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Mr Secretary-General
Ministerial colleagues
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

During the past year, St. Kitts and Nevis, has had the honour and the privilege, to chair the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR). In fact, we in St. Kitts and Nevis, have been very fortunate, to be the Chair, of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) and since January 1, to have taken over the Chairmanship of the Principal organ of the Community – the Heads of Government.

We live in a changing world and this has been demonstrated by several events during the last twelve (12) months. The international environment is a constantly changing scene in which we are involved in a series of discussions and negotiations with old friends and the forging of mutual understanding with new partners.

My participation here today, as the outgoing Chairman of COFCOR, is a true example, of the changes taking place in the political relations of the Region.

One year ago, when St. Kitts and Nevis was elected to Chair the COFCOR, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Hon. Denzil Douglas, was at the time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and it was Dr. Douglas who until recently led the COFCOR.

As you are well aware, we had general elections in St. Kitts and Nevis on March 6, 2000. Immediately, on his return to office, Dr. Douglas appointed me as the Minister with responsibility for matters of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs and for international Trade.

It is, therefore, with great pleasure that I join you, my distinguished Ministerial colleagues, in this onerous task, of trying to develop a Foreign Policy for the Region, which is relevant, coherent, focused and in our best interest.

During the past twelve months, we have successfully negotiated a successor partnership agreement, between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)States. Currently, there is ongoing negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In the meantime, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is in the process of reviewing its strategy and considering the way forward after the debacle of Seattle, Washington.

CARICOM Heads of State and Government and their Ministers of Foreign Affairs, have been involved in numerous meetings and discussions, the ultimate aim of which, is to develop Foreign Policy strategies and initiatives, which rebound, to the benefit of the Region and its people.

In January of this year, CARICOM Foreign Ministers met the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs here in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Soon after this, the CARICOM Heads of State and Government, met French President Chirac in Guadeloupe, to find some mutual understanding and to develop new initiatives, with regard to Franco/CARICOM relations.

US/Caribbean relations, were strengthened in 1999, as result of the informal meeting with the US Secretary of State, during the UN General Assembly, and more recently and formally, with the meeting in New Orleans.

After this Meeting, Ms Albright indicated her commitment to addressing the concerns of the CARICOM Member States, with regard to the WTO, and to the OECD and its harmful taxation policies.

Furthermore, as a result of the Sixth CARICOM-Japan encounter, we achieved deeper relations with Japan. New relations have been established with Central America, Southern African States, Spain and France. All of these dialogues, have so far progressed favouably for the Region.

Our political system are the envy of some other developing countries around the world, as are our social situations. We have taken the limited resources at our disposal and utilised them in such a way, that has led to impressive growth and development.

We need to be cautious however, and not to allow ourselves to settle into some form of euphoria, since we still have a long way to go.

There are a number of instances where we have not performed as a unified body. In addition, to our external relations, the COFCOR, has also had to contend with issues within the Region, most notably the issues surrounding Haiti and Cuba.

As we all are aware, the issue of elections in Haiti, has been an ongoing process and occupied quite a bit of the attention of the Caribbean Community.

The problem of the registration of voters in Haiti, has been quite a contentious matter. The Caribbean Community is actively involved in Haiti and will continue to maintain its position, in an effort to ensure that free and fair elections take place in the shortest possible time.

Haiti is now a Member of the CARICOM family. The elections are critical for the creation of a new governmental structure in order to ensure the accession of Haiti to the Caribbean Community. We therefore have to ensure our full participation in the electoral process and continue the process of fully assimilating Haiti into the CARICOM family.

The inclusion of Cuba in regional and international organisations, is of critical importance for us. We have been instrumental in the process of trying to ensure that country’s accession to Membership of the ACP. In this regard recent developments between the European Union and Cuba over the issue of the waiver is a major setback for all of us.

We will have to continue the struggle to attain Membership for Cuba into the ACP. To achieve this worthwhile goal, we will need to exercise all of our collective influence, to arrive at an amicable solution, to the benefit of all concerned.

One area in which we still have to work is the area of candidatures, where we have not yet arrived at a fully coordinated approach.

