It is my pleasure to address the Opening Ceremony of this the Third Summit between the Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Mexico.
Forty years ago a foundation was laid for the building of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, formally underpinned by instruments such as Technical Co-operation Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding. Significantly, Mexico was the first country with which the Caribbean Community established a Joint Commission thus demonstrating very early Mexico’s keen interest in the development of our Region and our people.
The relations have grown stronger in the intervening period and the dynamism has been encapsulated by the broadening of the areas of co-operation to take account of the changes in the political, social, cultural and economic environment. We have witnessed greater collaboration institutionally, in particular in the fields of education, disaster risk management and climatology. Triangular co-operation has also become an important element in our evolving relations and has benefitted our young diplomats, some of whom were in Mexico quite recently as part of a language and capacity-building programme in partnership with Chile.
Our discussions today include the enhancement of another area of triangular co-operation, that of agriculture, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). This builds on the programme of co-operation between the CARICOM Secretariat and IICA and the provision of scholarships to CARICOM nationals by Mexico through IICA. Agriculture, in all its facets, is one of the priorities cited by our Heads of Government in the Community's drive towards sustainable development. We see food and nutrition security as a fundamental aspect of our development and a vital goal to benefit our people, and gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Mexico and the role of IICA as we seek to achieve that goal and strengthen the Community's resilience.
However, the ability to achieve many of our development goals is severely undermined by the effects of climate change. We in the Caribbean Community live with that reality and were forcefully reminded last Christmas Eve of the havoc that unpredictable climatic events can wreak on our lives, our economies and our infrastructure. In just a few hours St Vincent and the Grenadines suffered devastation amounting to 17 per cent of its GDP, Saint Lucia’s infrastructure and agricultural sector were heavily damaged and 18 people lost their lives in total. This was as a result of unseasonal torrential rains which brought floods, land and mudslides to those countries as well as Dominica. In that regard we acknowledge with appreciation the solidarity and assistance of Mexico during and after that difficult time.
The unusual weather patterns and the intensity of the storms are symptomatic of the effects of climate change and events such as these emphasise the vulnerability of our countries and their economies. These events also highlight the increasing importance of focusing on comprehensive disaster management. The timing of the Christmas events may have been unusual but the resulting trauma and destructive nature are what our countries must contend with on a regular basis, in what has been described as the most disaster prone region of the world.
This is why climate change mitigation and adaptation is of such crucial importance to us. We would welcome the support of Mexico in the efforts to obtain a legally binding instrument that strengthens the action of the international community against climate change and look forward to its adoption at the Twentieth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Lima, Peru, next December.
Susceptibility to natural disasters and environmental change are not the only criteria which define our vulnerability. Others such as dependence on a narrow range of exports, small market size, a high debt burden, increasingly constrained access to concessionary financing and limited capacity to harness growth also play their role in constraining our ability to be resilient in the face of exogenous shocks.
Fostering the resilience of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as ours must be viewed as a key objective of both the upcoming SIDS Conference in Samoa later this year as well as the global efforts in negotiations for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In pursuing that objective, we look forward to the support from countries such as Mexico which have demonstrated their understanding of the peculiarities of SIDS.
This has been evident in the areas of technical co-operation which have been the focus of collaboration between Mexico and CARICOM, and importantly most of these areas have been prioritised by our Community. It is pleasing to note that the projects identified following our last Summit in Barbados have almost all been completed and our Member States have expressed their satisfaction. As projects in new areas such as Non Communicable Diseases and Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures come on stream, they will benefit from the positive experience of what has gone before.
These efforts are aimed at the sustained economic development of our Community. Vital elements in achieving that objective include the building of our human resource capacity, increasing application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and encouraging innovation and creativity among our people. In that regard the initiative of Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, ProMexico and the Mexican Council for Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology of organising yesterday’s business forum must be applauded. Initiatives such as these create new possibilities in our relationship and generate opportunities for our entrepreneurs in the fields of tourism, infrastructure, agriculture, renewable energy and Small and Medium Enterprises.
Heads of Government, Honourable Ministers, as we savour the excellent arrangements and hospitality of the Government and People of Mexico and the beautiful city of Merida, it should spur us on to enhance the co-operation and friendship which have characterised our four decades of engagement. Let this relationship continue to be a model for South-South co-operation that benefits the people of the Caribbean Community and Mexico.
I thank you.