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I welcome you all to the Opening Ceremony of the Fortieth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  I am sure I speak on behalf of all delegations when I express appreciation for the generous hospitality offered by the Government and People of Saint Lucia.  Prime Minister Chastanet, I thank you and your hard-working staff for the excellent arrangements put in place for the efficient conduct of this Meeting, which would help to ensure an effective outcome.

I also welcome you, Prime Minister Chastanet, to the Chairmanship of the Caribbean Community.  For the next six months, you will be the standard bearer for CARICOM as you lead the Community’s efforts to advance the integration movement and improve the welfare of its people, with the support of your colleague Heads of Government, the Secretariat and the regional Institutions.

It is a task that was ably carried out by Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, over the past six months.  Prime Minister Harris guided CARICOM through a challenging period and ensured that the momentum of our reinvigorated international and regional agendas was maintained.  Thank you, Prime Minister.

I take the opportunity to extend a special welcome to our guests, the Prime Minister of Norway, the Honourable Erna Solberg, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Antonio Guterres.

Prime Minister Solberg, in coming to our Region you have underlined your commitment to strengthen relations with our Community.  You are also a prominent advocate on issues related to climate change, the environment and the sustainable ocean economy, matters which are of critical importance to our Member States.

Secretary-General Guterres, you have shown an abiding interest in the welfare of our Region.  I recall your visit to our affected countries following the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and your ready acceptance of my invitation to personally participate in the CARICOM-UN High-Level Pledging Conference which was hosted by the UN.  Further, the UNDP has been working with the CARICOM Secretariat and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to craft a proposal to build capacity in our Region to realise our goal of climate and disaster resilience.

I thank you Secretary-General for your continued commitment and support to our Region.

Mr. Chairman, Heads of Government, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the resilience that we seek to build extends to our economies.  It must be built upon the foundation provided by the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).  We have been engaged in a challenging task to create one market out of 12 developing economies, each of which is at different levels of development.  We have persevered, and we have made progress.

However, we are lagging behind the deadlines agreed to in the Implementation Plan.  It is in our interest to accelerate this process and to create a competitive regional economy.

We have brought on board the private sector, labour and civil society, representatives of whom will engage with Heads of Government at this Meeting. The Youth of our Community continue to express their interests in the advancement of the CSME as they told me on Monday during a live forum which reached more than 15,000 youth via the internet.  These stakeholders are the beneficiaries of the CSME, and therefore have a major stake in its implementation.

One of the complementary initiatives agreed to last December at the Special Meeting on the CSME was the restructuring of the Commission on the Economy.  Its mandate includes the formulation of broad guidelines to inform domestic economic policy-making to enhance growth within the respective economies, and measures to strengthen the functioning of the CSME.  At this Meeting, the Commission will present a preliminary report.

Progress in advancing the CSME must be on a bedrock of a safe and secure Community.  Concerns about crime and security have a common thread throughout the Member States.  We have been making every effort at the regional level to enhance our co-operation and put in place a security architecture to combat the scourge.

An important feature of that architecture are the legal instruments which have been agreed, but which are still awaiting more signatures to come into force.

Following on the Special Summit on Security this May, this meeting will receive proposals aimed at deepening security co-operation in addressing transnational and domestic crime. We must be prepared legally and operationally to defy those who are intent on disrupting our society and destroying our way of life.

The threats to our society are not only posed by crime and security. The blacklisting of some of our Member States and Associate Members as non-co-operative tax jurisdictions is a clear and direct threat to the economic well-being of those countries. Our Member States have a sovereign right to determine their fiscal policy. Our compliance with the regulatory measures and standards for tax transparency set by the OECD, the recognised global authority, is being disregarded by others.

The arbitrary imposition of rules by countries and groups of countries other than the OECD, with respect to tax governance and anti-money laundering, without meaningful consultation with the affected States is unacceptable. This is made even more insidious when similar action against larger economies has had to be withdrawn.

Such behaviour undermines global rule-making and the multilateral system which we as small states depend on to ensure we have a voice.

It is in the context of such a system that we welcome the election of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations Security Council.  The candidate of the Caribbean Community is the smallest ever country to be elected to that prestigious body.  The work put in by Prime Minster Rmfalph Gonsalves, and the representatives of St. Vincent and Grenadines as well as their CARICOM counterparts was bolstered by the regard in which our Community is held in international fora.  This resulted in the overwhelming acclamation of 185 of the 193 voting countries.

These countries appreciate the principled positions that our Member States adhere to and the respect we have shown for the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. We have upheld non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, prohibition of the threat and use of force, respect for sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law, respect for the constitutional framework and democracy, and the right of people to self-determination.

Those principles are non-negotiable for us as small states.

The upcoming series of High-Level Meetings during the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, in September, gives us a platform to pursue our interests as small states.

As a Community of Small Island and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS), CARICOM recognises the importance of these high-level dialogues, with their emphasis on issues related to Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Financing for Development. It must be recognised in these discussions that SIDS have peculiar characteristics which differentiate them not only from developed countries but also from other developing countries.

The International Monetary Fund has concluded that our Member States “exhibit extreme versions of long-term low growth, high debt, significant vulnerabilities and limited resilience to shocks which set them apart from other middle-income states”. However, CARICOM Member States have been graduated from full access to multilateral concessional financing.

If we are to build resilience, which we must, and which is a very costly proposition, we need access to concessional financing prior to the onset of a natural disaster. Studies by the IMF and the World Bank indicate that every dollar spent in building resilience saves four in reconstruction costs after a disaster.

These facts are of particular importance within the context of the upcoming UN High-Level meetings.

Mr. Chairman, Heads of Government, Distinguished Guests the values, principles and commitment we share, have guided us over the past 46 years.  Our integration journey is recognised as the standard bearer by other developing countries seeking to build their own regional integration arrangements.

From across the globe, they have come to study our systems, our institutions, and our integration movement as a model for improving theirs.  They understand that what we have been doing has endured.

Our progress, slow in some areas, has brought benefit in many others to the people of our Community.  We have earned the respect of the international community.  We have shown that a group of small states acting in concert and with purpose can achieve much.  That must be the guiding light as we deliberate over the next two days.

I thank you.

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