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St Kitts & Nevis Prime Minister Harris’ remarks to declare Diplomatic Week 2019 officially open

Address by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis
On the Occasion of the Opening of Diplomatic Week 2019
Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

Your Excellency Sir S.W. Tapley Seaton, our Distinguished Governor-General; Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, Premier Mark Brantley; Other Members of the Federal Cabinet; Permanent Secretaries; Excellencies of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps; special guests and well-wishers; ladies and gentlemen, media representatives.

A Special Good Morning to all!

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to the Team Unity Government’s Fourth Celebration of Diplomatic Week, a celebration which is indeed very dear to my heart, having had the privilege to spearhead the inaugural Diplomatic Week in the year 2007 when I served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.   It is comforting to know that my pioneering initiative of 2007 has lived on and continues to be relevant and salient today. 

I am delighted that we are able to welcome such a large group of non-resident representatives from across the globe, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, to our shores for this special occasion.  I know that you will find to be of immense benefit the activities so ably organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I ask that you convey the warmest fraternal greetings from the Government and people of our beloved Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis to your respective Heads of State and Government.  We highly appreciate the very friendly relationships with all our diplomatic partners and your efforts to strengthen these bonds of friendship.  We look forward to creating new and expanding opportunities for cooperation.  I wish you a rewarding tour of duty as you continue to serve your countries with distinction.

It also warms my heart to welcome home our Heads of Missions and Honorary Consuls who continue to give yeoman’s service to our country in their respective jurisdictions.  Thank you for your unwavering efforts in helping us to not only expand the diplomatic footprint of St. Kitts and Nevis, but also ensuring that our Nationals in the Diaspora have someone to turn to in times of difficulty.  Thank you for living up to our country’s motto, “Country Above Self,” as you continue to serve thousands of miles away from your families, and in climates that differ considerably to the tropical climate we enjoy year-round in this twin-island paradise.

Let me invite each and every one of you to stand and be recognized at this time.  Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to give a round of applause to these outstanding men and women of our soil!  (You may be seated.)

I want to publicly pledge my Government’s support as you continue to enhance our relations in the global theatre so that they may yield even more positive and tangible results nationally.  Eight years (2001 to 2008) as Minister of Foreign Affairs have entrenched my view that there is no foreign policy without domestic policy.  Put another way: our foreign policy agenda must help us to advance the quality of life of our people and externalize the values which our society and our region hold dear.  In the ever-changing world, we need a reminder of what really is important to us first and foremost and how our partners can be of assistance to us in satisfying our people’s expectations.

Diplomatic Week 2019 is being celebrated under the theme “Securing a Resilient Future through Strategic Diplomacy and Effective Dialogue.”

Indeed, it was over 35 years ago when we attained Independence on September 19th, 1983 that our nation and its leaders set out on a new frontier to chart this country’s destiny and secure a resilient future for all our people.  We were elated that many of you were able to join us in the grand celebration of our nationhood last September.  Let me at this time also express immense gratitude for the congratulatory messages received from your Heads of State and Government on that auspicious occasion.

Thirty-five years ago, as the world’s newest independent sovereign nation and the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis was quickly steeped in strategic diplomacy, joining the Commonwealth of Nations on September 19th, 1983 and becoming its 48thmember.  St. Kitts and Nevis also joined the United Nations on September 23rd, 1983 as its 158th member, and the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on October 27th, 1983 as its 161st member.  Our country also forthwith formed important alliances, establishing diplomatic relations and effective dialogue with the United Kingdom and several of our Caribbean neighbours on September 19th, 1983, as well as with both the United States of America and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) on September 20th, 1983, with the Republic of China (Taiwan) on September 23rd, 1983, with Canada on October 11th, 1983, and with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on October 31st, 1983, among several nation states.

Passport – Outward Manifestation of Our Citizenship

To date, St. Kitts and Nevis boasts visa-free access to 158 countries.  Our passport ranks 24th in the world, 1st in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and 2nd in the Caribbean behind Barbados.  Since 2015, our Government has realized a new High Commission in Ottawa, Canada; formal diplomatic relations with over 30 countries, visa waiver agreements with nearly 20 countries, and also a visa renewal interview waiver for qualified St. Kitts and Nevis passport holders who want to visit the United States.

These significant diplomatic achievements coupled with impressive medical and socioeconomic advances – such as St. Kitts and Nevis being validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis; being classified as a marquee tourist destination for achieving the feat of welcoming over one million cruise ship visitors each season, and becoming the first independent state in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) to achieve a 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, all of which occurred under a Team Unity Government – confirm what His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales himself said while he and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall were visiting our beautiful twin-island nation.

Prince Charles noted during his remarks at Government House that he had been “particularly struck by the eminent strength of [our] society.”  His Royal Highness went on to say that he knows that St. Kitts and Nevis has had “such a remarkable influence in the region and beyond, punching as they say well above her weight…” and “as a consequence,” the Prince of Wales added, “the voice of St. Kitts and Nevis is heard and listened to on so many of the most pressing issues of our time, not least on the immense and alarming challenge of climate change…”

Such was the case during last September’s launch of the Defeat-NCD Partnership at the United Nations when I took the opportunity to draw the attention of the international community to the inextricable link between climate change and the global rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and hypertension, both of which cause most of the NCD deaths around the world, individually and in combination.

The stark statistics featured on the Defeat-NCD Partnership’s website drive home the urgent need to defeat non-communicable diseases, particularly in developing countries.  Consider that some 48 percent of NCD-related premature deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries. Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, NCDs account for 83 percent of all deaths in our Federation.

