(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana – Monday, 5 June 2023): The Twenty-Sixth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was held in Kingston, Jamaica on 16-17 May 2023, under the Chairmanship of Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica.
The COFCOR was attended by the Honourable E.P. Chet Greene, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda; the Honourable Kerrie D. Symmonds, M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados; the Honourable Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize; the Honourable Dr. Vince Henderson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business, Trade and Energy of the Commonwealth of Dominica; the Honourable Joseph Andall, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Export Development of Grenada; His Excellency Jean Victor Généus, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of the Republic of Haiti; Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica; the Honourable Alva Baptiste, Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation of Saint Lucia; the Right Honourable Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis; the Honourable Keisal M. Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; His Excellency Albert Ramdin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and International Cooperation of the Republic of Suriname; and Senator the Honourable Dr. Amery Browne, Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr. Jamahl Strachan, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and His Excellency George Talbot, Ambassador to CARICOM, represented the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Remarks were delivered by Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); the Honourable E.P. Chet Greene, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda and outgoing Chair of the COFCOR, and Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica and current Chair of the COFCOR. All three speakers noted the Meeting’s significance as a vehicle to review and advance the COFCOR’s mandate in coordinating foreign policy, noting its particular relevance as CARICOM celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary.
(The statements are available at www.caricom.org)
The COFCOR discussed the Bridgetown Initiative and acknowledged its critical importance for developing countries to advocate for restructuring of the global financial system to facilitate an effective response to the development and climate crises.
The COFCOR stressed the importance of a strategic approach and effective engagement in international fora, having regard to the vital importance of candidatures to CARICOM’s foreign policy and the need for coordination to ensure that CARICOM candidatures are successful. In this regard, the Council endorsed CARICOM candidates campaigning for a number of positions in the United Nations (UN) and its specialised Agencies, the Organisation of American States (OAS), and other international and regional bodies.
Ministers established a Technical Working Group to undertake a comprehensive review of the Principles to Guide the Identification of CARICOM Candidates for International Positions. The Group is to prepare a report for the Eighteenth Special Meeting of the COFCOR in September 2023.
The COFCOR received an update on the Community’s upcoming bilateral meetings at the Heads of Government and Ministerial levels scheduled for the remainder of 2023. Foreign Ministers agreed that CARICOM should use the opportunity of these engagements to strengthen its relations with traditional and non-traditional partners and to promote and protect its interests on the global stage.
The COFCOR noted the progress made to strengthen relations with several Third States since its last Meeting. In so doing, it reaffirmed the importance of CARICOM’s relations with its partners to promote an appreciation of the Community’s interests and catalyse new development platforms.
The COFCOR expressed satisfaction with the reset in CARICOM’s relationship with the United States of America, particularly the progress made following the engagement between CARICOM Heads of Government and the US President and Vice President in June 2022. The Council also underscored the need for the Community to strategically consider its long-term engagement with the US.
The Council welcomed the US’ proposal for an engagement between the US Vice President and the Community.
The COFCOR noted the developments in CARICOM-Africa Relations, particularly, Guyana’s commitment to host the next African-Caribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) and the imminent establishment of the Afreximbank regional office in Barbados. They recognised the ongoing initiatives to bolster trade and investment between CARICOM and Africa, namely, the financial instruments on offer from Afreximbank for trade promotion. They also urged Member States that had not yet signed the Partnership Agreement with Afreximbank to do so at the earliest opportunity.
The Council called for finalisation of the CARICOM-African Union Memorandum of Understanding to establish a mechanism for engagement and cooperation between the Community and the African Union that will deepen relations between the two regions. Foreign Ministers reiterated the significance of strengthening the CARICOM diplomatic presence in Africa, urged Member States to utilise the office space provided by the Government of Kenya, and agreed that interested Member States should provide information on occupancy arrangements for the shared office space to the Government of Barbados.
In reviewing CARICOM-Dominican Republic relations, Foreign Ministers noted the interest of the Dominican Republic in restoring and strengthening political relations with the Community and considered recent developments that have taken place between several CARICOM Member States and that country. In light of the outreach of the Government of Dominican Republic to a number of CARICOM Member States, and its apparent willingness to temper its approach to treat with the Denationalization of Persons of Haitian Descent and Haitian Migrants, Ministers agreed that it was timely to review CARICOM’s current policy towards the Dominican Republic. They agreed to make that recommendation to Heads of Government, taking into account Haiti’s views.
In respect of the Central American Integration System (SICA), the COFCOR underscored the importance of sustained and meaningful cooperation with Central America. They welcomed the approval by all parties of the revised CARICOM-SICA Plan of Action and agreed to allow for its systematic implementation. Foreign Ministers reaffirmed support for the Pro-Tempore Presidency of Belize and encouraged collaboration on the multifaceted challenges faced by both sub-regions.
COMMUNITY RELATIONS – HAITI
Foreign Ministers received a report on the protracted situation in Haiti and ongoing CARICOM efforts to help address those issues. They acknowledged the tragic circumstances presented and underscored the importance of a responsive and long-term development plan for the country. They also expressed the Region’s continued commitment to stand with Haiti and leverage support from international partners to support efforts on the ground. The COFCOR acknowledged that more needed to be done and the need for a greater sense of urgency. They reaffirmed the significance of the Community’s role in seeking to facilitate dialogue among Haitian stakeholders, achieve political stability and ensure free and democratic future elections. They stressed that further engagements should be outcome-oriented.
INTERACTIONS WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF THIRD STATES
Ministers received a presentation from His Excellency Juan Fernández-Trigo, Secretary of State for Latin America, the Caribbean and Spanish Language in the World in his capacity as Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Spain, who highlighted, among other matters, Spain’s policy towards the wider Latin American and Caribbean Region.
Ministers noted the strategic relevance of Spain’s assumption of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union during the second half of 2023 and noted the need for a more structured and meaningful approach to the relationship. The COFCOR received the update on the preparations for the European Union-CELAC Summit slated for 17-18 July 2023, in Brussels, and Spain’s candidature to host the World Expo 2027.
Foreign Ministers voiced their deep concern over the pressing challenges confronting small and vulnerable states of CARICOM. They urged the Special Envoy of Spain to continue to advocate on behalf of the Region in fora in which CARICOM does not have a presence, on matters of concern, including climate change, graduation and access to concessional financing, loss of correspondent banking relations and de-risking, development and use of Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), and blacklisting.
Foreign Ministers also received His Excellency Takei Shunsuke, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. Both sides expressed satisfaction at the excellent relationship and committed to further strengthen cooperation. They acknowledged that the CARICOM-Japan Year of Friendship 2024 would present an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange and reinforcement of the strength and value of the CARICOM-Japan partnership, noting that this would mark 10 years since the pronouncement of the first CARICOM-Japan Year of Friendship in 2014. The COFCOR welcomed the presentation of the Logo to be used for the various exchanges, cultural and anniversary–related events in CARICOM countries and Japan in 2024.
The Council also welcomed the work being undertaken by Japan in promoting sustainable development which takes account of the vulnerabilities faced by small island countries and which must include broader perspectives rather than per capita income alone. Ministers also welcomed the assistance provided by Japan in the areas of environment, climate change, and disaster prevention, health and sanitation, protection of the marine environment and the blue economy, including sargassum seaweed removal, plastic waste control, and the utilisation of marine resources.
The Ministers conveyed best wishes to Japan for its hosting of the G7 Summit and noted the importance of that grouping being made aware of CARICOM’s major concerns.
Foreign Ministers received a presentation from His Excellency Gorazd Renčelj, Special Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large for the United Nations Security Council of the Republic of Slovenia, which highlighted friendly relations between Slovenia and CARICOM, and expressed a desire to deepen their direct engagement. They noted Slovenia’s request for CARICOM’s support of its candidature for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the period 2024-2025.
MULTILATERAL AND HEMISPHERIC RELATIONS
The COFCOR received an update on matters of critical importance to the Community that are being considered within the United Nations, including Security Council Reform, the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent, Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) and the International Legal Binding Instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). Foreign Ministers considered upcoming Summits and High-level Meetings at the UN and underscored the value of the Community’s active participation to ensure that CARICOM’s interests are promoted and protected.
Organisation of American States (OAS)
The COFCOR received an update on the issues of interest to the Community before the OAS. Ministers lamented the financial and budgetary constraints facing the Organisation and considered the scenarios put forward to address these. Foreign Ministers noted that The Bahamas will host the Fourth Inter-American Meeting of Ministers and High-Level Authorities on Sustainable Development and Climate Finance in the Americas and committed to actively participating in these meetings.
Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)
Foreign Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to provide personnel and technical, administrative, and organisational support to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in its capacity as President Pro-Tempore (PPT) of CELAC for the period 2023-2024. They received an update on the PPT CELAC Programme of Action for 2023 and the developments made towards its implementation as well as the plans in respect of the forthcoming EU-CELAC Summit to be held in Brussels.
Association of Caribbean States
The Council welcomed Suriname’s Chairmanship of the Ministerial Council of the ACS for the period 2023-2024, as an opportunity for the Community to pursue more active and greater strategic engagement within the ambit of the ACS. The COFCOR pledged to support Suriname’s Chairmanship of the Ministerial Council of the Association.
Foreign Ministers received a report of the Ninth Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) held in Guatemala on 12 May 2023, under the theme “Innovating Integration through the Sustainable Development of the Greater Caribbean”.
The COFCOR received updates on the outcomes of recent Climate Summits, the First CARICOM Preparatory Meeting, and negotiations pertaining to the Community’s positions on climate change, particularly, negotiations on Biodiversity beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). Foreign Ministers agreed to bolster efforts to engage with the COP28 chair regarding forests, forest carbon, and engaging the private sector, as a means of additional development finance support for Loss and Damage. They further agreed to pursue reform of the international financial architecture at COP28.
UPDATE ON THE PREPARATIONS FOR OBSERVING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF CARICOM
The COFCOR noted that the Committee of Ambassadors met on 22 May 2023, at which time they discussed Member States’ plans to acknowledge the 50th Anniversary. The Council noted that activities were already underway, including the COFCOR’s participation in a tree-planting exercise at the Office of the Prime Minister, Jamaica, on Tuesday, 16 May 2023, the first activity by Jamaica to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Community.
The Ministers received an update on the claim brought by the Republic of Guatemala against Belize in which the International Court of Justice is asked to resolve “any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to those territories, and to declare the rights therein of both Parties, and to determine the boundaries between their respective territories and areas”. They were informed that Belize would file its Rejoinder in the first week of June 2023.
Ministers expressed concern over Guatemalan illegal activities in and near the Adjacency Zone, and the deforestation of Belize’s national parks and protected areas along the Belize-Guatemala border due to the continuing illegal incursions by Guatemalan nationals. They urged both countries to abide by the Confidence Building Measures and conclude a protocol to apply to the Sarstoon River and the Gulf of Honduras.
They reiterated their support for the critical work carried out by the OAS in defusing tensions along the border and urged the international community to continue its support for the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone.
The Ministers reiterated their unequivocal support for Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The COFCOR was briefed on the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Ministers noted the overwhelming decision of the International Court of Justice of 6 April 2023 to reject Venezuela’s Preliminary Objection which sought to make the United Kingdom an indispensable party to the proceedings. They further noted the Court’s decision that, in keeping with the provisions of the 1966 Geneva Agreement, it had jurisdiction to adjudicate on the merits of Guyana’s claim regarding the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award that had determined the boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela. Ministers reiterated their continued support for the security, maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.
Foreign Ministers expressed to the Government and people of Jamaica their deep appreciation for the warm hospitality, excellent arrangements and courtesies extended, which facilitated the successful deliberations of the Twenty-Sixth Meeting of the COFCOR. They look forward to convening the Twenty-Seventh Meeting of the COFCOR in Dominica in May 2024.