Statement by Hon. Alva Baptiste on 2nd CARIFORUM-EU EPA Council

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Statement by Hon. Alva Baptiste on 2nd CARIFORUM-EU EPA Council
Minister Alva Baptiste
Hon. Alva Baptist

26 October 2012, BRUSSELS – Chair, in our sustained efforts to ensure that the true and real development of our region is charted, directed and realised, the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean have been attracting European development assistance through the EDF since the signing of the Lomé Convention in 1975.

This assistance has helped us to develop our people and to mitigate some of the structural disadvantages that we face as SIDS. We believe that on our side we have endeavoured to use available development resources effectively and as a consequence, have made progress particularly in the area of human and social development.

We acknowledge that this has to a large extent only been possible through the necessary assistance of the European governments and peoples that have been among our most reliable partners, and this is deeply appreciated.

We have also worked assiduously to mitigate the developmental challenges posed by our inherent vulnerabilities through our integration movements. In this manner, and based on functional cooperation, we seek to lower costs by pooling resources and developing joint institutions. However, despite our most ingenious and creative endeavours we continue to navigate the forest of hazards and difficulties.

Additionally, our development goals have been seriously compromised by a series of global shocks that, as small open and volatile economies, have exacerbated our vulnerabilities and left us in danger of falling back into the ranks of low income countries, struggling to maintain financial integrity.

Indeed the hazard that we are confronting in this regard, is that our middle income status has masked the reality of the conditions that exist on the ground. For example, in 2011 the World Bank estimated that the level of poverty in the Eastern Caribbean States ranged from 18 – 38 per cent of the population.

In spite of our best efforts the adverse external economic environment has negatively impacted our economies due to their extreme openness and has resulted in an increase in unemployment and under-employment particularly among the already socially excluded, especially in the rural areas. As the traditional agricultural commodities of the region are decimated by frequent natural disasters, reduction in preferences and their exposure to unequal international competition, so the lure of transnational crime becomes ever more attractive to those who are not succeeding in the formal economy.

It is for this reason that we express our deep disquiet about the implications of recent communications regarding future orientations in European development policy. Our concern is specifically with regard to some current interpretations around the concept of “differentiation” that appear to indicate that middle income countries may not continue to qualify for development aid.

We wish to stress that we fully understand and accept the need for the European Union to differentiate between developing countries based on their level of development both in the context of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and against the background of the economic surge of some large developing countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The micro states of the Caribbean, however, are not in this category and therefore, continue to face severe obstacles to their attainment of sustainable development.

We feel that if such a perspective is adopted across the board this would be a serious setback for the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean that are disproportionately disadvantaged through the interaction of a number of factors ranging from small size, extreme openness, ecological fragility, and geographical isolation to the catastrophic impacts of frequent natural disasters, climate change and environmental degradation.

The cumulative effect of these factors has inevitably been high costs of production and consumption, high levels of indebtedness, high transport and associated costs, as well as marginalisation within the global economy. It is important to note that the UN vulnerability indices have consistently ranked the Caribbean as twelve times more vulnerable to the impact of climate change and environmental degradation than other regions. It therefore means that the questions of vulnerability and fragility cannot be underestimated.

The European Union has been outstanding among developed countries and regions in its deep understanding of the complexity of the development process and has been particularly sensitive of the need to create and nurture the conditions that would support sustainable development. We therefore do not think that it is the intention of the EU to deliberately seek to further disadvantage some of the most economically and environmentally fragile states in the world, that are even now struggling to maintain their societies and economies in the face of the most relentless and ruinous global financial and economic crises since the 1930s.

Our grave reality is that this is a situation that we did not cause and are equally powerless to control. Just recently the Head of the EU Delegation in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean was quoted stressing the significance of “tangible support by the EU” to the small Eastern Caribbean States “within the context of the present downturn in the global economy, which has left (these) small, open economies…even more vulnerable to (the) severe economic challenges.”

While we work to continue to build our future we know that we cannot accomplish this through our efforts alone. We still need to be accompanied on our development path by the EU that has been and continues to be one of our main development partner as we seek to structure and implement strategies to strengthen resilience.

We are therefore asking that given the exceptional circumstances faced by the Caribbean SIDS, that the EU considers them to be an exceptional case as it conducts its development policy review. We believe that this is in line with not just the letter but the spirit of Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty which states that the objective of EU External action is to “foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries with the primary aim of eradicating poverty.”

Chair, I respectfully submit that the EU’s concept of “differentiation” contains seeds of our region’s continued marginalisation, which will impact negatively on poverty reduction and will undermine the further development of Saint Lucia and other Caribbean states.  Clearly, this concept is not in harmony with Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty.

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