The Twentieth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) took place in Bridgetown, Barbados on 18-19 May 2017, under the Chairmanship of Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados.
The COFCOR was attended by the Honourable H. Charles Fernandez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration of Antigua and Barbuda; Honourable Wilfred Peter Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belize; Senator the Honourable Francine Baron, Minister of Foreign Affairs and CARICOM Affairs of Dominica; Honourable Nicholas Steele, Minister of Health, Social Security and International Business of Grenada; Honourable Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana; Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica; Honourable Mark Brantley, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation of St. Kitts and Nevis; Honourable Sir Louis Straker, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Commerce of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Her Excellency Yldiz D. Pollack-Beighle, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname; Senator the Honourable Dennis Moses, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mrs. Sharon Brennen-Haylock, Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented The Bahamas; His Excellency Peterson Benjamin Noel, Ambassador to CARICOM represented Haiti; Her Excellency Elma Gene Isaac, Ambassador to CARICOM and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) represented Saint Lucia. The OECS Secretariat was represented by His Excellency. Anthony Severin, Head of International Relations.
Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque; the Honourable Sir Louis Straker, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Commerce and Regional Integration of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, immediate past Chair of the COFCOR; and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados and Chair of the COFCOR, Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean, addressed the Opening Ceremony.
The Secretary-General posited that the Council was meeting at a time when a number of developments are taking place against the backdrop of an international order which is in a period of greater flux than usual. He referred to a number of developments which had implications for the Community, including Brexit, the uncertainty concerning the policy of the new United States (US) Administration towards the Caribbean and the coming negotiations on the Post Cotonou arrangements between the ACP Group of States and the European Union (EU).
The Secretary-General stated that these changing circumstances also brought opportunities. He affirmed that the “key to seizing those opportunities is the concerted and coordinated actions that the Community undertakes on a regular basis, across a broad spectrum of political and technical areas.”
Sir Louis affirmed that “CARICOM must function as the Community it was created to be, with a vision, a mission and core values, that has a central focus on working together.”
He said that “our focus should be on revisiting and strengthening our relations with traditional partners and reaching out to new allies with an aim towards regional and national sustainability. We must utilize effectively our existing mechanisms such as CARIFORUM, ACS, CELAC and even the Commonwealth to the utmost in the achievement of a common goal while exploring new avenues for development.”
Sir Louis urged that greater effort must be made to harness the diaspora for the Community’s development.
Minister McClean stated that “the present and future global environment demand that the Caribbean Community engage in a process of evaluation, revision, and consolidation. To advance and realise the vision of CARICOM, it is imperative that we deepen and strengthen Community engagement and, as a cohesive body, leverage our voices as one to derive maximum benefit for the region.”
She noted that for the foreseeable future, the Region’s strategic development plans will be closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Minister said that it could be expected that the SDGs, in conjunction with the Paris Climate Change Agreement, would serve as guiding posts for our development partners, which would provide new opportunities for CARICOM.
The Chairman said a clear policy must be devised on engagement with the EU following the exit of the United Kingdom (UK), as well as on the future of the ACP-EU relationship after the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020.
Minister McClean pointed out that it was not clear that the new US Administration had formulated a policy for engaging the Region, but policies which were being adopted and implemented were already having an impact on our sustainable development priorities and aspirations.
“Community Engagement for Regional Sustainable Development”
The COFCOR, during its Retreat, explored the theme of Community Engagement for Regional Sustainable Development.
The COFCOR recognised the need for greater interaction among the Ministers. They also recognised that encouraging and establishing regular forms of contact would also significantly enhance intra-Community Relations. The Ministers exchanged ideas with respect to maintaining a flow of communication outside the regularly structured engagements.
An essential dimension of this interaction and communication would be co-ordination of policies which would build on the existing mechanisms which have proven to be an invaluable asset in advancing the Community’s interests in the global arena.
