Another year has passed and what an eventful year it has been! The world has changed almost beyond recognition. Thanks to the events of September 11, what was once the simplest and most straightforward of tasks - like getting on an airplane - has now become a complex and stressful affair. And thanks to technology - once complex tasks, have now become mundane. Between these two levels are the ever-present features of globalisation and trade liberalistion.
In many respects, these defining features of 2001, will continue to dictate what happens or does not happen in the year 2002 and beyond. Indeed, they have helped to set the Work Programme of the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation at least for the next five years.
This year’s end, has coincided with the end of a most challenging term in office, for the Government in general and in particular, for the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation. During this period, we have witnessed the gradual emergence of foreign policy issues into the public domain. With this, has come an increasing public awareness of the role and importance of the Ministry. We have seen the benefits which resulted from a relentless diplomatic offensive by Saint Lucia and other CARICOM States, to save our vital banana industry. This action, coupled with the strong support of the United Kingdom, France and our other friends in the European Union has not only given a new lease on life to the ailing banana industry, but it has also provided us with Cotonou Agreement - the successor to the Lome 1V Agreement.
Over the past four and a half years, we have also witnessed the impressive benefits from this Government’s bold decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Our economy and society has benefited from the construction activity linked with the Free Zone and the Sports Stadium in Vieux-Fort. As you are aware, the Government of the People’s Republic of China has given a commitment to build a new Psychiatric Hospital.
There are other benefits, such as those being enjoyed by the fisher-folk of Vieux-Fort and surrounding areas, from the recent completion of the Vieux-Fort Fisheries Complex - funded by the Government of Japan.
While we can see and feel these benefits from the work of the Ministry of External Affairs, there are other benefits that are not readily evident and others still, that will not become evident for a while. For example, many of you will have heard of the recent decision of the French Government to make available 6.5 million Euros to support development efforts in the Eastern Caribbean. But few might see a link between this decision and the meetings which were held last year, between CARICOM Heads and the President of the Republic of France. We might also remember the visit which was made by Prime Minister Kenny Anthony to France, in his capacity as Chairman of the Caribbean Development Bank.
Then there are the benefits which will flow from the work of the Task Force which was set up following the historic meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and CARICOM Heads. By virtue of the work of this Task Force - on which I’ve had the honour to serve - we are likely to see increased support by the UK Government in areas such as Trade and Investment, Security, HIV/AIDS Prevention, and Education and Training.
It will take a while for us in Saint Lucia to see and feel the benefits from the decision of CARICOM, to set up the CARICOM Single Market and Economy - otherwise called the CSME. There is no doubt in my mind that the creation of a single economic space within CARICOM will bring many positive benefits for us in Saint Lucia. But if we are to feel these benefits, we will have to be prepared to push the boundaries of our minds and to think and act in the context of “One Caribbean “.
Last month, the Ministry of External Affairs collaborated in the hosting of a Consultation of Civil Society on the CSME. If the Report of this Consultation is anything to go by, it would appear that there is broad support for the idea of a CSME. While this is very encouraging, it does not diminish the work which is still to be done to secure the support of the “man and woman on the street” for this very important venture.
The year 2002 and beyond will pose immense challenges for the staff of the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation. During the next year alone, the Ministry will be engaged in defending and advancing our country’s interest on at least four different fronts.
We will be doing our utmost, in collaboration with other Small Island States in the Caribbean and elsewhere, to make the case for “special and differential treatment” in negotiations on the new Round of Talks within the WTO as well as in ongoing negotiations on a Free Trade Area of the Americas - or the FTAA.
Within the first six months of next year, we will be engaged in two critical UN Conferences. In March, Saint Lucia and other developing countries will learn of the results of our efforts to secure new and additional financial resources, from the industrialised countries. That’s when the UN Conference on Financing for Development takes places in Monterrey, Mexico. You will be pleased to know that Saint Lucia’s Permanent Mission to the UN played a critical role in pushing for this Conference.
Between January and August next year, Saint Lucia will join other small island developing states in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Our goal in this Conference, is to make a strengthened case for the vulnerabilities of small states to be taken into account in global development strategies. Hardly a day passes, when we are not given painful reminders of how vulnerable we are, and will continue to be, to negative global events. For example, the events of September 11, will continue to hurt our economy and society for some considerable time. And only two weeks ago, the entire Caribbean was placed on alert due to the rumblings of the Kick-em-Jenny volcano, off Grenada.
Outside of these events, there is a huge body of work to be done by our overseas Missions and Embassies to generate and sustain increased technical and financial resources as well as to secure trade and investment opportunities for our country.
The Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation has begun the task of internal reorganisation and restructuring to enable it to better discharge its mandate. A Management Audit of the Ministry has just been completed. By March of next year, a comprehensive Foreign Policy and Strategy will have been placed before the Cabinet of Ministers for approval. Every single Unit of the Ministry will be required to work in accordance with approved Work Programmes, with realistic targets and objectives.
During the next year, we will be doing more in the area of public education and awareness. We in the Ministry of External Affairs see ourselves as the eyes and ears of Saint Lucia on the outside world. We therefore believe that is our duty to relay to you, clearly and concisely, what is happening in the wider world and how these developments will affect us, in the short, medium or long term.
As challenging as the future may be, we are confident in our ability, acting as one people to overcome these challenges. We are assured of the continued support of our many friends in the international community - friends who share our vision of community; of peaceful coexistence with each other, of equity among nations large and small, developed, and developing.
This is a tense period in the world. The expressions of peace and goodwill which are normally shared at this time of the year, may be clashing with the sound of war and violence in many parts of the world. But it is my fervent hope that this Christmas will be a holy and happy one for you and your loved ones, wherever they may be.
I am grateful for this opportunity to convey - on behalf of the Government and people of Saint Lucia - sincere gratitude to our many friendly Governments and agencies, who have come to our assistance in so many ways, and at some many critical times.
I should also like to thank my Ministerial colleagues and the staff of their respective Ministries for the excellent support and collaboration which we received over the past year.
And finally, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the staff of the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation for the tremendous support.
I conclude by wishing everyone, a holy and joyous Christmas and a happy, healthy and productive New Year.
I thank you!
Hon. Julian R. Hunte OBE
21st December, 2001
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