Mr Speaker, Honourable Members of the House,It is a privilege and honour to report through the Parliament on the activities and strategic plans of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade for the period September 2007 to the end of the financial year 2008/2009. In doing so, I must first place on record my appreciation to the Prime Minister, the Honourable Bruce Golding, for reposing his confidence in me by inviting me to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
Mr Speaker, I will admit that 21 Dominica Drive was not on my radar screen nine months ago when the Jamaica Labour Party was invited by the people of Jamaica to assume the Government.
Since my appointment I have, however, come to fully appreciate the cross cutting nature of the Ministry’s responsibilities, the close link between foreign policy and national development, and the broad scope of the Ministry’s remit which impacts on the activity of every government Ministry as well as the private sector.
FOREIGN POLICY PRINCIPLES
Mr. Speaker, without fear of contradiction, I believe that I can safely say that for the most part, over the years, Jamaica has been fortunate to enjoy bipartisan support for its foreign policy. There has been basic consistency in how we approach the world and in the conduct of our foreign relations. Against this background, I can affirm that Jamaica’s foreign policy will continue to be guided by certain fundamental principles: sovereignty and the equality of states; non-interference in the affairs of states; and respect for international law.
These principles will continue to be anchored within the overarching framework of multilateralism. Successive Jamaican Governments have all been committed to the principle of multilateralism and adherence to the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations which govern the conduct of international relations. This Government remains committed to a rules-based international system which provides a level of certainty and protection for small vulnerable countries.
As a small developing country, we fully recognize that in this complex international environment, multilateralism remains an essential mechanism to coordinate responses to global challenges.
Through its commitment to this process, Jamaica is guaranteed a say in decisions being taken at the global level, notwithstanding our lack of military and economic might. In brief, our commitment to multilateralism is a source of our own protection and it will be our compass in our membership in the many international organizations to which we belong. We will therefore continue to eschew unilateralism and the use of force in contravention of the United Nations Charter.
Pragmatic Foreign PolicyBut, Mr. Speaker, while recognizing the consistency in our foreign policy, as government, we must react and respond according to the particular challenges and opportunities of the time. Radical changes have and are taking place in the international environment and in the global market place. Where previously geopolitics played a prominent role, today there is more interest in economic and business opportunities. No longer is political ideology used as the litmus test to determine relationships between countries. Our approach must be and will be guided by what is in the best interest of the Jamaican people as it relates to economic growth, job creation, poverty reduction, health and education. It is our intention to pursue a policy that, while consistent with fundamental principles, will also be pragmatic and more closely aligned with our domestic policy. For it is the extent to which our actions at the international level contribute in a meaningful way to national development that our foreign policy should be judged.
So, Mr. Speaker, as we face such daunting challenges as high and volatile oil prices and a world food crisis that has triggered unrest in several countries, we are conscious that it is our domestic policy that must shape our outward vision and drive our actions and relations overseas.
Mr Speaker, it is therefore this Government’s intention to pursue a foreign policy that actively supports national development, including the objectives of the National Development Plan for 2030. In other words, we will conduct our diplomacy in such a way as to ensure that there is no disconnect between our domestic policies and our external actions at the bilateral and multilateral levels.
Mr. Speaker, let me highlight just a few of the ways in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is contributing to achieving national goals. It is important to do so because very often the general public does not make the connection between what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade does and the benefits that result therefrom.
Energy SecurityMr. Speaker, the last year has seen a doubling of the international price of oil. Prices have reached astronomical levels and are predicted to go even higher with the consequential impact on inflation and economic growth in many developing countries. Jamaica’s almost absolute dependence on imported oil means that there is no escaping the negative consequences. In this regard, in addition to certain measures we can take at the domestic level such as energy conservation, we will also have to bolster our bilateral energy cooperation through increased collaboration and strategic relationships in order to achieve some measure of security, diversification and affordability of energy sources. We are already doing so with Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria.
The most prominent of these relationships is of course the PetroCaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. This is an important preferential mechanism that shields the Jamaican economy from the full impact of high energy prices and the volatility in the world oil market.
As the Honourable House is aware, the transfer of funds (US$63.7 million) completing PDVCaribe’s acquisition of 49% of the equity shareholding in the Petrojam refinery took place in late February this year.
In the case of Brazil, we are engaged in an ongoing cooperation programme in the area of renewable energy, particularly in the development of biofuels. Brazil’s support to our sugar and ethanol industry remains strong with assistance provided for the implementation of capacity building projects in ethanol production.
Another development in the effort to diversify energy sources and to expand Jamaica’s exploration opportunities concerns the possible exploration for hydrocarbon resources in the Joint Regime Area shared by Jamaica and Colombia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade facilitated discussions which commenced earlier this year between officials and experts of both countries regarding exploration for oil and gas in the joint regime area. We look forward to resuming talks in the near future with a view to finalizing an agreement in the near future.
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