A Happy New Year to all, as we usher in 2022 with hope and optimism.
The past two years have seen all plans affected by the COVID-19 virus which has caused profound social and economic turmoil. The prospects for our recovery hinge on the urgent acceleration of vaccinations, which remains alarmingly low in our Community. Further delay in equitable access to vaccines will stress our health systems and personnel, and delay our economic recovery.
Throughout the pandemic regional cooperation, collaboration and solidarity have been at the centre of our national responses – a clear affirmation of the necessity and dividends of our integration.
Notwithstanding the immense challenges ahead and the inherent risks and vulnerabilities that have always accompanied our existence, the Community possesses the requisite capacities, strategies and plans, and the will and courage to forge a resilient and prosperous Caribbean Community.
While responding to the pandemic we have also been crafting the framework for a regional recovery which aligns with our aspirations for sustainable development and resilience.
The work of the Community’s Special Ministerial Task Force on Food Production and Food Security will be critically important in the coming year, advancing actions to stimulate economic growth and fortifying our food systems against supply chain disruptions.
The pandemic has underscored the importance of integrating digital technologies into our economic, social and governance structures. Therefore, to spur the digital transformation of our single Caribbean space, we will advance our Regional Digital Development Strategy.
The outcome of COP26 has not provided us with sufficient time, space nor resources to confront the catastrophic, immediate and slow onset impacts of climate change occurring in our Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States. We must be resolute in our demands and advocacy to ensure that the obligations and commitments both on emissions and financing are honoured by the developed and G 20 countries.
To maximise the effect of our advocacy, the formation of strategic alliances is a key element. We will be seeking to build on the successful first CARICOM-Africa Summit which identified several areas for common action, including climate change and the application of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index to allow for the inclusion of more than just income-based criteria to assess eligibility for concessionary finance.
We welcome the approaches by our friends in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and look forward to consolidating our partnership with them, as we make common cause with fellow SIDS through AOSIS. We will also be revitalising our links with Central America through the Central American Integration System, of which Belize is also a Member.
Within our Caribbean Community, the situation in Haiti commands our attention. The precarious political, social, economic and security situations present a formidable challenge. We will continue to reach out to all the stakeholders, as we seek to support all Haitians in arriving at a Haitian-led solution. This is the only way forward for peace and stability.
I take up the Chairmanship of CARICOM, following the Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. I wish to commend him for his sterling leadership of our Community over the last six months.
As we enter this new year, challenges abound both within and outside the Community. But I am confident that with our collective ingenuity, the dynamism and promise of our integration, and our enduring Caribbean resilience our Caribbean civilization will prevail.
Have a happy, safe and productive New Year