Ministers for Foreign Affairs and other Heads of Delegation at the 21st Meeting of COFCOR, The Bahamas.

Caribbean Community Foreign Ministers have been urged to advance the objectives of CARICOM by leveraging their voices as one to derive maximum benefits for the region.

CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, speaking in Nassau, The Bahamas at the opening of the Twenty-First Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) on Monday, said there was “ample evidence” to prove the Community benefitted when acting in concert on the international stage.

“What we do as a Community continues to make a difference. Just recently, we were successful in pressing the case of the undocumented British citizens of Caribbean descent long resident in the United Kingdom (the Windrush Generation). We have brought global attention to issues of non-communicable diseases, graduation from access to concessional financing, climate change and the vulnerability of Small States to name just a few,” Secretary-General LaRocque pointed out.

Noting that tackling a major global issue like migration, a topic for COFCOR’s retreat, required “effective multilateralism and concerted action,” he welcomed the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on International Migration, Her Excellency Louise Arbour, who will facilitate deliberations at the Retreat.

Secretary-General LaRocque said other external challenges including blacklisting, the withdrawal of correspondent banking services, transnational crime, and the threat of violent extremism, must also be addressed by the multilateral system, rather than by “individual action by countries or groups of countries in fora in which we have no voice.”

As the Foreign Ministers look at CARICOM’s increased engagement in the hemisphere, he said of concerned was the reality that the “major mechanisms and processes of inter-American political dialogue – the OAS, the Summit of the Americas, CELAC, UNASUR, even the GRULAC coordinating mechanism for candidatures at the United Nations in New York – are increasingly under strain, and in some cases have become dysfunctional.”

“This Meeting will no doubt weigh the causes and the repercussions of this development, and its impact on the Community’s interests.  However, it will also ascertain to what extent the Community is in a position to contribute to narrowing the divisions,” Mr LaRocque stated.

Reminding that the Community was still recovering from the climatic disasters of September 2017, which would take years and more than US$5 billion to rebuild, he noted that the start of this year’s hurricane season – a mere 25 days away – was predicted to be equally, or even more active than last year’s.

“Our charge, therefore, is to reduce vulnerability to these disasters and the effects of climate change by building a climate-resilient Community,” Secretary-General told the COFCOR.

He expressed the Community’s perpetual gratitude to partners who have supported affected countries in their efforts at recovery and building resilience. Such assistance is most welcome, Secretary-General LaRocque noted, particularly as most of CARICOM countries are denied concessional development financing due to the use of GDP per capita as a primary criterion for access to such funds.

The Bahamas in particular suffered three consecutive years of significant damage by hurricanes amounting to more than half a billion US dollars, but is one of those countries affected by this denial of access, due to its categorisation as an upper middle income country.

With the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the Commonwealth, among others, the Secretary-General said international financial institutions are beginning to consider vulnerability as a factor in providing development financing. “This is essential if our countries are to successfully become climate resilient,” he added.

As the Community prepares for negotiations for a successor to the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement, it must do so unified, he said.

“We must be prepared to advocate vigorously for our position for one ACP-EU Agreement containing Regional Compacts, but all negotiated at the All-ACP level. It is in our interest to promote the value of our three regions staying the course and negotiating as one.”

He noted also that the Community has been actively engaging with the United Kingdom with respect to their future trade relations to ensure that there would be no disruption following BREXIT. Technical exchanges are on-going and plans are being made for a Ministerial engagement with the UK before the end of 2018 in this regard, he added.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Francine Baron, is representing Dominica at the meeting.