks to distance education as one of the key sectors where ICT must be leveraged to extend the reach and scope of education in this Region.

Right now, our University of the West Indies (UWI) is dealing frontally with the issue of non-campus countries in the Region, which contributes a vital part in uniting the Region. The development of this project culminating in the signing today is another welcome link in the chain of the relationship between the EU and CARIFORUM.

The challenges which we face with the erosion of preferences for our products are well known to you, and the diversification of our economies to provide meaningful employment and investment opportunities has almost become a mantra. Therefore, projects such as this have the potential to allay some of the fears of the Region being abandoned by its historical friends.

In the week ahead, Heads of Government of both our Region and the EU will sit together in Vienna, Austria for their Fourth Meeting and it is significant that on the agenda is an item entitled ‘Knowledge Sharing and Human Capacity Building: Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology and Culture.’

This follows on the very recently concluded Fourth European Union-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Ministerial Forum in Lisbon, Portugal, from which the concluding statement, the Lisbon Declaration, includes specific consideration for linking networks of the Latin America and Caribbean region. The CKLN will be the vehicle by which this Region links to the Latin American networks and, later, other international networks particularly in the area of research.

At the 17th Inter-Sesssional meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM in Port of Spain last February, the communiqué noted that the leaders welcomed the information that the institutional strengthening and capacity building phase of CKLN had prepared twelve (12) Tertiary Education Institutions in nine (9) Member States for participation in the connectivity phase of the CKLN programme. The programme therefore is well underway, and the assistance rendered by this Financing Agreement will doubtlessly serve to strengthen the CKLN and by extension the human resource capacity of our Region, indeed to underwrite our economic and social development.

I thank you.


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