Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Caricom summit opens with call for unity

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's speech at the opening of the CARICOM summit in Port of Spain - Wednesday 3 July 2013

It is an extremely momentous occasion for me, my Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago to welcome you to our beautiful twin island Republic on this historic observance of the 40th anniversary of the Caribbean Community and the convening of the 34th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

The citizens of Trinidad and Tobago join with me in extending our genuine “Trinbagonian” hospitality; a warmth that is a feature of the region.

CARICOM is the oldest integration movement in the developing world.

Forty years ago, leaders of the Commonwealth Caribbean transformed the Caribbean Free Trade Association into a Caribbean Community and Common Market.

The signing of the founding Treaty of Chaguaramas on 4th July 1973 was a defining moment in our region’s history.

Today, 40 years later we are meeting to reflect on our journey thus far, to celebrate the milestones and accomplishments that have punctuated that journey, and to contemplate our future as one nation, the Caribbean nation.

The fact that we are celebrating four decades of integration is an achievement of which we must be justly proud, as it is grounded in the recognition that in the current circumstances, strength in unity is no cliché.

Testimony to the vision of what is possible when we contemplate our development as a cohesive entity, when we act expeditiously to bring to fruition those ideas and plans, can be found:
  • In education, particularly the gains we have recorded under the umbrella of the Caribbean Examinations Council, which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this year
  • In health, a sector in which we have recorded successes in our quest to make the health of the Region the wealth of the Region
  • The best-practice Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS stands out as one of our accomplishments in this area, as well as our success in bringing international attention to non-communicable diseases. We took a yet significant step just yesterday when we launched the Caribbean Public Health Agency here in Port of Spain
  • In the realm of security, which has become our fourth pillar given the threat which crime and violence pose to the foundation of our societies and the Region’s development
  • Our successes in the coordination of our foreign policy and the influence we wield in international for a when we speak with one voice
In unity there is strength

There is a view that CARICOM, as it was originally envisioned, has reached its political, socio-economic and ideological limits.

The on-going reform process in the Community must be one that will make CARICOM not only more efficient and effective but more relevant as well.

In this regard, may I urge you to consider expanding our membership to welcome the Dominican Republic into the CARICOM family.

Perhaps, now is the time to also embrace the Dutch and French Caribbean islands.

The Caribbean Sea unites us; it must never divide us.

Our people remain resilient and unwavering in their embrace of the guiding principles and objectives of our Caribbean Community, which is why this meeting is so critical.

Our agenda reflects an extensive range of issues including the peculiar challenges we face as Small Island Developing and Low-lying Coastal States (SIDS), given our size, remoteness, limited resource and export base, exposure to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks.

Accordingly, a key point of our deliberations must be Regional Growth and Development, which forms a part of the preparation and readiness of the region’s Five-Year Community Strategic Plan, and indeed this is already part of the reform process.

We anticipate that we would have to establish a regional task force to deal with our strategic priorities in the post-2015 development agenda of the United Nations.

In this regard, I am delighted that a number of SIDS-related roundtables and workshops are being held across the region.

We must ensure close collaboration and coordination among all the stakeholders for effective CARICOM engagement as we prepare for the Global SIDS Conference in Samoa in 2014.

As Conference Chairperson, I also remain hopeful that our continued dialogue and collaboration on regional security would bring fresh initiatives and perspectives in fighting crime and the drug trade. Security threats in this region include, but are not limited to:
  • the infiltration of our porous borders by organised criminals
  • the proliferation of small arms
  • the increase in drug and human trafficking, money laundering and corruption at ports of entry
We must develop the regional mechanisms to combat the multiple threats to security in this hemisphere.

Our people must be safe and feel safe.

The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 suggested that only 46% of regional participants felt secure in their respective states.

We have an obligation as leaders to ensure that our people are secure by demonstrating that we engage in a focused and effective war on crime and criminals.

The Status of Forces Agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and the US provides significant insurance against some of the threats to our state.

In addition, in April, CARICOM States endorsed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which aims to regulate the global trade in small arms and ammunition, which is estimated at US$70 billion.

But we need more. We need indigenous regional capacity for intelligence gathering to enhance our capability to combat threats to security.

Perhaps now is the time to establish a regional think-tank on security, with a special mandate to examine the multiple security threats facing our Region.

Such an approach would also identify ways of improving cooperation between governments and law enforcement agencies in countering illicit activity in our hemisphere.

We must also attack crime at the root, which means we must develop approaches to combat poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and the rising cost of living.

Colleagues, we also need to examine regional transportation and develop a policy to facilitate the free movement of our people and thus enhance regional integration and convergence.

I wish to suggest a ministerial meeting to discuss issues with respect to LIAT and Caribbean Airlines as part of the rationalisation of regional transportation.

Such a meeting can also deal with the establishment of ferry services connecting the islands, which would have a positive direct impact on trade and tourism.

My government has a keen interest in opening a regional dialogue to highlight the issues and challenges facing persons with disabilities and special needs.

As you might know, when I became Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago I promoted several innovative strategies, including the Children’s Life Fund, geared towards our children who were crying out for help.

Today I wish to highlight the plight of our children with special needs, for example, those with autism.

I urge you to keep this on your agenda so we might be able to deliver a common strategy to deal with the challenges.

Our children need our support and we must not fail them.

My fellow Heads of Delegation, Sir Vidia Naipaul, The Trinidad-born Nobel Laureate has said:

“The world is always in movement”.

We are part of this world and therefore CARICOM is in perpetual transition.

Thank all of you all for coming, and for your dedicated support.

CARICOM is strong and united; let us resolve to keep it that way and work to make it an even greater force within the world community.

We are one people, one region, one community.

Thank you.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai