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It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to participate in this 30th anniversary Miami conference on the Caribbean, and I welcome the opportunity to address this distinguished gathering on such a significant occasion.
Let me extend congratulations to the organizers — the Caribbean and central American action, on their continued commitment to promoting dialogue between the governments and private sector representatives of the Caribbean basin and the united states of America.
In the 30 years of staging this forum, the Miami conference has benefited from the invaluable contributions of various stakeholders including representatives from the public and private sectors, academia and social partners.
This conference has also served to build common ground on which to advance our shared vision of a stronger, more dynamic and cohesive relationship.
This year, you have chosen to reflect on the theme: A United Third Border, in the context of U.S./Caribbean trade and investment relations.
This united third border can only become a reality by building an interdependent development partnership.
Such a development partnership must affirm our mutual interdependence and speak to the fundamental idea of building a strong, respectful partnership based on mutual trust. It should also take into account the persistent development challenges, while simultaneously redefining the terms of our integration in the world economy on a more competitive and self-reliant basis.
It must be a partnership that will enable us in the third border, to meet our development challenges and achieve our development goals. This partnership for development must contribute to building the economic security of the third border.
It must allow for greater competitiveness and prosperity within the context of current global realities.
For this to be achieved, more creative approaches will have to be explored and tangible results achieved, including a deeper integration of the third border into the world economy.
Perhaps, the most significant development challenge that has persisted in the third border is the underemployment of large segments of our population and the associated problems of poverty and under development.
In reflecting upon the past thirty years and the progress we have made, several policy initiatives in trade and investments relations between the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America have been adopted to help address these challenges.
In 1994, the Caribbean joined with other countries in the hemisphere at the first summit of the Americas to launch the negotiations for the free trade area of the Americas.
Mr Chairman:As you know, the FTAA negotiations have stalled and seem unlikely to resume at any point in the near future.
The reality then, is that the promise of the free trade agreement for promoting trade and investment in the Hemisphere has not been realised.
As the FTAA stumbled to a halt, the United States stepped up its negotiation of bilateral free trade agreements in the Caribbean Basin. It has concluded the Central American free trade agreement with the countries of Central America, which was later joined by the Dominican Republic. In addition, bilateral free trade negotiations are continuing with Panama.
What this means, ladies and gentlemen, is that, of all the originally intended beneficiaries of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, it is only the CARICOM countries and a few dependent territories, which remain outside of such an arrangement.
A request for an extension of the waiver for CBI arrangements is before the two. The extension requested which is up to 2008, has met with continuing opposition. The waiver still has not yet been approved.
As the time passes, we have been left with no clear indication of the next course of action in the consideration of this waiver request. But even if we assume that it will be approved, in effect, the CBI arrangements will last for only another two years.
It is essential therefore, that some new arrangement be put in place, to secure current and future access to the United States market.
It was with this goal in mind, that CARICOM pushed for the revitalisation, earlier this year, of the CARICOM/US Trade and Investment Council. This Council is intended to serve as a platform for deeper dialogue in trade and investment issues of importance to the third border.
Mr Chairman:Even as we seek to address the US/CARICOM trade issues, the Caribbean continues to confront mounting economic challenges, not least of which are the debt crisis and the oil crisis.
The issue of rising energy prices poses a real challenge to the oil dependent economies of the region. Between 2002 and this year, primary fuel prices in the region have increased by an astounding 170 percent.
The case of Jamaica is again worthy of note. As a country which is 96 percent dependent on imported petroleum-based fuel, our energy bill has climbed from 323 million U.S. Dollars in 1998 to 1.35 billion U.S. dollars last year, an increase of over 300 per cent. We are spending more than 75 per cent of our export earnings to maintain our current levels of oil imports.
We must therefore, intensify our efforts to find collaborative mechanisms to mitigate the adverse effects of high energy costs on the oil import dependent economies of our region.
Mr Chairman:It is important that the new efforts in uniting the third border must bring about a strengthened economic partnership. In particular, our efforts to strengthen our regional integration process must take into account the special needs of small, vulnerable economies.
A united third border must be built on trust, mutual respect and a sincere commitment to development.
This strengthened partnership must be buttressed by a good neighbour policy; a new alliance for progress with a sincere commitment to people development.
We must recognise that our interests are inextricably tied. Good neighbours look out for one another. They seek ‘win-win’ outcomes and they realise, at a deep level, that only a symbiotic relationship is sustainable. Truly, we are all in this together.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:The challenges of poverty, underdevelopment, marginalisation of women, HIV/Aids and drugs must be tackled with all the will and resolve we have, as part of achieving this united third border. The greatest threats to our democracy and security will come from poverty and underdevelopment. Uniting the third border is about balancing people’s lives while we balance the books.
The real challenge, Mr Chairman, lies in unifying the different segments of our society. The people must be involved in creating this united third border. They must feel they are stakeholders and active participants in the process
Any trade and investment arrangement within the context of a united third border must be development-focused and people centred. The development challenges posed by poverty and the underdevelopment of our people are still very much with us.
It is my fervent wish to see trade and investment contribute to development and poverty alleviation, job creation, development of local industries, development of local skills and technological improvement.
In the context of a united third border, trade facilitation must mean that greater assistance is extended to the needier countries of the region for employment creation; whether in: agriculture, agro-processing, manufacturing, or the development of our service sectors.
Trade facilitation and additional financial resources within this united third border should be aimed at helping our farmers and small producers to effectively position themselves to grasp opportunities presented by trade agreements.
In structuring this partnership for development within a united third border, we must create opportunities for prosperity for all, particularly for the poor and marginalized persons in the society.
Mr Chairman:President Moreno of the IDB in his presentation this morning underlined the fact that: “too many of the region’s citizens still live in poverty; too many are still forced to migrate in order to find jobs, and too many still rely on remittances sent by relatives abroad.”
He went on to encourage us as leaders to take action which are large, bold and risky and which reflect a new attitude in the region.
“People are tired”, he continued, “of the low expectation, the aversion to risk, the bureaucratic paralysis that killed so many initiatives in years past. They are voting for leaders who will tackle ambitious projects now, not at some distant point in the future.”
It is my challenge to us as leaders, Mr. Chairman that we take bold decisions in support of our people.
My vision, Mr Chairman, is for a region where families flourish;
Where education is accessible to allA region where the circumstances of our children is not the primary determinant of their future developmentA region where our youth are equipped with the skills to compete in the global marketWhere our senior citizens can live their golden years in dignity, peace and harmony
My vision is of region where human development, human rights and poverty eradication are central elements of our strategy for growth. In my vision, no one in our region will go to bed hungry. My vision has resonance with our great musical icon, Bob Marley, who in lamenting the plight of the poor sang: “cold ground was my bed last night and rock stone was my pillow too”
It is my vision that all our people will have adequate shelter, no cold ground for their beds, or rock stone for their pillows.
Those of us gathered here in privileged positions must use our positions to lift those who are not so fortunate.
As President Moreno said: we must be bold. Failure is not an option. We can do it. Let us make the sacrifice. Let us get it done.
I thank you for the invitation and for your kind attention.