- Honourable John A. Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
- Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Outgoing Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
- Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community;
- Other Heads of Delegation;
- Heads of Regional and International Institutions;
- Representatives of the Private Sector, Labour and Civil Society;
It is my pleasure to welcome you all and to address this Opening of the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). I am particularly pleased that my first address to this Forum as Secretary-General is taking place in my home country.
I thank the Government and people of Belize for the excellent arrangements that have been put in place for this Meeting, despite the on-going effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all be reminded of the necessity to follow the protocols to ensure that our stay in San Pedro is a safe one, as we conduct the business of our Community in this beautiful setting.
Let me welcome to the Chairmanship of the Conference of Heads of Government for the first time, our host, the Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon. John Briceño. I have no doubt that his vast experience and skills will be of great benefit as he leads our Community in this uncertain time. I must thank the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon. Gaston Browne, for his sterling stewardship as Chair of the Community during a testing period in the last six months of 2021. Thank you, Prime Minister.
A warm welcome is also extended to the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, the Hon. Philip Davis, and the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, the Hon. Philip Pierre to their first Meeting as Members of the Conference of Heads of Government. Prime Ministers, we look forward to the new perspectives and insights that you will no doubt bring to the discussions.
Chair, Heads of Government, Distinguished Delegates, we gather together for the first time in almost two years. The circumstances that occasioned that hiatus are still with us. We are learning to live with it, and to conduct our affairs in what can only be described as a new normal. This we have to abide by in coming to grips with repairing the health, social and economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, a disaster not of our own making has befallen us.
Significant obstacles still lay in our path. Much too many of our citizens remain unvaccinated; much too many of our children are out of school; much too many of our businesses are floundering with the resultant effect on employment.
However, one thing we have learned over the 49 years of our existence is that we are a resilient Community bound together, particularly, in times of adversity. This is such a time.
Just as the skills of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) have guided us throughout the pandemic, the operations of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) have been crucial in times of natural disasters, and the structures of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the Regional Security Systems (RSS) have helped to keep us safe from external security threats, we have in place the tools we can use to build back better from the social and economic damages of the pandemic.
We must now move that trust and confidence we have in those Institutions into those measures that make the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) work for all of us. Let us set a target to lift intra-regional trade out of the doldrums of 16-18 percent of our total trade into 25 percent by 2025.
This can be fuelled in large measure by the agriculture sector. The proposals put forward to this Meeting by the Special Ministerial Task Force on Agriculture are worthy of favourable consideration. That work complements the thrust led by the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO), the “Twenty-five by 2025 Initiative”, aimed at reducing extra-regional agri-food imports by 25% by 2025, in response to a mandate given by the Heads of Government.
As the recovery takes hold among the developed countries, the time is right for our Region to act upon the proposals for joint marketing of our tourism product. The Caribbean still remains a preferred destination, and within our Member States there is a variety of attractions from the traditional to the niche markets to satisfy a broad spectrum of visitors.
The pandemic has forced us to bring forward the future with respect to the widespread use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). We can no longer delay implementation of the Regional Digital Development Strategy, including the Roadmap towards the Single ICT Space. E-government and e-commerce are for the here and now. The application of technology is what will underpin all our development efforts.
There is no doubt that to drive that development we must have the support of international partners, both countries and institutions. We have to continue the strong advocacy for the use of a Multi-Dimensional Vulnerability Index, as the main criterion for access to concessional financing. We must continue the advocacy for the simplification of the procedures to access funds ostensibly designed to assist developing countries.
Institutional support for advancing those initiatives in all areas is critical. The CARICOM Secretariat has commenced its restructuring and retooling to allow for greater focus and efficiency. Directorates have been re-engineered and greater emphasis has been put on teamwork and cross-sector collaboration. There is greater use of the IT platforms for our work, and in communicating with our stakeholders. A cultural change, with accountability being paramount, will contribute to more effective service delivery to the Governments and People of our Community.
Chair, Heads of Government, Distinguished Delegates, as we look towards the major milestone in 2023 of 50 years of CARICOM, we can celebrate our achievements across the four pillars of our integration movement. What we must also do, is look forward to using those achievements as the foundation for building a resilient Caribbean Community based on the rule of law, participatory governance, social, economic and environmental resilience, in short, a place in which our people live in a safe, viable and prosperous society.
I thank you.