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Remarks by CARICOM Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett at the opening ceremony of the 43rd regular meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government, Suriname, 3 July 2022

Your Excellency Chandrikapersad Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community;
Honourable John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize and Outgoing Chairman;
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community;
Your Excellency Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations;
Your Excellency Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Secretary-General of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS);
Your Excellency Dame Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth;
Other Heads of Delegation;
Other Heads of Regional and International Institutions;
Delegates;
People of the Caribbean Community.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the 43rd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

I am sure that I speak on behalf of all the delegations here when I express heartfelt thanks to the Government and People of Suriname for the warmth of the greetings and the generosity of the hospitality that we all have experienced since our arrival here. It has certainly provided the appropriate environment for the conduct of a productive Meeting, the outcome of which would be beneficial to the people of our Community.

In the past six months, our Community has had to manoeuvre through very delicate situations. The calm and steady hand of our outgoing Chair, the Honourable John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize, ensured that the overall interests of the Community remained the guiding principles of our actions. Thank you, Prime Minister.

In welcoming our new Chair, His Excellency President Chandrikapersad Santokhi of Suriname, I am confident that given his energy and vision for CARICOM that much can be achieved during his stewardship.

I extend a special welcome and congratulations to the Honourable Dickon Mitchell as he joins the Conference of Heads of Government for the first time. Your recent victory at the polls is a reminder of our Community’s proud tradition of peaceful democratic change of Government. The Community looks forward to your fresh perspectives as you maintain Grenada’s strong commitment to advancing our regional integration.

Congratulations are also extended to the four recipients of the Community’s highest award, the Order of the Caribbean Community. Each in their own field has made sterling contributions to our Region and is fully deserving the recognition that a grateful Community is bestowing upon them.

Our Community is also appreciative of the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General, His Excellency Antonio Guterres, whose advocacy on behalf of small and vulnerable countries like ours has been truly outstanding. Secretary-General, we truly appreciate your abiding interest in our Region and look forward to working with you to achieve the results from your discussions with the Heads of Government earlier today.

Chair, Heads of Government, we gather here in the immediate aftermath of two broader summits, one hemispheric and the other more global. The results of those discussions, particularly at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, USA, have the potential to have a positive impact on the social, environmental and economic aspects of our lives.

This comes at a time when we are being severely tested by the numerous global challenges, which collectively have a deleterious effect on our ability to return to, much less maintain, our trajectory of growth and development. As much as the insights gleaned and the promises made at those fora can assist us, in the final analysis it is what we do for ourselves that will make the difference. And, making that difference in the lives of the people of the Community is what has been the impetus driving the initiatives which we have been undertaking.

It is evident in the energy with which we have been addressing the issue of food production and security led by the President of Guyana, and supported by a Ministerial Task Force. This has gone beyond focusing on the objective of cutting the regional food import bill by 25 percent by 2025, important as that is, to encompassing comprehensive actions, to create an agri-food sector that will finally put our Region on the road to self-sufficiency. This work has become even more crucial given the global food crisis first triggered by the supply chain difficulties, and then vastly worsened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine involving two countries that produce a significant amount of the world’s grain and wheat.

The World Food Programme estimates the ripple effects of the war could increase the number of people facing severe food insecurity by 47 million in 2022. And, as the UN Secretary-General pointed out recently, “This year’s food crisis is about lack of access. Next year’s could be about lack of food.” It is why all stakeholders must come together to ensure that our agri-food initiative makes a difference in the lives of our people, particularly the farmers and fisherfolk.

Just as important as food and nutrition security is the existential threat of climate change. The latest report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change last cautioned that without immediate and deep emissions reductions across sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach. The impact of that reality is already manifesting itself in our Region. As Prime Minister Davis of The Bahamas reminded us recently, his country has suffered more than four billion United States dollars (USD 4 billion) in loss and damage from hurricanes and storms, since 2015.

It is why we have been so forceful in our advocacy for greater access to climate financing to help us adapt to the phenomenon, as well as to respond to loss and damage caused by climatic events. There has been headway and we will continue the struggle along with our partners among the global Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS), because success in this fight will definitely make a difference in the lives of our people.

A major consideration, in going forward, is striving to make a difference in the lives of our youth. Sixty percent of the population of the Caribbean Community is under the age of 30. Our young people are central to our efforts at building a sustainable and resilient society. We must, therefore, never cease in our attempts to create opportunities to develop and utilise their creativity and innovative skills, and to explore avenues to facilitate youth involvement in planning and preparation for the future.

A CARICOM Youth Forum was held last month, which brought together youth groups, youth leaders, youth workers and other key stakeholders to examine current youth development needs. The Dean of the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors will present to this Conference salient recommendations arising from the event for the attention of the Heads of Government.

Over the next two days, deliberations of the Conference will include engagements with the Secretary-General of the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), His Excellency Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti. I welcome him to the Region and to Suriname.

Chair, Heads of Government, we meet at a time of severe global crisis in three vital areas, namely, food, energy, and finance. Addressing solutions for our Region requires collective intellect and will to act together. This task is not beyond us, as we have proven time and again. Let us, therefore, once more unto the breach and make a difference in the lives of our people.