KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuesday May 10, 2016 – The critical importance of CARICOM maintaining traditional relationships and building new ones was underscored by Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque as he addressed CARICOM Foreign Ministers who are gathered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the 19th Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).
In a rapidly changing global environment, the need is critical for CARICOM to reinforce engagements such as those recently held with the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States of America, and that which will be advanced with the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and the Kingdom of the Netherlands during this Meeting of COFCOR, the Secretary-General noted.
Ambassador LaRocque said that the 9th UK-Caribbean Forum which took place in The Bahamas 10 days ago, confirmed the UK’s renewal of interest UK by increasing its development support to the Caribbean over the next four years. More than £360 million (US$519.7 million) in grant-finance will be allocated to the region in bilateral programme support, including for infrastructure development for eligible countries.
The Secretary-General said the opportunity was maximized to inform the UK that the de-risking strategies being adopted by certain international banks, which have resulted in the withdrawal of correspondent banking services from banks in the Community, threaten dire consequences for the economic viability of CARICOM Member States.
He added that the UK was also made aware that the constant unfair labelling of the Region’s offshore financial services sector as non-cooperating tax jurisdictions, which has increased since the revelations of the so-called Panama Papers, has had an adverse impact on that critical sector of CARICOM’s economies.
“The issue of graduation of our Member States due to classification as Middle Income Countries, which has made it difficult to access concessionary development financing, was exemplified by the criteria used by the UK in the planned disbursement of the grant financing which they are providing,” LaRocque said.
Those three issues, along with security, were also discussed last week with another traditional partner, the United States, at meetings in Washington, he informed.
“Energy security has been playing an important role of late in the Region’s relations with the US. This issue has taken on a new dynamism since the April 2015 Summit with President Obama. During the United States-Caribbean and Central American Energy Summit last week in Washington D.C., leaders of the Community engaged with the US Vice-President and representatives of regional and international institutions on energy related issues. At the conclusion of the Summit, the US Government reaffirmed its commitment to support the Caribbean’s transformation of its energy systems, an area in which the Community has been making significant efforts,” the Secretary-General said.
Noting that the year 2016 was one in which the Community must continue the momentum established in 2015, he said the move towards normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, which was the focus of a Minister’s retreat on Monday, represented a welcome development in hemispheric relations.
LaRocque noted the increased visibility the Community has earned at the regional and international levels by providing leaders to two important bodies for CARICOM, namely Baroness Patricia Scotland as the new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; and Ambassador June Soomer, as the Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. They join Ambassador Patrick Gomes, who assumed the post of Secretary-General of the ACP in 2015, and Dr Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization, who took up her post in 2013.