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June 19, 2007 – Washington, DC
8:30 am, Tuesday, June 19th, Preston Auditorium, World Bank

Honorable Prime Ministers of the Caribbean
Honorable Ministers
Special guests
Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning.

It is a great honor and privilege for me to participate in the opening of this important Conference on the Caribbean.

I must begin by congratulating the Caucus of CARICOM Ambassadors here in Washington for accomplishing what may have seemed impossible in the early stages of the planning process: to focus the attention of the United States and the international development community on the small states of the Caribbean, or as Prime Minister Gonsalves so rightly describes the region, the great Caribbean civilization.

When we begin a deliberation about “CARICOM Development in the 21st Century”, we must start by recognizing the many achievements of a group of developing nations that, coming to independence only in the second half of the 20th Century, have achieved so many successes. The majority of the CARICOM Member States have been stable democracies for many decades and have achieved important levels of economic, institutional and social development. The impressive growth of tourism and other industries have provided most of these nations, in normal conditions, with sufficient income to provide for the well being of most of their peoples.

But the paradox these countries face is that these accomplishments have not allowed them to overcome completely their inherent economic, environmental and social vulnerability as small states. This vulnerability arises from an inherent exposure to adverse external shocks that are beyond the control of the countries, including energy price shocks, natural disasters, strains posed by migration, the effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the adverse effects of climate change.

The origin of these critical events is beyond the responsibility of the peoples and governments involved. Yet they deeply affect their development. And this is further aggravated by the fact that many Caribbean countries now fall squarely in the high and medium ranks of the United Nations’ Human Development Index and the World Bank’s Word Development Indicators, which disqualifies those countries from accessing significant development assistance.

While it is true that these vulnerabilities cannot be eliminated, the experience of small states in Europe and Asia, suggests that much can be done by the countries of the Caribbean and by the region’s development partners, like the OAS, to understand these vulnerabilities and help the Caribbean to avoid, withstand and recover from the shocks induced by them. Specifically, these vulnerabilities can be mitigated through an appropriate policy orientation that focuses on bolstering the resilience of Caribbean states to withstand external shocks.

To their credit, many Caribbean governments have been crafting and implementing policies that promote macroeconomic stability; micro-economic market efficiency; good governance; social development and cohesion; and sound environmental management.
The region’s move to create better economies of scale and economies of scope through the creation of a single market and economy (CSME) among all its nations is a crucial process to strengthen the CARICOM countries’ capacity to withstand external shocks and improve and sustain its economic growth. This effort must be commended and fully supported. The external trade environment has a significant impact on the ability of the region to compete and to continue to grow. The decision of the CARICOM countries to integrate and further open their economies, negotiating trade agreements collectively, must receive a positive response from their main trading partners in the Americas.

The unpredictability and magnitude of increases in energy prices continues to undermine the Caribbean’s ability to compete in the global economy. The Caribbean’s development partners can be of assistance on the energy front, to help correct the asymmetry of energy resources, coordinating their effort with those generously provided by the only energy producing country of CARICOM. It is also true however, that the Caribbean has significant sources of renewable energy which could be better utilized to articulate a regional sustainable renewable energy policy and program.

In the area of disaster mitigation and response, the international development community has several important programs. However, we must improve the coordination among us, so that we do not duplicate efforts and are better organized to deliver the support needed. We must continue to articulate sound disaster mitigation policies and practices, designed to minimize the disruption typically caused by hurricanes that are, unfortunately, a feature of this season every year in the Caribbean.

Finally, the foundation of any resilience building effort must undoubtedly be human resource development. The countries of the Caribbean have always been proud of what they justly define as their main wealth: their people, their resourcefulness, their talents and their work ethics. It is this basic resource that has allowed the countries of the Caribbean to develop the public institutions and civil society organizations that are the foundations of their development and stable democracies.

Here, the Caribbean is being challenged on several fronts. The worrying trend of out-migration of thousands of skilled personnel (including teachers, doctors and nurses) to more developed countries drains the Caribbean of some of their most valuable resources. The HIV/ AIDS pandemic is striking at the heart of the region’s productivity and imposing a very high replacement cost on the affected countries. The increase in crime and violence especially related to the drugs and arms trades; and the simultaneous influx of criminal deportees from the same developed countries is also exacerbating the region’s vulnerability.

These social phenomena impose significant economic and social costs. The policies of deportation have to be revised; the international development community must revisit outdated assistance policies to cooperate by providing assistance to the region for the fight against crime and violence; and support in the fight against HIV/AIDS has to be increased.

In closing, let me once again congratulate the CARICOM members of the OAS for organizing this important conference. For several years you have set a positive standard of democracy, rule of law, growth and integration in our hemisphere. I am confident that your future achievements will continue to be recognized and supported by all the states and peoples of the Americas.

I thank you.

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