CARICOM’s Council of Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) has called on the United States of America (USA) to provide more financial and technical assistance, and to have open and frank dialogue on a number of issues.
During a recent virtual roundtable meeting with US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, CARICOM Foreign Ministers raised a number of issues that were of concern to the Caribbean.
Chair of COFCOR, Eamon Courtenay of Belize, stated he was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the US Secretary of State to exchange COFCOR’s views on a number of subject matters, and looked forward to a renewed and reshaped alliance with the USA.
Mr. Courtenay noted that “of the 20 countries with the steepest economic downturn in the world in 2020, eight were CARICOM member states”, and called for a “multi-dimensional vulnerability index” to assist with financial aid.
CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, called for the US to assist in areas such as blacklisting, correspondent banking and access to concessional financing based on vulnerability.
A number of Foreign Ministers spoke on key themes. St. Kitts and Nevis’ Foreign Affairs Minister, Mark Brantley, spoke on health and the need to access vaccines, while his counterpart, Senator Dr. Jerome Walcott spoke on the economy and the need for fiscal space.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Amery Browne raised issues on democracy, human rights, rule of law and security, and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun from St. Lucia highlighted issues pertaining to disaster preparedness and climate adaptation.
In his remarks, the US Secretary of State, noted: “The ties between United States and the Caribbean are lasting, they’re diverse [and] they’re deep. We’re united by our history, and our people, economic ties, cultural ties, values and principles … we’re not just partners, we’re friends.”
Mr. Blinken stated that from the United States’ perspective, there are five priority areas that the country would be focusing on to assist the Caribbean. The first two, he mentioned, were the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis in the region.
“We’ll use our policies and our resources to encourage the region’s economic diversification; expand access to innovative technology, and support small businesses and entrepreneurs,” he said, in reference to working with the region to turn around the crisis.
The third area is the climate crisis, and Mr. Blinken noted that the US would be joining with Caribbean countries, through the US Caribbean Resilience Partnership, to build resilience across a range of areas, including enhancing disaster preparedness, providing geological hazard monitoring, disaster mapping, and building energy diversification and resilience.
The fourth area of focus is enhancing security cooperation. Mr. Blinken explained that the United States had invested nearly US$680 billion to date in foreign assistance under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.
This initiative focuses on shared priorities, such as reducing illicit trafficking, improving public safety, preventing gang violence and a range of other security issues including trafficking persons, extraditions and cybersecurity. The final area of focus, he said, would be to “redouble our commitment to democracy and human rights”.
US Secretary of State Blinken emphasised the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to working with CARICOM and to having continuous, open and frank dialogue.