By Dana Niland
As CARICOM Foreign Ministers gathered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the 19th Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque underscored the importance of CARICOM maintaining its existing relationships, along building new ones.
LaRocque noted the critical need for CARICOM to reinforce its engagements with the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to advance those with the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and the Netherlands during this Meeting of COFCOR.
According to the Secretary-General, the U.K. confirmed its renewal of interest at the ninth U.K.-Caribbean Forum–which took place in the Bahamas 10 days ago–by increasing its development support to the Caribbean over the next four years.
The U.K. will allocate more than $518 million in grant finance to the region in bilateral program support, which will include funding for infrastructure development for eligible countries.
The Secretary-General also said that CARICOM representatives used the opportunity to inform the U.K. that the de-risking strategies that have resulted in the withdrawal of correspondent banking services from banks in the Community threaten dire consequences for the economic viability of CARICOM Member States.
He added that representatives also called attention to the “unfair” practice of labelling the region’s offshore financial services sector as non-cooperating tax jurisdictions, which has increased since the revelations of the Panama Papers, and adversely affected critical sectors of CARICOM’s economies.
“The issue of graduation of our Member States due to classification as Middle Income Countries, which has made it difficult to access concessionary development financing, was exemplified by the criteria used by the UK in the planned disbursement of the grant financing which they are providing,” said LaRocque.
CARICOM members also discussed these issues, along with those of security, with the U.S. at recent meetings in Washington, the Secretary-General said.
“Energy security has been playing an important role of late in the Region’s relations with the US,” LaRocque said. “This issue has taken on a new dynamism since the April 2015 Summit with President Obama. During the United States-Caribbean and Central American Energy Summit last week in Washington D.C., leaders of the Community engaged with the US Vice-President and representatives of regional and international institutions on energy related issues. At the conclusion of the Summit, the US Government reaffirmed its commitment to support the Caribbean’s transformation of its energy systems, an area in which the Community has been making significant efforts.”
After noting that the current year constitutes one in which the Community must advance the momentum it established in 2015, LaRocque said that the move towards normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba–which was the focus of a Minister’s retreat on Monday–represented a welcome development in hemispheric relations.
The Secretary-General also recognized the increased visibility the Community has earned at both the regional and international levels by appointing leaders to two important bodies for CARICOM– Patricia Scotland as the new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and June Soomer as the Secretary General of Caribbean States.
LaRocque took the opportunity to commend Barbados and Guyana as they celebrated 50 years of independence, and congratulated the countries for the way they have “pioneered the idea of joint diplomatic representation, with one High Commissioner serving both countries in London in the months after Independence.”
He told the Foreign Ministers to look to this example for inspiration with regard to coordinating on a diverse range of topics, in seeking to advance CARICOM’s strategic interests, and the general development of the community