Remarks by Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, at the Opening Ceremony of the 44th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the CARICOM
15-17 February 2023, Baha Mar Grand Hyatt, the Bahamas
Thank you, Mr. Master of Ceremonies.
I deem it an honor for me to deliver brief remarks at this the Forty-Fourth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, in the beautiful city of Nassau, in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. I would wish to place on record my appreciation to the Government and people of the Bahamas for the excellent arrangements put in place for my delegation at this meeting. In the same vein, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the Honorable Phillip Davis on his assumption of the chairmanship of the Conference and express my confidence in his stewardship in guiding the proceedings of this meeting, and throughout the course of his tenure.
I address you today in the context of my recent election to office following the general elections of August 6th, 2022. I am conscious of the mantle of leadership and the strong mandate given to me by the citizens and residents of St Kitts and Nevis, and pledge to do my best to ensure that our decisions at this level redound to their benefit, and by extension, the people of our Caribbean Community.
Our Caribbean Community today stands at a crossroads, where we must focus our attention on the myriad challenges confronting us as small island developing states, and low-lying coastal communities in an ever-increasingly volatile global environment. Our challenges are well known to us:
- Vulnerability to external economic shocks
- Heavy dependence on a few products or services
- Frequent and more intense natural disasters
- High cost associated with debt and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
- Economic recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Disruption in supply chains and steady increases in the cost of imports and production, exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine, and
- Limited access to grants and concessional financing mechanisms to enable us to recover from external economic and environmental shocks.
These overlapping challenges are cross-cutting in their effect. They impact all sectors of the economy, forcing us to play catch-up as we advance our respective development agenda.
CARICOM has remained an effective forum for its members to carve out a space for dialogue, in the international community to seriously address the structural challenges we face as small island developing states. We strongly believe that greater consideration should be given to the Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index as a more holistic metric for addressing the complex issues I highlighted earlier. The MVI Matrix is more closely aligned with the ever-present dangers we face on an annual basis, having to endure the ravages of natural disasters, including hurricanes, drought, volcanic eruptions, and rising sea levels.
Assessing our high GDP does not adequately consider our vulnerability to economic and climate-related shocks. The global development agenda demands the pursuit of a holistic approach to addressing vulnerability, and the provision of solutions that are consultative, effective, and sustainable.
The time has come for international financial institutions to take positive action to address the realities we face and enable us not only to recover from national disasters but adapt to the existential threat of climate change by building stronger, more resilient communities to benefit the lives of our people.
St. Kitts and Nevis remain committed to strengthening the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which we regard as the training ground for engaging with the wider global economy. We believe in the free movement of skills, services, goods, capital, and all the other key elements of the CSME. We view the region as a single space for the people of our region to live, engage in robust economic activity and advance the economic, social, and cultural prospects of our region.
It is difficult for us to extoll the virtues of the CSME without addressing the proverbial “elephant in the room” – intra-regional transport. The reality is that it is too difficult and too costly for the people of the region to move and enjoy the benefits of true integration within the single space which has been created for them to do so at optimal levels.
Coming to this meeting in the beautiful Bahamas is an example of a disconnect between our countries. A number of delegations had to transit through Miami, and perhaps overnight there before flying to our sister CARICOM-member destination. It should take less than 24 hours to move from country to country within our region.
Compared to developed countries with highly developed transport means and modalities, the Caribbean remains at a disadvantage in realizing the benefits of the CSME that the framers of the CARICOM Treaty envisaged. Moving from New York to Washington DC takes a mere four hours by car, and less than two hours by aircraft. The contrast is a stark reality of the challenge we face on an ongoing basis.
Chapter Six of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas provides the framework for inter alia:
- The organization of efficient, reliable, affordable transport services throughout the Community, and
- The promotion of cooperative arrangements for the provision of transport services.
We recognize that several bodies of work have been invested in this regard. The Caribbean Development Bank and other key players continue to seek a sustainable solution to bridge the gaps that exist and breathe life into the provisions of Chapter Six of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
From our vantage point, the Government of St Kitts and Nevis has explored several options in collaboration with a few partners to make it easier for people to move to and from our jurisdiction to engage in business or leisurely activities. We encourage other member states to do likewise. We cannot rest on our laurels while the efficiency gap gets wider causing us to fall further behind in achieving our development objectives.
As we approach the celebration of our Golden Anniversary of our beloved Caribbean Community, I urge us to redouble our efforts to improve the effectiveness of and efficiency of the organs of our institution. Let us strengthen the pillars of functional cooperation! The theme selected “50 Years Strong: A solid Foundation to Build on” is quite fitting as it encourages us to consider our rich legacy and build a stronger more prosperous future. St Kitts and Nevis remain committed to strengthening regional integration in the upcoming year and beyond.
Thank you for your attention.