- Your Excellency Elkhan Polukhov, Plenipotentiary Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM);
- Ambassador Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary-General, Foreign and Community Relations, and other Members of Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat.
Ambassador, I am indeed honoured to accept your Letter of Credence, and to extend congratulations on your appointment as the first Plenipotentiary Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
I welcome your appointment as an affirmation of Azerbaijan’s growing interest in formalising relations with our Community. It is a meaningful step towards greater understanding and cooperation between our countries. It is also the result of engagements between representatives of both sides over the years.
These engagements have taken place intermittently in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and date back to 2011. During one such meeting, Azerbaijan proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which has been under review by our Member States. It is my hope that, during your tenure, this MoU can be advanced as some of the areas proposed for cooperation are of importance to the Community.
Ambassador, your accreditation comes at a time when the world is grappling with a major crisis. The crippling, negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have created widespread loss of lives and livelihoods, and plunged countries into social and economic disaster.
The tourism industry has been perhaps the economic sector most significantly impacted by the pandemic. CARICOM, as the most travel and tourism-dependent Region in the world has therefore, been among the most adversely affected. It has devastated our small and vulnerable tourism-based economies in particular, resulting in high unemployment and significantly reduced revenues.
Our recovery will only begin in earnest when we have access to adequate amounts of vaccines. The matter of availability and equitable access to those vaccines is of the utmost importance for CARICOM countries at this time.
Our countries have received supplies made available through the COVAX Facility. We have also acquired doses from other sources. However, we do not have enough vaccines to allow for herd immunity in our countries. We have sought the assistance of a number of partners.
We believe that more can be done by the developed countries to provide access to vaccines for developing countries.
To this end, the Community has proposed the convening of a global summit by the World Health Organisation, to facilitate equitable access to and rollout of the vaccines.
The support of your Government would be welcome in advocating for the global summit.
Allied with vaccines, our economic recovery would be further bolstered by access to concessional financing from International Financial Institutions. At present, this is denied to many of our countries due to the criterion of GDP per capita. Indeed, this criterion hinders most of our countries, categorised as middle income, from benefitting from the COVAX mechanism on concessional terms.
Our Community strongly believes that vulnerability must be a primary factor in determining access to concessional financing.
We hope that Azerbaijan would be a partner in supporting the development of a universal vulnerability index, which would replace GDP per capita as the major criterion for access to concessional financing.
Even as we conduct this ceremony today, one of our Member States, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is managing a disruption caused by the recent eruption of La Soufrière volcano.
It has uprooted one fifth of the population, made one-third of the country uninhabitable and destroyed a significant percentage of its agriculture.
Barbados, another Member State has also been adversely affected, environmentally and economically, by the ashfall from the eruption.
Ambassador, our countries continue to combat climate change. For us in CARICOM, this phenomenon poses an existential threat. I note that the latest scientific report indicates that global warming has already risen by 1.2 degrees Celsius, which brings it closer to the 1.5 degree mark which imperils our nations.
The signs of danger are clear, through the greater devastation wrought by the increased frequency and heightened intensity of hurricanes. In the coming weeks, we face the start of the annual Atlantic hurricane season, which adds another layer of threat for us as a Community.
We also experience periods of severe drought and unseasonal weather events.
Our countries, although being among the smallest emitters of greenhouse gases, are among the most adversely affected by climate change.
At the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) to be hosted by the United Kingdom later this year, we look forward to the support of Azerbaijan for the positions put forward by CARICOM and other Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS).
Ambassador, our countries face many obstacles to our development, but we remain open to dialogue, building understanding and cooperating in various ways, in order to realise our aspirations for resilience and sustainable development.
Azerbaijan has faced its own challenges as a country, and the Community welcomes the opportunity to learn from your experience.
As you assume your new role as Ambassador to CARICOM, I can assure you of my support and that of the staff of the Secretariat during your tenure, as we work together to strengthen the relations between CARICOM and Azerbaijan.