Thank you very much.
His Excellency Chandrikapersad “Chan” Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, other distinguished colleague Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, the Secretary-General of CARICOM- Dr. Carla Barnet, other distinguished Secretary-Generals present, the Heads of the regional institutions that are here with us today such as CARPHA, IMPACS, the Caribbean Development Bank, the University of the West Indies, the CARICOM Development Fund, the Regional Security System (RSS) and all of our other regional institutions, other distinguished representatives from the Caribbean Congress of Labour and the Caribbean Private Sector Organization (CPSO), other distinguished and specially invited guests, to all of our youth organizations and young people who are here with us this evening, to the many other nationals and citizens who are also tuning in and watching via social media platforms and different broadcasts across the Caribbean, to all of you- I send wonderful greetings from the people of Petite Martinique, Carriacou and Grenada and say good evening to you all.
Expressions of Gratitude
I am honoured to join colleagues here in beautiful Suriname, at this, the Opening Ceremony of the Forty Third Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.
I would like to place on record our gratitude to you President Santoki and the Government and people of Suriname for the kind hospitality extended to my delegation and I since our arrival earlier today. My delegation appreciates the efforts made to facilitate this important meeting and looks forward to a successful outcome.
I also wish to congratulate President Santoki, on your assumption of the Chairmanship of the Conference. I have no doubt, that under your stewardship, the Conference will advance the work that has been set before us and I look forward particularly to those engagements. Further, and it would be remiss of me if I did not commend Prime Minister Briceno for his stewardship Chairmanship of the Conference over the past 6 months.
Colleagues, I must add that I am equally pleased to be sharing the stage this evening with other newly elected Heads of Government of Caricom, the Prime Ministers of the Bahamas and St. Lucia. Our presence here this evening is confirmation and testament that democracy is alive and well in our region and resident in our beautiful Caribbean Community.
Against that background, I say to my Colleagues, and the people of this beautiful Caribbean Community, I believe that we are in a profound ‘Time of Choosing’-for us as Leaders and you as citizens of this CARICOM that we all love.
I say this against the background of the recently concluded National Elections in Grenada on June 23rd, 2022, where my clarion call in my political campaign was for Grenadians to choose a different direction that would transform and move the people of Petite Martinique, Carriacou and Grenada- Forward. My friends, we campaigned on a vison, my recently elected colleagues and I, on creating a sustainable, equitable and prosperous Petite Martinique, Carriacou and Grenada for all.
We envisioned a nation and believe that is a Time of Choosing where we must stand resolve to enable every little boy and every little girl, every man and every woman, where all our citizens who ever dared to dream and looked before them, that they should know- that they would know, that all has an equal opportunity to realize their potential and enjoy the fruits of their labour without any fear of discrimination or be told by critics and naysayers that their pursuit cant be done or too hard of a dream.
We envision a nation and believe that it is a Time of Choosing where we must be transformed into an eco-friendly, fair, equitable, dynamic, prosperous and stable democracy, capable of sustaining a high quality of life for all our people.
We envision a nation and believe that it is a Time of Choosing to ensure that the environment is protected and preserved for the use and enjoyment for our sons and our daughters, and both current and future generations. A nation that is a model of sustainable development for small island developing states. Where its citizens take pride in their culture, heritage and patrimony.
We envision a nation that embraces diverse faith communities and their harmonious interaction with each other; a nation that embraces diversity and practices tolerance at all times and we believe that no man is above another.
Mr. Chairman, my friends, I have no doubt that if pursued vigorously, these ambitions are achievable, they are attainable and they must be done.
As I reflect only recently and believe that the elections in Petite Martinique, Carriacou and Grenada have renewed our hope in the consultative processes towards development. It reminded us of the benefits to be derived from inclusion of all citizens, the young and the young at heart, the farmer, the fisherfolk, the students, the artist, the CEO, the politicians. While in our democratic system, the winner takes all, I believe that the losers must also be a part of nation building and communities where the members of parliament are members of the opposition must be equally served. All must be included.
Vision for CARICOM
Mr. Chairman and with respect to CARICOM, I view our region through those same lenses. Grenada is willing, ready and eager to do our part in transforming our beloved Caribbean Community. This region belongs to all of us. It is and as I can simply put it- Home.
Our forefathers in 1973 envisioned a region with the ability to transform the lives of its people by working together. A community that can overcome its challenges if we, without reservation, dedicate ourselves, our time and talents to moving CARICOM forward.
In that regard, tomorrow July 4th marks the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. As we celebrate CARICOM Day, I believe that this is an opportune time for us to pause and reflect on the many experiences we have had while in pursuit of regional integration. Over the last 49 years, we have had many moments of celebration coupled with moments that required solemn reflection, still all the while envisioning the future.
Mr. Chairman and as we look toward the commemoration of our 50th anniversary, we need to redouble our efforts to finding solutions to our challenges. Let us not restrict our engagements to the members of our community but let us with purpose, follow the path of the Caribbean Sea, like wisemen seeking a brightened star and engage all countries touched by its warm waters from Mexico to Venezuela, from Paramaribo to Port au Prince.
We must also my friends, bolster support for all our regional organizations including the Association of Caribbean States (ACS ) and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and where CARICOM must be at the center of enhanced cooperation for our region.
