Poor Caribbean projection at World Summit on Sustainable Development By Prof Bishnodat Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
August 28, 2002

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The Summit is more than about the environment...issues like poverty is a major concern, and the WSSD has become a more integral part of wider development co-operation.

I WRITE to express concern at the paucity of attention being given to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in the Caribbean.

It is not that I feel that earth shattering decisions will descend from Johannesburg on September 4. Beyond the great direct importance of the issues before the WSSD, it is part of a wider promising process of the renewal of international development co-operation, in which the Caribbean has very strong interests.

It is a process, however, which is far from receiving the attention it deserves in the region.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat has made efforts to assist regional preparations for the WSSD and a high level meeting was held in Georgetown in July. At the wider Latin America and Caribbean level, preparatory discussions have led to the emergence of joint submission to the preparatory process -- the Latin America and Caribbean Initiative.

But both at the national and regional levels, there have been little public discussion and awareness of the issues and little pressure on, and interest by, governments to adopt relevant and refined positions. This is reflected by a low regional projection at the Summit, especially in terms of well developed positions to further regional interests.

The WSSD, unlike the Earth Summit, of which it is a 10th anniversary follow-up, is more than about the environment. The evolution has led to a greater appreciation of the need to integrate environment and development.

Thus issues like poverty is a major concern, and the WSSD has become a more integral part of wider development co-operation.

In recent times, several international meetings coinciding with the millennium change, have brought about a more positive attitude to development co-operation.

The Doha WTO Ministerial Meeting has agreed to move to a New Round on international trade negotiations, which will give priority to the concerns of developing countries. A UN Millennium Conference has agreed development goals, centring on the halving of abject poverty by 2015.

A Global Fund has been set up to assist the fight against HIV/AIDS. African countries have taken the initiative to set up the New African Partnership for

African Development (NEPAD) which has had a good reception, and last, but not least, the UN Monterrey Conference on Financing Development has received firm commitments to increase aid, notably and substantially by the EU and the U.S.

Both the CRNM (Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery) and the CARICOM Secretariat have given much attention to the new Trade Round but in other important initiatives such as the Monterrey Outcome, in terms of representation of interests, the Caribbean was almost 'not there' and developed no concerted negotiating stance, even though important issues affecting our interests such as the revival of aid, indebtedness, the international financial institutions and investment flows were all actively discussed.

New York missions alerted governments on the negotiating issues, but feedback from capitals were often non-existent. This of course did not affect the attraction of being at Monterrey, but this presence was, in the main, too late to influence pre-negotiated texts.

Almost the same neglect took place in the pre-negotiations for the WSSD, and it was left to others, e.g. the leadership of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), to press the case for small island states and secure a Section in the Implementation Plan, which has already been agreed in the pre-negotiation.

Yet the Caribbean has vital and separate interests in the whole renewed process of international development co-operation, which is largely being neglected.

Poverty and unemployment remain disproportionate in the region, which largely comprises middle-income countries. Poverty is of great interest to us in international discussions, since as middle-income countries, we are deemed suitable for graduation from preferential trade and aid arrangements and are being prematurely graduated.

Aid has been declining at a time when many countries in the region are facing severe adjustment problems arising from the erosion and demise of preferential trading arrangements on which they historically greatly depended.

Strategic assistance programmes in areas like education and training are crucial for the positive adjustment measures required to restructure our economies and put them in an internationally competitive new economy basis.

The increase in international assistance committed at Monterrey offers us a window of opportunity for relaunching our case for adjustment assistance and securing our fair share.

Instead of just a Stabilisation Fund, we should be thinking of an Adjustment and Stabilisation Fund with major support from our main trading partners who are keen for us to move away from preferences.

At the WTO, we need to continue the uphill task of securing special and differential treatment for small states in order to ensure transitional periods to take on new obligations which would not exacerbate our already serious adjustment problems.

At the WSSD, we have also keen interests in improving management of our fragile coastal zones, increased financing and improved insurance arrangements for natural disaster management, firmer precautionary measures in areas like climate change, better forestry and watershed protection and securing favourable benefit-sharing in the utilisation of our biodiversity and traditional knowledge in this area.

For our small states, the environmental issue is not just about protection.

It is also about preserving valuable natural capital, inherent in the natural beauty and attraction of our countries, and an investment in our future, and not least through the environmental services, we export in tourism.

Our leaders will return from the WSSD with the usual hype of achievements, but by being inactive in the preparatory process, what they can secure has already been greatly circumscribed.

** Prof Bishnodat Persaud served as Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies after holding the position of Director of Economic Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat.