Honourable Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic and Honorary Consular Corps,
Mr Secretary-General and other Members of the CARICOM Secretariat,
Mrs Cecile Humphrey, on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Barbados,
Bishop Delton Fernander, President of the Christian Council,
Most Reverend Patrick Pinder, Archbishop of Nassau,
Senior Government Officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and people of The Bahamas, I welcome each of you to the historic city of Nassau, for this 21st Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).
Despite our robust agenda, it is hoped that you will find time to take in some of our world-renowned Bahamian hospitality and local cuisine. The “Fish Fry” at Arawak Cay, just to the west of this location, is a good place to find fried fish, some conch fritters or conch salad, and coconut water.
Colleagues, please permit me at the outset – on behalf of each of us – to thank our outgoing Chairman, Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Barbados – who could not be with us due to more urgent matters at home – for her stellar stewardship of the Council over the past twelve months.
Minister McClean’s steady hands and leadership, through many thorny and sensitive issues during her tenure, are not only noteworthy but commendable.
I personally thank my friend, Maxine, whom I fondly refer to as one of my tutors, for her guidance and sage advice to me as a newcomer to CARICOM politics and diplomacy just under a year ago, and I wish her every success for the future.
The COFCOR last met in May of 2017 in Bridgetown, Barbados, shortly after an historic election in this country.
Under the leadership of the Honourable Dr Hubert A. Minnis, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, our Government recognises that the country’s interests are best served by its active participation in regional, hemispheric and international organisations, whilst promoting and maintaining close relations with our neighbours; bilateral and multilateral partners; and the community of nations.
It is on this foundation that I address you today as incoming Chair of COFCOR and to underscore The Bahamas’ pledge to its active participation in CARICOM.
I am committed to ensuring that, as a Council, we work collectively towards the realisation of our goals and objectives, which are intended to derive maximum benefit for the people of our Region.
We might yet be small island developing states, but, as a collective, CARICOM is able to punch well above its weight when we speak with one voice. This notion is evident through our considered, concerted, valuable and effective efforts, a few examples of which are: the sensitisation of the more developed nations of the world of the existential threat we face daily as a result of climate change; the realisation of the Arms Trade Treaty; and our push towards the reduction and prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases in our Region.
Over the next two days, we will engage in fruitful and productive discussions on how we can solidify our engagement, whilst simultaneously strengthening our very important relations with a number of Third-States.
In this context, we look forward to meeting the Ministers and Special Envoys from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Norway, Romania, and the United States of America. We thank them for their participation, which affords us the opportunity to engage on issues of the utmost regional importance, such as trade and economic opportunities, security, and sustainable development.
As a Council, we must dissect the outcomes of the recent Summit of the Americas and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, held in Lima, Peru, and London, England, respectively. By so doing, we will position ourselves to derive collectively the best benefits for our Region.
The Cotonou Agreement – between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union – will expire in 2020. Therefore, we must engage in meaningful discourse that will inform our negotiations on a successor agreement.
With just 24 days before we enter the next hurricane season – which experts suggest will be more active than the last one, and with Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, and others in the Region, all yet in recovery mode – any such dialogue must include the peculiar vulnerabilities of SIDS relative to sustainability, resilience, and access to development financing at concessionary rates, and which consider vulnerability over GDP and GNP.
Despite our best collective and individual Sisyphean efforts, we continue to struggle under the spectre of being named and shamed as un-cooperative tax jurisdictions by the European Union and the OECD. It is pleasing that there are countries that are members of both these entities here for the next two-days, so that we might have mutually beneficial discussions towards addressing our concerns relative good tax governance, whilst appreciating the sovereign right of States to determine their tax policies.
In this same vein, we must address the troubling issues associated with de-risking and correspondent banking.
On a gentler note, we are pleased to have as a special guest, Ms Louise Arbour, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for International Migration. I thank her for accepting my invitation and we look forward to hearing her views on the topic, “Migration as an Issue of Concern for the Region”.
Ms Arbour leads the important preparatory work for the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, to be held in Morocco in December of this year. Undoubtedly, our countries will seek to ensure participation at the Intergovernmental Conference at the highest possible political levels.
Colleagues, Excellencies, in conclusion, we meet at a time when the urgency of our call to solidarity as a Caribbean Community, some near 45 years ago, could not be more critical.
Our inchoative objectives, “to encourage economic integration and cooperation; to even-handedly share therefrom; and to coordinate foreign policy” in the interest of the collective, are as urgent today as they were at Chaguaramas in 1973.
Even though we will not always agree, it is incumbent upon us as Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors – who invariably set the tone and tenor of the foreign policies of our respective Nations and our Region – to remain cognisant of our unspoken commitment to be our brothers’ keepers.
And so, during those most infrequent and odd occasions, then, when our collective and individual goals misalign, let us always remember a sage saying I have come to love, which opines, “alone I am just a voice, but together, we are a force”.
With that said, let’s embrace our ambitious agenda for the next two days with a view to delivering focussed solutions that will lend towards equally-ambitious outcomes on the way to the Meeting of our Heads of Government in Jamaica in July.
I thank you.