In this regard, they noted that recourse to the platforms provided by technology would strengthen the Community’s efforts at co-ordination.
A New CARICOM Diplomacy for a Changing International Environment
In recognition of the shifting global political landscape, CARICOM Foreign Ministers noted the necessity of adapting the Community’s outreach, engagement and foreign policy approach. Foreign Ministers endorsed the development of a new strategy for CARICOM Diplomacy, defined by a creative mix of traditional strengths with new and innovative solutions, value-based assessments, enhanced coordination, cooperation, and leadership.
Post Cotonou Partnership and the Future of the African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP)
In discussions on the future of the African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), the COFCOR stressed the importance of maintaining the all ACP approach and enhancing the Community’s relations with the Africa and Pacific regions as a means of strengthening the ACP Group.
The COFCOR recognized the significant role of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), which comes to an end in 2020, as an important framework for political dialogue and development cooperation. The Ministers agreed to participate actively in discussions between the ACP and the EU on a post-Cotonou agreement, and stressed that the successor to the CPA should build upon the aquis of the outgoing agreement
Trade and Development Cooperation with a Post- Brexit UK
The COFCOR acknowledged the strong historical ties that exist between the Community and the UK. They noted that the implications of the UK’s pending exit from the EU, particularly in relation to the Community’s trade and investment relations and for development assistance, require further consideration. The Ministers also acknowledged that Brexit would present both challenges and opportunities for the Community and gave consideration to a range of strategies for engagement with the UK and the EU.
In relation to the United Nations (UN), the COFCOR noted the information provided on developments with regard to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the UN Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty Conference, the Conference on Oceans, and the negotiation of a new international agreement on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).
Foreign Ministers called on Member States to enhance their participation in the relevant Preparatory Meetings and upcoming Conferences for the purpose of effecting a strong, well-coordinated participation.
With regard to NCDs, the COFCOR noted the need for increased gains to be made by the Community to meet the agreed global NCD target of a 25 percent reduction in premature NCD mortality by 2025 and considered the upcoming 10-year Follow-up to the 2007 Port-of-Spain Declaration on NCDs.
The COFCOR received an update on the issues of strategic importance to the Community before the Organisation of American States (OAS). Ministers reiterated their commitment to the work of the hemispheric body and looked forward to discussions to be held at the upcoming Forty-Seventh Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly under the theme “Strengthening Dialogue and Concentration for Prosperity” in Cancun, Mexico, on 19-21 June 2017.
Foreign Ministers reflected on the activities that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is undertaking in 2017 following the Fifth CELAC Summit which took place in the Dominican Republic (DR) in January 2017. Ministers agreed to the development of a CARICOM coordinating mechanism to ensure that the Community is appropriately represented at CELAC meetings They reiterated CARICOM priorities within CELAC particularly with respect to issues vital to Small Island and low-lying coastal Developing States (SIDS), such as the Caribbean Sea, sustainable development, climate change, renewable energy and citizen security. Ministers emphasised the importance of the full participation of CARICOM in this body and underscored the significance of the Community’s membership of the Quartet of CELAC which sets the strategic direction of the body. They also reviewed the preparations for the CELAC-EU Summit in October 2017.
The COFCOR continued to emphasise the importance of CARICOM’s participation in international bodies, including through the pursuit of increased CARICOM representation in these organisations. In this regard, Ministers considered and endorsed a number of CARICOM candidatures to the UN and hemispheric institutions and considered the requests by Third Countries for CARICOM’s support for their candidatures to these bodies.
Interaction with Representatives of Third States
Foreign Ministers received a presentation from Her Excellency Delcy Eloína Rodríguez Gómez, Foreign Minister of Venezuela, updating the COFCOR on the situation in Venezuela. The COFCOR issued the attached Statement on the situation in Venezuela following its discussions on the issue.
