Commonwealth leaders reaffirm solidarity with Guyana From Johnson Johnrose
Guyana Chronicle
March 6, 2002

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`President Jagdeo of Guyana did raise our flag early to say that 'small states' is very important to us' - Barbados Deputy Prime Minister Billie Miller

COOLUM, Australia - The leaders of 51 former British colonies have thrown their support behind Guyana in its longstanding territorial controversy with Venezuela.

"Heads of Government reaffirm their solidarity with Guyana in light of the continuing threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity by Venezuela," Commonwealth Heads of Government stated in a communiqué at the end of their four-day summit here yesterday.

"In this context they regretted Guyana's inability to fully exploit all its natural resources in the Essequibo region in accordance with the Geneva Agreement," the communiqué stated.

The Heads of Government commended the United Nations good offices process in finding a solution to the controversy and urged both countries to continue to avail themselves of this mechanism to resolve their differences in a spirit of good neighbourliness.

They further requested Secretary-General Don McKinnon to convene the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Guyana when occasion required it.

President Bharrat Jagdeo also played a lead role in getting the summit to focus on issues of major concern to small states.

Caribbean leaders had complained that too little time had been spent on dealing with issues of concern to them.

"We were very concerned that that matter was being marginalised and we in the Caribbean have very serious concerns that we need to get across about our vulnerabilities, our needs, our concerns, particularly in the aftermath of September 11, which has only exacerbated an already difficult situation for all of us," Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Chairman and Belize Prime Minister Said Musa told the Chronicle before the meeting ended.

So concerned were the regional leaders that they successfully called for an unscheduled final session to deal with those issues.

Most of the time spent at that session was to "craft the language" for the final communiqué and declaration, Barbados Deputy Prime Minister Billie Miller said.

"President Jagdeo of Guyana did raise our flag early to say that 'small states' is very important to us," Miller said.

Discussions held earlier this week on the issue centred on access of small states to developed markets.

However, President Jagdeo led the CARICOM effort to shift the discussion from market access to market penetration.

The leaders ended what host Prime Minister John Howard called "an important and challenging" summit with a strong condemnation of, and a commitment to the war against terrorism, eliminate poverty and intensify efforts to deal with HIV/AIDS.

"We solemnly reaffirm our resolve as a diverse take concerted and resolute action to eradicate terrorism," the leaders stated in a declaration at the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

But it's their comment on issues of small states that will be of interest to CARICOM leaders.

The leaders supported a Caribbean position that as sovereign nations they have a right to determine their own tax and fiscal policies and called for dialogue between the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and financial services jurisdictions over the contentious OECD Harmful Tax Initiative.

"(The Heads of Government) reiterated that the standards and timelines for non-OECD jurisdictions should be no more onerous than those for OECD members," the communiqué said.

There was the reiteration of their position that small states are vulnerable to international developments and natural disasters and a call for Commonwealth assistance for these states.

"The Commonwealth should provide appropriate assistance on trade issues, including working with the international community to strengthen small states representation at the WTO (World Trade Organisation), promote dialogue on the OECD Harmful Tax Initiative and take action to help mitigate the impact on small states of the events of 11 September and their aftermath," the communiqué stated.

The Caribbean leaders also held bilateral talks with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Britain's Tony Blair.

"We discussed a broad range on matters," the Barbados Deputy Prime Minister told the Chronicle.

These included some of the very issues of small states, the Canada/CARICOM trade agreement and the upcoming UK/Caribbean forum scheduled for Guyana next month.

"Because of (their) role in the G7 and elsewhere, we like to brief Prime Minster Chretien and Prime Minister Blair as well as we can, hoping that some of our issues can help to inform some of those discussions," Miller stated.

The Commonwealth leaders also expressed concern about the consequences of global warming and climate change, especially for vulnerable small island states and other low-lying areas and welcomed progress made by the Iwokrama International Rain Forest Centre in Guyana in conserving and sustainably utilising tropical rain forest resources.