Distinguished Colleague Heads of Government;
Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary-General of CARICOM;
As we gather here this morning, permit me on all our behalf, first, to offer a note of condolence to our dear sister, the Hon. Mia Mottley, on the passing last week of her younger brother, Warren. Prime Minister Mottley, our prayers have been with you and those you hold dear at this time. May you continue to be the Caribbean family strength that you are and may he rest in peace.
Colleagues, it was an honour to serve as Chairman of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government for the first six months of this tumultuous year. During that time, our countries have been faced with uncertainty on many fronts, from virus to vaccines to variants.
Through it all, we have rallied and we now stand on somewhat firmer ground as a result of the coordination and collaboration among Member States, Associate Members and our Institutions.
In facing the pandemic frontally, our early stance on equitable vaccine access, which we articulated early in January, anchored our Region’s actions and continues to resonate globally, especially among developing countries.
We took the decision that, as Chairman, I would write to specific Heads of Third States to request vaccines from their surplus supplies. This clarion call, as well as strategic engagement and advocacy with high level office holders in key capitals and international institutions, have resulted in offers of vaccines from various channels. This has put us closer to our goal to inoculate as many of our citizens as possible – to ensure that they are protected from evolving mutations of the virus and to enable us to return safely, and sooner, to bolstering livelihoods.
I take this opportunity to thank my CARICOM colleagues who shared vaccines with Trinidad and Tobago and with other Member States. Your gracious act of good neighbourliness during what has been a challenging time is deeply and sincerely appreciated.
The solidarity that exists among ourselves, the respect, the caring, that spirit of Community, is not to be taken lightly and must be nurtured and lauded. In similar vein, I believe that the unequivocal, principled position we took in the smoldering dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, earlier this year, went a long way in bringing us to a place where the heat has abated.
That spirit of Community was evident as well in the outpouring of support to our sister nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, following the eruptions of the La Soufrière Volcano, which also impacted Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada. Assistance has also been mobilised for Suriname following disastrous flooding events which, we hope, will not be repeated even as we remain concerned about the effects of global warming.
The already active hurricane season, however, is a stark reminder of our Region’s vulnerability. It stresses the importance of continuing to engage the wider global Community and International Financial Institutions, on the peculiar circumstances adversely affecting our sustainable development including threats to our financial and socio-economic structures.
I have sought to highlight these realities in the many high level meetings which I have held virtually over the last six months.
As I pass on the proverbial baton to Prime Minister Browne, I am particularly heartened that he will be supported, come August, by the new Secretary-General. Trinidad and Tobago was pleased to preside over the transparent selection exercise, within the ambit of the Community Council, and acknowledge the high calibre of both distinguished individuals who offered themselves in service to the Region. For my part, the unanimous commitment to a stronger, unified Community, as articulated at our 21st Special Meeting in May, augurs well for us all and for future generations of CARICOM citizens.
I extend my congratulations to Secretary General-designate, Dr. Carla Barnett, on her appointment, and I look forward to working with her as we advance matters on the Regional agenda.
Before concluding, I wish to mention one other point. Over the years, many have queried the role and relevance of CARICOM and the Single Market and Economy. While we know how valuable this organisation is to the security and prosperity of our Region that does not always translate into the everyday discourse. In dealing with this Pandemic, it would have been unimaginable for any one of us to face it alone. We have shared resources, expertise and support which have kept us ‘afloat’ in turbulent times.
The CARICOM identity belongs to us all and, today, on CARICOM Day – twenty years since the signing of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, I applaud the ‘I am CARICOM’ initiative which seeks to bridge that divide and facilitate more active participation by our citizenry. This will undoubtedly add threads to the fabric of our integration movement in the years to come.
CARICOM has been heavily engaged during the last months and although we have seen setbacks, we have also enjoyed some successes. All of this, however, would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the Secretary General and his stafft. Thank you Secretary- General for the support provided to Trinidad and Tobago during the Chairmanship by you and your team at the Secretariat, as well as, the Community Institutions, in particular CARPHA and CDEMA; and Associate Institution, The UWI, through its Seismic Research Unit among others.
Ambassador LaRocque, I have the distinct privilege of being the last Prime Minister with whom you would have worked through his entire term as Chairman. That puts me in the position to commend you for the sterling service you have provided during these past months when we were bombarded with various issues and challenges. You did not falter in your duty and have been a great asset to CARICOM, a rock – keeping the Community focussed and grounded. I wish you the best in your future direction of choice.
In closing, once again I take this opportunity to sincerely thank my Colleague Heads for your cooperation and friendship during my Chairmanship and my duty as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. As I hand over the reins I offer best wishes for a successful term to our new Chairman Prime Minister Browne.