In Basseterre, St. Kitts, at the second Meeting of the COFCOR, we agreed that a working group should be established to develop and clearly define the mechanism in relation to candidatures. We hope that substantial progress can be made on this matter by the end of this meeting.

We need to make decisions which will be beneficial to the entire region. It is only by so doing can we achieve full development and growth.

With this in mind, we need to look to the future. The next twelve months will be a crucial transition period for the Region. The millennium round of negotiations with the WTO is upon us and what transpires within the next couple of days may very well affect us for many years to come.

We have succeeded in arriving at a new ACP/EU agreement and need to use this as motivation to continue pushing for our preservation in organisations such as the IMF, the OECD, the United Nations and every other organisation to which we are party.

We will be attending a bilateral meeting with the United Kingdom in a few days. Relations with the United Kingdom have for the most part been favourable as we in CARICOM have had a special bond with this country.

The United Kingdom, is an ally in the international arena and this upcoming forum will be a means for us to strengthen the already good relations we have with this country.

The two overriding themes of this forum are concerned with the improvement of the structure of our relations, and the acquisation of closer cooperation between the British overseas territories in the Caribbean and the independent countries in the Region.

It is imperative that we approach this meeting with a sense of purpose in continuing our good relations and strengthening our cause.

The United Kingdom is the best link we have with the European Union and is therefore a very powerful ally.

In the coming months, we will have further negotiations and meetings with Argentina, Canada and Mexico to name a few.

We will also be attending the OAS General Assembly in June this year in Canada. We must use these occasions to further the cause of the Caribbean Community.

We have the specific interests of small state issues, Disaster Management, Debt, Human Resource Management and the inherent constraints. These along with the issues of security, the protection of natural resources and the strengthening of capacities of small states for competitiveness, will be at the forefront of our discussions.

Our presentation in groups such as Rio Group, the G77, the EU/LAC process, the ACP and others, need to be so structured as to work to our benefit by acquiring a greater number of allies in the international community.

In all these matters, it is imperative that we arrive at a coordinated Foreign Policy. We need to ensure that relations among ourselves are so air tight that we can move forward with purpose and confidence, in furthering the cause of Caribbean Unity.

I am sure that colleague Ministers are aware that proposals exist for the development of Medium to long term strategy relating to the coordination of Foreign Policy. It is my hope that in the next two days, we can pay critical attention to these issues and arrive at a consensus for an integrated Foreign Policy approach.

With reference to candidatures, this Conference takes note of the closer cooperation between the CARICOM and the ACS Secretariats. We wish to place on record our congratulations and support to the new Secretary-General of the ACS, Professor Norman Girvan.

On this note, we should truly compliment and applaud the CARICOM Secretariat for the hard work

they have been doing to ensure the total development of the Region.

It is with this in mind that I challenge the Secretariat and all others in the Region to continue to be ever vigilant and to work even harder to make both the COFCOR and CARICOM a success.

As the outgoing Chairman, I also wish to place on record my thanks and appreciation to the Secretary-General and staff of the CARICOM Secretariat for all the support that has been given to St. Kitts and Nevis in its capacity as Chair of the COFCOR. This includes all technical and administrative support.

I wish to thank all my Ministerial colleagues, public sector staff and all the people who helped during the year. Without their support and cooperation, it would have been very difficult for a small state like ours to successfully undertake the role of Chair of Community Institutions.

I also wish to place on record my congratulations and support to the incoming Chair of COFCOR, the Hon. Ralph Maraj of Trinidad and Tobago. We are confident that Mr. Maraj will bring COFCOR to new heights of development and direction.

I wish also to place on record my thanks to the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago for the hospitality they have bestowed on us in hosting this Conference and the hospitality they have so graciously dispensed in facilitating our comfort. We recognised that Trinidad and Tobago is renowned for the quality of its hospitality and we always look forward to being beneficiaries of the same.

Finally, I wish to express the gratitude and appreciation of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis for the substantial support given to us as Chair of COFCOR during the past twelve months and to wish this Conference a successful outcome over the next two days.

Thank you.

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