Preparations are being finalised for the Fortieth Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government from 3-5 July, 2019 in Castries Saint Lucia, under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Allen Chastenet.
He will assume the stewardship of the Community for the next six months beginning 1st July, from outgoing Chair, Prime Minister Timothy Harris of St. Kitts and Nevis.
The regional, hemispheric and global environment in which this Summit is cast, is no different from March 2019 when CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque told CARICOM Foreign Ministers;
“…in this era where the multilateral architecture has come under increasing strain and geopolitical competition in a multipolar world has increased, CARICOM, as small states, must rely more than ever on focused and coordinated diplomacy, bolster its relations with like-minded states and continue to advocate for multilateralism.”
As Heads of Government meet in Saint Lucia, these words are expected to resonate as they examine the foreign policy issues on the agenda.
Blacklisting, the situation in Venezuela, the application for associate membership by Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten; and upcoming summits between CARICOM and Mexico, and CARICOM’s participation in the United Nations General Assembly in September, are among the foreign coordination issues the Heads of Governments are expected to discuss.
Most definitively, they will be searching for ways, as the Bahamas Foreign Minister urged in March, to “work through differences whilst holding firm to principles that brought us together as a community.” Significant strides has been achieved over the past twelve months in that vein. The European Union (EU) is now more aware of the Region’s concerns on blacklisting, thanks in part to the Community’s success with broadening its diplomatic relations with Romania. This burgeoning relationship paved the way for CARICOM to take its deep concerns about blacklisting, directly to the EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN), responsible for taxation issues and the regulation of financial services.
In February, Prime Minister Chastanet and the Secretary-General met with Romania’s Minister of Public Finance, Eugen Orlando Teodorovici, in his capacity as Chair of ECOFIN. They recorded the concern that blacklisted CARICOM jurisdictions faced major reputational damage, demonstrated by the de-risking strategies of international banks, and resulting in the withdrawal of crucial corresponding banking relationships.
Within a short time of that visit, CARICOM Foreign Ministers were in Bucharest, Romania, in March, for the International Conference on Building Resilience to Natural Disasters. They joined members of the European Union and the wider international community to discuss the need for collaboration and cooperation on issues that are of existential importance to CARICOM including climate change and building climate resilience.
That Conference followed the launch of the “USA-Caribbean Resilience Partnership,” in Miami Florida in April. The aim of the Partnership is to strengthen relations between the US and the Caribbean in building resilience against natural disasters.
There are several other noteworthy markers which are illustrative of the strength of CARICOM’s foreign policy co-ordination and outreach. Late last year, CARICOM representatives participated in the First Cooperation Forum between the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Caribbean in November 2018 in Dubai. That consultation is expected to nurture cooperation and bolster ties between the Region and the UAE.
Relations with traditional partners including the EU, the UK, Canada, Spain, Germany and Italy, to mention but a few, continue to make valuable contributions to the development trajectory of the Community.
In April, the CARICOM Secretary-General signed six financing agreements totalling over 1 billion Euros, with EU’s Commissioner in charge of International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica. That financing package is allocated to the CARIFORUM Region under the 11th European Development Fund, a means to address the enormous challenges faced by the region, according to Mr. Mimica.
Under the fund, the Caribbean Coconut Industry will be able to increase its capacity to promote sustainable agriculture, adapted to the realities of climate change.
The EU’s support to the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), will help the region’s efforts towards a deeper integration, both within the region and with the wider global economy.
The Caribbean Investment Facility (CIF) with a new €50-million contribution will provide financing for private-sector development, renewable energy, transport infrastructure, climate change financing, water and sanitation, protection of the environment, and social infrastructure.
While the ink was drying on that EU-CARIFORUM financing agreements, negotiations began for a new trading arrangement to replace the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement which expires in 2020.
At the same time, the Community was able to secure future trade relations with the UK with the signing of the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement by most Member States. This will ensure continued preferential access to UK markets. It would also safeguard current and future trade flows between the countries of the Region and the UK.
Yet another example of the efficacy of the Community’s diplomatic cooperation was recorded earlier in June when outgoing Ambassador of Germany to CARICOM, His Excellency Holger Michael, handed over a Letter of Agreement for funding of over 25 million euros from the German Development Bank to the CARICOM Secretary-General. This support will bolster efforts in the management and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Region.
As CARICOM continues to leverage its voice during a time of global unpredictability and uncertainty, and especially, within the cacophony of voices that make up the international system, it will continue to advocate for a multiplicity of issues which cross the development spectra.
It will be goaded by the successes of the past, which have manifested tangibly, and through commitments by third states and international partners.
For example, the Community’s consistent advocacy for international financial institutions to consider the peculiar vulnerability of CARICOM Middle Income countries to natural disasters, when assessing eligibility criteria for concessional development financing, resulted in an expression of willingness by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to do that.
Japan has indicated that it will take into account vulnerability in making financial resources available, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have also accepted that the peculiarities of small states do require special attention. The US has also expressed willingness to provide funding for energy as well as disaster relief.
As Heads of Government meet in Castries Saint Lucia, they will no doubt be purposeful in making decisions to consolidate CARICOM’s achievements and to renew attempts at developing robust and equitable economic growth in the Community, with foreign policy cooperation as a valuable tool.