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Statement by Honourable George W. Odlum
Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Saint Lucia
At the Special Session of The United Nations General Assembly
For the Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Programme of Action
For the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States

September 27, 1999

Mr. President,

There is a distinctly cruel irony in referring to this Session as a SPECIAL Session of the General Assembly for Small Island Developing States. The treatment received from donor countries is anything but SPECIAL. Admittedly we are SMALL States but in the current international atmosphere one questions whether we can qualify for the title DEVELOPING.

While we applaud the concern which led Member States to convene this Review Session, the failure of developed countries to enter into the spirit of international cooperation has withered the dream. Our hopes have withered, like a raisin the sun.

In 1994 the International Community recognized Small Island Developing States as a special case because they are ecologically and economically weak and vulnerable.

The international community agreed to a Program of Action to address the concerns of SIDS through cooperation and assistance in order for SIDS to achieve sustainable development.

We are gathered to review is that the status of implementation of the Program of Action and reassess the situation of SIDS in the context of current global developments and to agree on future action.

The summary of the review is that the situation of SIDS has changed but for the worse, heightening the urgency with which the international community must address the critical disadvantaged situation of small island developing states.

SIDS are still vulnerable to natural disasters which have intensified over the years, increasing the extent of damage and fatalities over their small land masses and population. There has been extensive damage to infrastructure and economy with high per capita reconstruction costs beyond the reach of SIDS.

In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there had been a rise in the mean surface temperature of the earth: for SIDS this means higher sea levels, coastal erosion, loss of land mass, contamination of freshwater resources, and the threat to biodiversity. It is estimated that the Caribbean alone could be forced to spend $1.1 billion on new construction to protect against sea level rise.

The ravages of natural disasters are graphically demonstrated by the recent occurrences in Montserrat, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas, requiring millions of dollars in recovery costs. During 1977 - 1996, 44 SIDS were struck by 153 cyclones or hurricanes.

The vulnerability of SIDS are also non-natural, economic and external in nature. They include changes in international commodity prices, international demand for goods and services, erosion of preferences. These are compounded by economic constraints, such as small domestic markets with small natural and human resource bases, resulting in lack of economies of scale, competitiveness, diversification and hence investment opportunities. For SIDS smallness means big per capita cost for development, including infrastructure, transportation and energy. Data from the 1980's indicated that for 30 Small Island Developing States, freight and insurance costs represented 13% of the value of imports, while the ratio was estimated at less than 6% for developed countries.

The ecological vulnerabilities of SIDS are well established. The natural vulnerabilities we have little control over. The inherent economic vulnerabilities of small size, population, small markets, lack of competitiveness, we are limited in our capacity to address. The most devastating economic vulnerability is external, and consequently beyond our control. However, it is predictable, and curiously, not being addressed by the international community.

Vulnerability of SIDS and their sustainable development must be put in the current context of globalisation and trade liberalization. Saint Lucia is a typical case of a small vulnerable island developing state. Saint Lucia is a small island of 616 Square kilometers or 238 square miles of land and a population of about 150,000.

In the context of the implementation of the Barbados Program of Action, Saint Lucia has acceded to several regional and international agreements and conventions including: The Basel Convention, the London Convention (1972), the Cartagena Convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Montreal Protocol and Vienna Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

Nationally, many pieces of environmental legislation are on our statute books: The Fisheries Act, the Forest and Wildlife Act, The Beach Protection Act, and The Water and Sewerage Act to mention a few.

Other efforts at implementation and sustainable development include the strengthening of environmental institutions, the introduction cost recovery mechanisms for environmental protection, increasing public awareness and integrated development planning to include environment.

Our many constraints in implementation include lack of comprehensive plans and policies, of formal mechanisms for coordination, of human and technical resources, research and data management, sustained public awareness, scarce investment capital and support for development projects and weak institutional capacity.

