2009 New Year Address by CARICOM Incoming Chairman Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize

Belmopan - 05 January, 2009
As Prime Minister of Belize I have, on January 1, 2009, assumed the Chairmanship of the Caribbean Community for the next six months. I count myself lucky that this has happened at this time, allowing me the opportunity to send out warmest New Year greetings to the entire Caricom family. It is also of significance that I do this from my own country in Central America. That particular characteristic of geography is a reminder of the reach and scope of our community, the fact that we include portions of continents and sub continents, that we are Latin American as well as Caribbean.

This feature of being protean, is important. The cast net nature of the physical locations of our individual countries, is part of our collective advantage. It is what gives us our ready-made platform for the construction of the necessary ties with the various regions and sub regions. And Belize certainly intends to use its position as Caricom Chairman and a member of the Central American Integration System, to enhance the alliance between the two organizations. In the current global circumstances, it has to be clearer than ever that going it alone is not an option for any small country, or any one agglomeration of small countries. The vision of our Caricom leaders twenty years ago to set us the goal of a Single Market and Economy, has been more than validated by events. And it is timely to recognize now the debt of gratitude we owe to the giants of 1989.

Of course, we in the Caribbean have a long history of producing thinkers and seers and visionaries. But we also produce more than our share of doubters. I do not say this slightingly, but rather in tribute to the questioning, rambunctious, even sometimes contrarian nature of our democracy. Our minutely analytical public discourses, our often scathingly skeptical debates, are as they should be. But there does come a time when consensus must prevail, when talk must give way to action. That time, I want to suggest to all citizens of the Community, is now. We are called urgently, in the roiled conditions of the global convulsion, to first of all consolidate the operations of the single market. Thereafter we must proceed with all deliberate haste, always of course ensuring special treatment for the most vulnerable among us, to the establishment of the Single Economy.

To suggest that there is a cogent need for a recommitment to this particular end, is not to discount the progress already made. In addition to the continued free movement of goods, there is now the free movement of capital and of service. And the year 2008 has seen the establishment of two other key elements of the CSME: the Competition Commission and the Caricom Development Fund. Also, the categories of free movement of skills have been enlarged to comprise now university graduates, media workers, nurses, non-graduate teachers and artisans.

In addition to world circumstances there are particular imperatives for the Community to enhance its competitiveness and strengthen its internal arrangements. One such is the Economic Partnership Agreement signed last year between the Community and the European Union; and another is the impending negotiations with Canada for a Trade and Development Agreement. We have to be ready to confront the challenges and exploit the opportunities that these developments bring. And utilizing them as platforms to maximize advantage and minimize disadvantage, will especially require the involvement of the private sector and labor. This is a complex enterprise on which we are embarked, a fraught departure requiring unity of purpose and safeness of hands.

Institutionally, a critical dimension of our approach will be the need for the community to bring closure to the long running review of its governance structure. As Lead Head of Government for Justice and Governance in the quasi-cabinet of Caricom, I would like to see finalization of the new apparatuses that would streamline decision-making and accelerate implementation.

As we look forward to 2009, we remember that this year Caricom will once again take pride of place on the global stage. On behalf of the Community, Trinidad and Tobago will host two prestigious international meetings of Heads of State and Government. In April, the Fifth Summit of the Americas will be held in Port of Spain, while in November it will be Commonwealth Heads that gather in the Trinidad and Tobago Capital. My Caricom colleagues and I look forward to being joined by, among others, the Leaders of the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Central America at the first conference; and by Great Britain, India, Australia, Nigeria, South Africa and the rest of the Commonwealth at the second. It is our hope and expectation that the talismanic charm of the Caribbean will produce breakthrough decisions at these two gatherings of world leaders.

I wish to end this message by doing two things. First, I want to thank the outgoing Caricom Chairman, the Honorable Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, for his leadership of the Community over the past six months. His unflappable calm and unruffled advocacy served us well during a period when the global collapse was intensifying.

Second, I reflect on the fact that our Caribbean is the home of outstanding intellects, of Nobel Prize winners, of Olympic champions. Here the unquenchable flame of progress for which the celebration of the New Year is always a signification, burns especially bright. It is therefore inconceivable that in the months ahead we will do anything to muff our chances of shaping an economic future that will see us not only survive but prosper in the new, unnerving global landscape.

With every confidence and with all optimism then, I wish everyone throughout our Caricom lands a happy, productive and secure New Year!