Galvanise regional diplomacy to revive flagging economies
-Insanally urges CARICOM foreign ministers
Regional diplomacy must now be galvanised in order to revive our flagging econo-mies, says Foreign Affairs Minister, Rudy Insanally.
Stabroek News
May 8, 2002

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Addressing delegates at the Fifth meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) in St. Lucia on Monday, Insanally outlined initial efforts made to achieve this objective.

As he handed over the chairmanship to the St Lucian Foreign Minister Julian Hunte, Insanally told the two-day conference which concluded yesterday that "immediately after the Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads in Belize, we flew to the Bahamas for a dialogue with Secretary of State Colin Powell of the United States, CARICOM's most important hemispheric partner. In those discussions, we were able to convey our urgent concerns for regional peace and security as well as for the sustainable development for our countries."

He also pointed to the recent UK-Caribbean forum held in Georgetown, Guyana, which, he said, provided the opportunity for him and British Secretary of State, Jack Straw to exchange views on many of the same issues.

"It is fair to say that both these encounters were promising, giving rise to the hope that there is sympathy and support abroad for CARICOM countries in these difficult times. However, if we are to see substantial gains from these meetings, it is absolutely essential that we sustain the diplomatic momentum in order to concretise the general agreements reached."

Insanally disclosed that he had since written on behalf of COFCOR to Secretary of State Colin Powell, "thanking him for his understanding of our problems and urging him to take action in those areas where US assistance is now critically needed."

The Foreign Minister is hopeful that dialogue will resume with Powell at the OAS General Assembly, which is scheduled to be held this June in Barbados. He said further that the region must also follow up swiftly on the outcome of talks with the UK to ensure that the promise of cooperation in the important areas of trade, investment and information technology is fulfilled.

Touching on the challenges during his chairmanship, Insanally said the September 11 attack on the United States had far-reaching impact on the region. According to him, there is a new set of political and economic realities today, created in the aftermath of the tragedy. "It is as if overnight a new world order has been established, requiring compliance with different rules and regulations," the Foreign Minister stated.

Nonetheless, he said, in response to various resolutions of the United Nations, there must be a wide range of measures implemented to insulate people from the contagion of terrorism.

"Despite the cost to our national budgets, we have not hesitated to do so since we must defend our air, land and sea spaces. These defences are, however, not impervious to other major threats such as the trafficking in arms and drugs, which continue to ravage our economies and our societies. Nor are they resistant to the waves of criminal deportees washing up on our shores, bringing havoc in their wake."

He highlighted too the dangers posed by the shipment of nuclear waste through the Caribbean Sea, noting that even now yet another shipment is traversing regional waters despite several calls made by the region's Heads of Government to the states concerned to review their position on the matter. "This is another example of the challenges facing small and vulnerable states like ours as we seek to preserve and manage our precious natural resources for the benefit of our peoples," Insanally declared.

"As we agreed at our last meeting," he continued, "we should now be preparing for the report to the United Nations General Assembly this year on the follow-up to the resolution passed by that body calling for an Integrated Management Approach to the Caribbean Sea area in the context of sustainable development."

Insanally pointed out that security concerns continue to hold the development agenda of the region "to ransom", as the Heads of Government concluded both in the Bahamas last October and in Belize just a few months ago.

The Foreign Minister observed that in most CARICOM countries where services are the dominant sector and tourism accounts for a third and, in some cases, two-thirds of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the spectre of high unemployment looms large, leading to increased levels of poverty and social dysfunction.

"For other countries such as Guyana, export earnings are likely to suffer as a result of falls in commodity prices and the global economic slowdown. And in all cases, the outlook for private investment flows, economic diversification and longer term growth remains discouraging," the minister said in his statement.

As agreed in Guyana, Insanally asserted that the mechanism for transmitting Caribbean concerns via the UK should now be activated to signal the region's interests to the G-8 and in the EU-LAC meetings.

And in keeping with COFCOR's determination to extend the region's relations with traditional partners such as the UK, the US, Canada and Japan, he contended that the region should seek to intensify its approaches to countries in this hemisphere, particularly those in the immediate periphery, such as Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Mexico and Venezuela.

He advanced the view that with the advent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and a closer relationship with entities such as the Andean Pact and MERCOSUL, these initiatives cannot be postponed for too long.

He also noted that events have occurred with such rapidity over the past year that there was little time to fully analyse them and appreciate the long term effects which they are likely to have on the region's foreign and community relations. In that light, he said, the region would do well to continue reflecting in order to draw from the experiences as those are the lessons that should inform future attempts at foreign policy coordination.