The Secretary of State for Foreign Trade for Belgium, His Excellency Mr. Pieter De Crem, noted the ecological and economic vulnerability of Caribbean States and stated that Belgium is a strong supporter of the Caribbean on issues of mutual concern such as climate change, renewable energy, and oceans. He also signaled his country’s strong support for CARICOM in a post-Brexit EU.
Foreign Ministers received His Excellency Shunsuke Takei, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, with a view to enhancing cooperation in line with the three pillars of Japan’s CARICOM policy – Cooperation towards sustainable development including overcoming vulnerabilities particular to Small Islands States; Deepening and expanding bonds founded on exchanges and friendship; and Cooperation in addressing challenges within the international community.
Additionally, Foreign Ministers observed important developments in the CARICOM-Japan relationship and committed to further strengthening relations.
The COFCOR noted the progress made in the strengthening of relations with a number of Third States since its last Meeting. In so doing, it reaffirmed the importance of CARICOM’s relations with its traditional partners and the need to expand the Community’s outreach to develop its relations with non-traditional partners.
In respect of Mexico, the COFCOR received an update on the developments in the CARICOM-Mexico relations and invited Member States desirous of hosting the Fourth CARICOM-Mexico Summit to advise the CARICOM Secretariat.
Foreign Ministers also noted the interest indicated by the Central American Integration System (SICA) to meet with CARICOM at the highest level.
In reviewing CARICOM-Cuba relations and the preparations for the Sixth CARICOM-Cuba Summit to be held in Antigua and Barbuda in December 2017, the Council underscored the importance of the longstanding relationship with Cuba which is characterized by technical cooperation, trade and political relations, and mutual support for each other in multilateral fora. They also expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Fifth Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of CARICOM and Cuba held in Cuba in March 2017 and reiterated the Community’s firm support for the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba.
The COFCOR discussed formalising relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by way of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would incorporate political and cooperation interests.
The COFCOR also discussed the formalising of relations proposed by the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
The COFCOR received an update on the most recent developments between Belize and Guatemala. Ministers noted that both Belize and Guatemala have now completed their internal procedures required for the Special Agreement to Submit Guatemala’s Claim to the International Court of Justice of 2008, including its related Protocol of 2015, to enable these Agreements to come into force and that the two countries have exchanged notes in this respect. They also expressed their hope that both countries can proceed with the required referendum as early as possible.
Ministers regretted that the undertaking by both countries and the OAS to engage in the design and development of a mechanism of co-operation for the Sarstoon River, remains outstanding and urged both countries and the OAS to redouble their efforts in this respect.
They expressed support for the continuous and critical role of the OAS in the process aimed at resolving the dispute arising from Guatemala’s claims on Belizean territory and further called on the international community to continue supporting the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone.
The COFCOR emphasized their unflinching support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of Belize
- Guyana- Venezuela
The Ministers received an update from the Guyanese delegation on recent developments on the controversy between the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the efforts of Secretary General, H.E. Antonio Guterres, to find a final and binding solution.
The Ministers welcomed the appointment of His Excellency Dag Nylander to act as Personal Representative of the UN Secretary General in the Good Offices Process for the duration of 2017, with a strengthen mandate of mediation. They recognised that the appointment of this distinguished diplomat is an indication of the strong commitment of the Secretary General to the peace process and joined Guyana in acknowledging his efforts.
The Ministers recalled the proposal by the former Secretary General for confidence building measures and also took note of Guyana’s willingness to explore all possibilities consistent with Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They further expressed hope that its implementation by both parties in good faith will lead to the resolution of the controversy and the extirpation of its unwanted implications for the countries, and the entire Caribbean Region.
The Ministers reiterated the firm and unequivocal support of the Caribbean Community for the maintenance and preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Ministers expressed their deep appreciation to the Government and people of Barbados for the warm hospitality, excellent arrangements and courtesies extended which greatly facilitated the fruitful deliberations of the Twentieth Meeting of the COFCOR.
The Meeting was well attended, the discussions fulsome and consensus reached on the matters discussed.