The Caribbean has accumulated over the years a strong, impressive tradition in the conduct of its foreign affairs. We are small, all of us.
We are small individually; we are small collectively, relative to the rest of the world. Notwithstanding our size, we command significant attention and we command respect in the important output of the world. We have led or have been associated with critical issues that have influenced the thinking of some of the major countries of the world, at times when the world faced development issues that had to be dealt with.
These are assets that will have to come to the fore now. These are assets that will have be put to work as never before to address the problems that confront us, because this crisis is so huge, it is so severe, it is so extensive, it is so pervasive in its impact, that those to whom we would normally turn to for assistance and refuge we are likely to find are busy assisting themselves.
If an earthquake strikes in Peru, the rest of the world runs to their assistance. When an earthquake strikes right throughout the world, everybody runs to fight to get out from under the rubble. That is part of the reality that we face today and therefore, we as a community are challenged to command the attention of the world and see if we can get our voices heard above the noise and the rubble of this earthquake. Some of the aftershocks have not yet come. It is a challenge that we face.
We are challenged also to do everything that is possible to ensure that the leaders of the major countries of this world, in seeking to fix their problems, do not make our problems any worse than they are. There are issues that have already arisen, issues of offshore banking, and when we discussed the matter in Port of Spain recently, I got an appreciation of the full impact that this would have in smaller economies. And yet even in that we have to understand that this is an issue that will have to be dealt with, because there are genuine concerns that these offshore entities are in fact a means of avoiding taxes; that has to be addressed; and therefore we are going to have to, somehow, get through that particular concern of the major countries to say “we understand”.
When the United States, for example, is presenting a budget with a 12.3% deficit and Britain a 10 point odd per cent deficit, then collection of revenue becomes a ticklish issue and therefore their position has to be understood as well. We are going to have to be able to lay a case and say now, “Look, we know you have to take care of your problems, but remember the impact this will have on small economies, like our own.”
There is an invisible tendency towards protectionism. The official position of all the G20 countries is to eschew protectionism; that trade has to be a part of the instrument to get us out of this crisis that we are in; yet almost inevitably, we see a tendency in the revitalisation of banking institutions to encourage them to lend to their own for purchasing their own products and for trying to create jobs onshore; and we only have to consider the impact that that is likely to have on countries like our ours in the Caribbean.
If ever there was a time when we need the sense and the strength of Community, it is now. If ever there was a time when we need to resist the latent instinct that resides inside of everyone of us in the Caribbean; that sometimes when we face trauma we can’t resist thinking that we perhaps would stand a better chance of making it if we break from the pack and try to go it alone- we have to resist that. As tedious sometimes as Caribbean consultation and Caribbean action is, we are going to have to band together in a way that we perhaps have never felt was necessary to do before.
None of us has the strength or the size to stop the world in order to get off, or to stop the world in order to prevent ourselves from falling off. We are going to have to hold hands, particularly at this time, because together, I think we can and together I think we must.
We can prevail because, small as we may be individually, we are the Caribbean. We are cradled by North and South America and even though we don’t occupy significant land mass individually, together we do represent a huge part of this hemisphere and it is so important that we understand and appreciate that.
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