Saint Lucia is seeking to be used as a DEMONSTRATION ISLAND for renewable energy, as part of its initiative in developing a sustainable Energy Action Plan to address issues of energy conservation and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

The recent WTO ruling against preferential treatment for our bananas on the EU market has resulted in a 50% decline in our exports between 1992 and 1997. The number of active banana growers engaged in the industry fell by 35% over that period. It is expected that 2,200 farmers will be removed from the industry, directly affecting 10,000 persons. In summary, poverty has increased in Saint Lucia, and we are still assessing the social repercussions which manifest itself in crime, drugs and social decay.

The UNDP Human Development Index registered Saint Lucia with the sharpest decline in the Caribbean, tumbling 23 places, from 58th last year to 81st this year. This is the desperate impact of globalization and trade liberalization to Saint Lucia.

The sustainable development of Saint Lucia and that of other SIDS is threatened by the greed of transnational corporations which, in the globalizing economy, replace governments in setting trade rules and standards, We are now developing corporations and maximizing profits and not developing PEOPLE. The motive is expansion of markets and increased profits for transnational corporations and not development of people or sustainable development of countries. In essence this is globalization which SIDS are forced to accept as the only option for future development and growth.

It is a globalizing world where the rich continue to prosper at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. The 1997 figures indicate that the 29 OECD countries, with 19% of the world's population, have 86% of the shares of world GDP, while 60% of the world population, of which we are a part, over 100 countries have only 13% shares of the world's GDP, 17% of world trade and 6.5% of internet users.

The 19% of the world's population also have 82% world export markets, 68% of foreign direct investment and 91% of all Internet users. It is a concentration of the world's resources and wealth among few people, corporations and countries while the majority continue to be pushed further to the margins and into deeper poverty.

So the OECD countries can boast about the opportunities and benefits of globalization, because they have crafted the globalizing market to their advantage, ignoring the needs of the vast majority of the world. They are deliberately perpetuating, at our expense, through the WTO, the presupposition that one system is right for the economic growth of all countries, when the record show that since the Bretton Woods Institutions designed the economic system after World War 11, poverty has increased and the gap between developed and developing countries continue to widen.

Despite their increasing wealth, official development assistance to SIDS continue to decline. Since 1994 the net disbursements for bilateral and multilateral aid for SIDS dropped from $2.36 billion to $1.96 billion in 1997, and continues to decline.

The World Bank and the international community continue to deliberately rank our countries by the inaccurate gauge of GDP per capita. This does not take account of our vulnerabilities, including natural disasters, trade shocks, and the erosion of preferences. Nor does it consider vagaries of commodity prices and unreliable remittances.

In 1994 in Barbados, the international community recognized SIDS as a special case because they are fragile and vulnerable. We agreed to a Program of Action to assist SIDS in achieving Sustainable Development. The program was just reviewed and the report is disheartening. There has been no noticeable contribution from the international community to SIDS and little progress towards achieving sustainable development. The agreed text indicates no firm commitment to address the vulnerabilities. It makes no specific provisions for their sustainable development in the multilateral financial, monetary and trade systems. No clear intention of granting special and differential treatment based on environmental and economic vulnerabilities.

We need time and financing to diversify our economies and stem the sharp economic downturns that globalization are meting out to us. We need technical assistance to build our capacity to compete globally. We need, in the Caribbean alone, US$1.1 billion for new construction to protect us against sea level rise.

We need the United Nations to play its role in the protection of its weak and vulnerable members in the globalizing world. To complete the vulnerability index and promote it as a significant criterion for ranking our countries for concessional and preferential treatment.

We need a United Nations that plays a central role in the governance of globalization to ensure the sharing of benefits based on equality and equity for the development of all people.

We need a United Nations to get off -the sidelines and rise to the commitment of its Charter, and promote the development of people, upholding the ethical values advocated in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr. President, these Small Island Developing States are perched precariously on the continental shelf of our vulnerability. The tidal waves of globalization can sweep us into the unfathomable depths. They can decimate our populations. They can reduce us to a statistic in a gust of absent mind. For us DEVELOPMENT means SURVIVAL because we are bereft of the safety nets which our DEVELOPED partners take for granted. We need a new mind-set. A new way of perceiving under-development. A new Global Philosophy which will give priority and precedence to the WRETCHED OF THE EARTH.

I thank you.

 

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