CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque has challenged the Community’s foreign ministers to engage in strategic discussions in order to forge clear policy reactions to the formative changes in this hemisphere.
LaRocque was addressing the opening of the Fifteenth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) in Paramaribo, Suriname, last week.
The CARICOM Secretary-General observed that the meeting of COFCOR comes against a backdrop of global, hemispheric and regional trends, developments and transformative changes of significant relevance to the conduct of the Community’s foreign policy and to its contribution to the development and welfare of the Community, according to a copy of his address received from the CARICOM Secretariat at Turkeyen.
And underscoring that “change” is the order of the day, he noted that the Community must therefore “analyse and understand its underlying features, seek to influence it or adapt accordingly, or be left behind.”
However, LaRocque acknowledged that CARICOM Heads of Government have recognised the pervasive reality of change that is sweeping across the region, shaping trade and economic policies, human and social development agenda, regional security initiatives and resource mobilisation efforts.
“This inevitably impacts the coordination of our foreign policy,” LaRocque pointed out.
He then highlighted that coordination of foreign policy is essential to address issues such as the continued impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the economies of the Community and the attendant outreach efforts to sensitize the members of the G-20 and other international decision-making bodies to the region’s concerns and needs.
He said that coordination is also vital when addressing the issues affecting small island developing and low-lying coastal states in the continuing international negotiations on climate change and on sustainable development, given the upcoming Rio+20 Conference in June.
Moreover, LaRocque said, this co-ordination is also critical when engaging with external partners in the context of the Community’s strategic priorities and when dealing with concerns over emerging trends in the provision of technical assistance and cooperation, by the Community’s international development partners.
In this regard, LaRocque noted, the “Community has taken note of the attempt to introduce differentiation within regional programmes – which is nothing less than graduation of some community member states out of concessional financing, by another name.”
“I therefore look forward to strategic discussions resulting in clear policy reactions to these trends,” LaRocque challenged the foreign ministers.
He observed as well that there have been formative changes in this hemisphere “which have contributed in general to greater social equity and political stability, increased economic strength, greater self-confidence, and the broadening of external political and economic relations.”
These seminal changes have led to deepened relations between the Caribbean Com-munity and Latin American countries.
“CARICOM’s relations with Latin America have also evolved in the context of the Latin American and Carib-bean Summit on Integration and Development (CALC), which transitioned last December into the Commu-nity of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC),” LaRocque said.
“This grouping,” he added, “has significant implications for the foreign policy positioning and coordination, as well as the economic integration of the Community and in this context it is timely that this important issue is to be addressed in some depth by ministers during their retreat.”
LaRocque also made the point that the economic, social, political and environmental interests of the Community are integrally linked to the forging of mutually beneficial, development-oriented relations with these external partners.
In this regard, he welcomed the presence of the Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Belgium and Finland as well as the High Level Representatives of Australia and Spain.
“These interactions present an opportunity to articulate the Community’s interests and concerns on a range of issues and to engage in an exchange of views on matters of mutual interest,” LaRocque said.
He accepted that the Community’s track record of a coordinated approach to foreign policy issues and speaking with one voice had earned the attention of the international community.
“As a consequence, we are witnessing such interest in the Community to a large extent because of the fruit of our own cohesion as a regional grouping,” he added.