With this in mind Mr. Chairman, we understand all too well that as a region, we are not without our share of challenges, but I am here to reassure all of you, that my country of Petite Martinique, Carriacou and Grenada is ready to go to work to find real solutions to our problems. We stand ready, and we are more than able to overcome
Regional Transportation and Travel
My Friends, on matters pertaining to Regional Transportation and Travel, the Community continues to grapple with the issue of Regional Transportation and Travel. The important business of addressing matters of connectivity must be a priority for our region if we are to realize the benefits of the Single Market and Economy.
Additionally, the limitations of the flight routes within islands, there is an urgent need to examine the prohibitive cost of intra-regional air travel. Air carriers in our region must operate efficiently both in terms of cost and schedules and ultimately serve as a means to better connect our friends, families and loved ones in the region and be able to pursue entrepreneurial enterprise and business interests across CARICOM.
On Climate Change Mr. Chairman and as small island developing states, we have sounded the alarm for decades on the need to address the impacts of climate change. Our people, our economies, our environments have struggled to cope with the disastrous and largely unpredictable events that severely compromises our ability to grow, develop and guarantee a good quality of life and well-being for our people.
We have been consistent and about the need to hold global temperature rises to not more than 1.5 degrees. We have stepped up to climate action and played our part by demonstrating high levels of ambition. Our greatest challenge however remains the fact that we need climate financing to meet these challenges and as a region, we simply cannot do it alone. We recognise that despite our best efforts, we are still falling short of the goals set in Paris in 2015.
We must therefore Mr. Chairman, strive to create more partnerships to support our call for greater ambition and increased investments in adaptation and in building resilience. And because any increased efforts in adaptation is inherently linked to increase in financing, our region must continue to advocate for more mechanisms of financial support for adaptation and mitigation efforts.
On Food Security Mr. Chairman, improving Grenada’s food security is the number one priority for my Government. The lasting impacts of COVID 19 on shipping and trade and the Global impact of the War in Ukraine on the cost of basic food items highlights the need for us to grow more of what we eat and use. We must take action through research to improve the genetic stock, invest more in the creation of germplasm plots and seedbanks to ensure that we have the requisite genetic material for sustained production.
As a result of Grenada’s proactive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grenada’s agriculture sector is estimated to continue growing robustly, having already grown by 12.5% last year with further growth of 8.4% projected for 2022.
We will continue to support our farmers to ensure we have sustained growth with innovative, transformative policies and programs, to expand the production of foods that we can produce in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Action must be taken to reduce the cost of feed for animals, along with implementation of the decisions on improving logistics and shipping of Agricultural products to facilitate trading among our islands.
With sustained regional action to ensure we reduce on the importation of poultry and meat products, our largest food imports, through expansion of local production are needed if we are to make a significant dent in the Regional and national food import bill.
We must, going forward, reverse some of the land use changes that have resulted in decreased food production by increasing the acreages under agriculture production. This will require strengthening our National Land Management policies, Water Resources Management, Crop Diversification, and Disaster Risk Reduction through the use of Climate Smart Agriculture practices that will enhance crop production in an efficient, cost effective manner.
Against that background, Grenada became the first country in the OECS to establish an Agriculture Land Bank that seeks to reduce the quantity of idle agricultural lands on island while focusing on youths in agriculture. We must however transition to the next generation, along with new technologies and knowledge application to enhance agriculture production. We thank the CARICOM Development Fund for the support it is providing to Grenada as we implement our Youth in Agriculture Initiative.
That is why Mr. Chairman I am excited and fully on board with the CARICOM 25% by 2025 Food Import bill Reduction strategy that is in line with the CARICOM National Agricultural activities towards the achievement of the targets set by the special Ministerial Taskforce (MTF) on Food Production and Food Security. Grenada submitted its projections of US$80 Million to make bring it in line with this goal.
We cannot speak about increasing agricultural production, without paying attention to the inputs that supports Crop production and yields. These must be accessed through Research, Knowledge Transfer and New Technologies, along with addressing our Customs Tariff, with emphasis on removing barriers that makes it almost impossible for our farmers to access inputs from within the region while ensuring both small and large farmers have a level playing field to earn a livelihood.
We are committed to our path to ensure food security in our region.
COVID-19 will continue to re-shape our working environment. It will require agility and innovative approaches because technology became the single tool, enabling continuity in the face of widespread shutdowns. We were forced to pursue a Digital Strategy to harness and leverage information and communications technology (ICT) as an enabler and driver of economic transformation.
Mr. Chairman, colleague Heads of Government, Madame Secretary General, over the last 49 years, the resolve of our region has been tested in many ways, but we are still here. We have shown that we are a resilient people who have been able to navigate through turbulent waters-but we are still here. For too long this Caribbean Community that we all love has been seen and viewed as a place where we talk, and talk, and talk and then we talk some more, and to what end Mr. Chairman?
No Sir, this is a time colleagues, my friends and to all the young people across the Caribbean Community- this is indeed our moment, this is your moment, where it is a Time for Action and a Time of Choosing.
Let us therefore look towards the future of our region with a renewed hope and commitment as we in the coming days review our performance and chart a new way towards a transformative agenda, and make a collective and conscious decision at this season, at this Time of Choosing-to move all our people, all our citizens, our friends, our loved ones, our sons and daughters, to move all CARICOM – Forward. I thank you Mr. Chairman