Mr. Chairman, our Secretary General, Dr. Edwin Carrington; Most Hon. P.J. Patterson of Jamaica, outgoing Chairman of CARICOM; Heads of Delegations, Ministers of Foreign Affairs; Ministers of International Trade, Finance and Planning; Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat, Distinguished Delegates; Members of the Press; Ladies and Gentlemen.
My first and most pleasant duty this morning is to welcome everyone to our beautiful Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Particularly, however, I wish to welcome all of you who are visiting us for the first time, and those of you who are returning to our “Two Islands-One Paradise,” not only because you are forced to come here for this meeting, but because you love St. Kitts and Nevis.
And if for a fleeting moment, you have experienced any hiccups in your accommodation and other arrangement, blame must not be placed on our army of beautiful volunteers with their typical Kittitian and Nevisian hospitality, but instead blame must be placed on the short time that has been afforded to us to make the necessary arrangements for your own comfort.
It is my pleasure to extend, on behalf of the Government and people, and on behalf of my distinguished colleague Heads, special welcome to a number of persons. I speak of the Hon. Alex Scott, the Premier of Bermuda; the Chief of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Mr. Michael Misick, and also the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda led by the Hon. Harold Lovell, Minister of Foreign Affairs. We look forward Mr. Lovell to working with you and your Government, led by your new Prime Minister, the Hon. Baldwin Spencer, who is the incoming Chairman of CARICOM. We wish to work with you closely so that we can seek to position the Region to meet the competitive challenge that we must confront together in this Region.
Let me also, in welcoming you, express our appreciation to the former Prime Minister Mr. Lester Bird for his many years of dedicated service to this, the Region’s Community. We wish him well in his future endeavours.
And speaking of absence, I speak of permanent absence as well. One would recall the service that the service that the Community received in the past from two of our passing Prime Ministers. I speak of the late Hon. Pierre Charles of Dominica and also former Prime Minister of Barbados, Sir Harold Bernard St. John. I ask you as a mark of respect for their dedicated service and in their memory that we give them a moment of silence.
Mr. Chairman, the agenda before us is packed with a number of urgent issues, central of which is the situation in Haiti as has been outlined by Prime Minister Patterson. As a body, we must determine and demonstrate to the world how we will proceed to address the Haiti dilemma. We owe it to the people of Haiti to do all that we can to ensure that they enjoy the peace, security and good governance which we have enjoyed for so long in this Community. Regrettably, this has been an elusive dream of the people of Haiti for over 200 years.
Mr. Chairman, the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy must be pursued with a new sense of urgency if we are to sustain the quality of life that we have come to enjoy in the Caribbean Region.
We must, as a region, put the necessary procedures in place to complete the process by 2005. As part of this process, it is important that all states ratify the amended Treaty of Chaguaramas, to give full meaning and purpose to what we are doing with the CSME. I must also point to the issue of movement of persons throughout the region, and the need to fine-tune all components, because, ultimately, it is a critical component in regards to the effective working of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
So too is the functioning of the Caribbean Court of Justice, whose existence is of great importance to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. It is crucial, therefore, that every effort is made to complete the funding of the Court to ensure its independence, both in terms of its appellate role as well as its supportive function to the CSME.
In the context of the CSME, may we be reminded that six Member States of the grouping have a sugar industry that is critical to socio-economic conditions. Although the industry is facing tremendous difficulties, such as the challenges that emanate out of the World Trade Organization, the expansion of sugar production in European Union member countries, the entry of the LDC’s in the already declining EC market, or the uncertainty of the long-term agreement between Tate & Lyle and ACP sugar producing countries, sugar still continues to be important for us as a major export and as a major employer of our people.
Perhaps, in the context of the CSME, new thought can be brought to bear on this industry as well as that of the banana industry of the region. Certainly, the forces of diversification, modernisation production costs and competition are constantly nipping away at these industries. I believe that greater regional attention must be placed upon these industries as part of the overall development movement of the Caribbean region.
In the same vein, we welcome the opportunity in this meeting, to be updated on our own progress made in the establishment of the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, which is being spearheaded by the World Bank and the OECS.
Another important issue is that of regional transportation. No one can claim that it is yet at a satisfactory level. The issue is by no means easy. In fact, they are quite difficult issues, given the economic of aviation in the region, and the wide disparity in market sizes in the Caribbean. Notwithstanding such impediments, we must strive to find the most efficient, economically productive means by which the Caribbean’s aviation industry can contribute more meaningfully to our tourism industry and to the citizens and residents of each of our countries.
Equally important, Mr. Chairman is the issue of regional security. I say it because of the current world environment. We as Heads of Government, have to ensure that we take all necessary precautions to protect our people and our region.
We cannot take any of these security issues for granted; rather we must actively pursue, develop and implement strategies and programmes to significantly reduce the risks to our region. Perhaps the point cannot be brought home anymore clearly that the need for top-notch security for the upcoming Cricket World Cup Series in 2007. Our own preparation in this regard must be now, as the region would be in the bright glare of the global spotlight.
Mr. Chairman, as we gather and deliberate over the next two days, let us do so with the reminder that all our endeavours must bear direct relations to the welfare of the people of the Caribbean Region, particularly those of the Caribbean Community. Indeed, we have come a very long way. We have found more common fires to fight than ever before. We have benefited from the strength in numbers, yet there still remains too many barriers or impediments that prevent us from reaching the pinnacle of regional cooperation. Let us therefore use this meeting to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of regionalism, let us pledge to resolve our differences with integrity, and moving to expedite the common ideals of the Caribbean People in this Caribbean Community.
Mr. Chairman, it is with these thoughts that I again welcome Colleague Heads and delegates to beautiful paradise – St. Kitts and Nevis. May our deliberations be abundantly fruitful. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
I thank you.