At the same time, kidney disease is an increasing health burden and a high priority NCD.  The Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis are therefore grateful for the continued support of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which has provided support for our Haemodialysis Unit at the Joseph N. France General Hospital.  The Taiwanese-funded Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) programme was launched in 2017 at our Federation’s 17 health centres and is now in its second phase.  Let’s give a round of applause to the Taiwanese government, which has made it possible for more kidney patients to receive life-saving dialysis right here in St. Kitts and Nevis.

I look forward to chair a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Defeat-NCD Partnership during the 72nd Session of the World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly taking place in Geneva, Switzerland this coming May.  I will do this in my capacity as the lead Head for Health and Human Development in the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM’s) Quasi Cabinet.  This will present an invaluable opportunity not just to preside, but also for me to delineate the challenges and the global efforts required to mitigate them. 

We have chosen “Securing a Resilient Future through Strategic Diplomacy and Effective Dialogue” as the theme for Diplomatic Week 2019 because my administration is cognizant that we have been able to achieve some successes on account of our global partnerships with organizations and Governments such as yours.  So I take the opportunity to thank those who have assisted us in our endeavour to develop our economy, improve the standard of living of our country and pave the way for a better tomorrow for all of our people.  We continue to entreat international support to improve and sustain our socioeconomic advancements. 

As you may be aware, many of our national initiatives to secure resilience continue to be attacked and undermined through unilateral restrictive policies such as de-risking and blacklisting, which provide an impediment to further development by threatening our country’s financial inclusion and our people’s financial access to the global financial system.  Such policies create urgent developmental challenges, particularly for us in the Caribbean as research published by the World Bank in November 2015 found that the Caribbean “seems to be the region most severely affected” by the practice of terminating correspondent banking relationships.  Notably, 69 percent of the local/regional banks that were surveyed reported a moderate or significant decline in correspondent banking relationships.

This has sweeping implications, including on remittances and the incidence of poverty.  Dilip Ratha, the Manager of the Migration and Remittances Unit at the World Bank, found that, in 2013, migrants from developing countries sent $413 billion back to their homelands.  That’s more than three times the amount ($135 billion) of aid that developing countries received that year.  Consider, too, that St. Kitts and Nevis and some other Small Island Developing States have been graduated or upgraded based on GDP per capita, making us no longer eligible for official development assistance and concessional financing.  This disregards that our GDP is vulnerable, particularly to climate change-related exogenous shocks such as hurricanes.  We contribute very little to climate change yet we bear the brunt of it.  With the deck stacked against us, we continue to appeal for your Government’s support and call for greater consultation and understanding regarding our national development and poverty alleviation efforts to uplift our people, especially as we continue to comply with international standards.

Today, at this Opening Ceremony, I echo the words that António Guterres, the United Nations’ Secretary-General, spoke during his opening remarks at his first press conference of 2019.  He said, “As we look to the challenges we face – from climate change to migration to terrorism to the downsides of globalization – there is no doubt in my mind that global challenges require global solutions.  No country can do it alone.  We need today multilateralism more than ever.”

The case for multilateralism – that is, several different countries or organizations working together to achieve common goals – has been at its most convincing and prominent in recent times.  IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has made the call for a “new multilateralism,” one that is dedicated to improving lives around the globe.  French President Emmanuel Macron has called multilateralism “the rule of law.”  And German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland held in January that, “Multilateral institutions are indispensable if we want to live well in the world of tomorrow.”  She added, “Commitment to multilateralism is essential and a precondition for shaping tomorrow,” while further noting, “Anything else will lead us into destruction.”

As the leader of a Small Island Developing State faced with urgent developmental challenges, I concur.

A little over a month ago, St. Kitts and Nevis hosted and I chaired the 30th Inter-Sessional Conference of Heads of State and Government of our beloved CARICOM region.  This Conference provided another opportunity for my Government to dialogue with our regional and international partners, to assess the best way to tackle the challenges that confront our region.  I am pleased that there will be a segment later this morning that will consider regional and sub-regional perspectives to securing resilience, as we chart our development course.

One major element of securing resilience is ensuring stability and peace.  Therefore, the current political crisis in Venezuela has been the focus of multiple regional and international interactions.  Indeed, in my capacity as Chair of CARICOM, I have attended several meetings on this issue via videoconference and in person in Guyana, at the United Nations, and in Uruguay and Ecuador.  My Government believes that talking is always a good starting point.  This is the very reason why my Government supports the Montevideo Mechanism, which encourages dialogue and mutual understanding amongst all actors, in an effort to restore peace and order in Venezuela.  As Chairman of CARICOM, I pledge to continue making every effort to assist with bringing urgent, but peaceful resolution to this volatile situation.  We have the collective responsibility of ensuring that our Caribbean remains a zone of peace.  Escalation of the political and social impasse in Venezuela threatens peace and security in the region. 

It is my earnest prayer that, as the theme is discussed throughout the week, we would all return to our respective Missions with a renewed hope, vision and mission to become even more positive promoters of dialogue and agents of peace in our world.

I therefore take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all our diplomatic friends and partners, as well as the various international organizations.  We appreciate your continued assistance as we work towards accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a better life for all who call this land we love home.  We look forward to even more collaboration and cooperation as we keep striving to fulfill the mandate that has been given to us by the great people of this nation.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

As I conclude, I wish to commend the Honourable Mark Brantley, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, for his exceptional stewardship of the Ministry, as well as his hardworking team, which is led by Permanent Secretary Ms. Kaye Bass.  They have all done an outstanding job in coordinating this week’s activities.  I extend best wishes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aviation for a successful Diplomatic Week 2019, and wish all participants a productive and enjoyable Week, as I declare Diplomatic Week 2019 officially open.

May 2019 be a year filled with peace, prosperity, progress and happiness for each and every country represented here today!

I thank you.


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