40 Year Relationship With Region Celebrated.
ST. LUCIA and other Eastern Caribbean states have been assured that the European Union (EU) will continue to offer support in disaster risk management.
In a speech delivered in Barbados yesterday to mark the 40th. Anniversary of the opening of the EU office there, Ambassador Mikael Barfod traced the relationship between the EU and the Caribbean over the past four decades and said he was confident that Barbados and its Caribbean colleagues trusted the EU to be considerate of their needs, even as relationships are updated.
Added Barfod: “And let me assure you, if there is any doubt: when it comes to vulnerability, be it from climate change or other sources, the EU will continue to cover your backs from disaster risk management, to humanitarian aid to reconstruction. The flash flooding in St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in December 2013, as well as Dominica last year are clear examples”.
The ceremony took place on Europe Day Protocol and was attended by Barbadios government officials, EU Member States Ambassadors or High Commissioner from UK and France among others.
Barfod said that 40 years ago the, then, EEC opened an office in the 10-year old independent nation, Barbados. This was three years after the United Kingdom joined the EEC, “which obviously encouraged Barbados and other independent Caribbean countries to establish this new relationship with Europe”.
He recalled that the four Lome Conventions from 1975 to 2000 provided financial and technical assistance and, not least, preferential treatment for sugar and rum, that was so important for Barbados’s economy at the time. In 2000 Barbados and its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners negotiated with the EU the new Cotonou Agreement with more development opportunities and a stronger regional focus.
He noted that the Caribbean was the first ACP region to negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU (and Barbados was instrumental in process).
Barfod declared: “Unlike what some commentators have said this is as much about increasing inter-regional trade as it is about trade with Europe. One of the catalysts for regional trade would be the revitalisation of regional integration. And here we have work to do to secure free movement of goods, services and trade in a single market (something we know a lot about in Europe). In the future the partnership will be further defined by a more regional agenda as national grants will be gradually replaced by regional integration support. Also, OCTs and the huge EU aid to its outermost regions in the Caribbean has positive potential for the entire region”.
There were also new challenges as it related to respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the EU Ambassador said, adding that these values were also crucial for a sustainable development model.
He added: “In recent years, Caribbean countries have been confronted with trans-regional security threats related to terrorism, organised crime, all forms of human trafficking, increasing violent crime, as well as trafficking in illegal drugs and weapons. These risks are heightened by persistent or growing inequality and high levels of unemployment, particularly amongst young people. Building resilience of the most vulnerable people is still a challenge.
“Also, in many Caribbean countries, gender inequalities still persist and violence against women and girls continues to undermine efforts to reach development goals, as does many other human rights issues. Many human rights issues also exist within the EU to varying degrees. I think the EU and the Caribbean owe it to themselves to fight human rights matters together”.
Barfod noted that the continued relationship between the Caribbean and the EU was taking place in a fast changing and increasingly multi-polar world. The future relationship between the EU and countries such as Barbados would have to adapt to the new realities, he said, adding:
“ The relationship between the EU and its fast evolving partners in the Caribbean and other ACP countries, has long ago expanded beyond development cooperation and trade into the political sphere. We need each other to attain global public goods, related to sustainable development goals, climate change (where the EU is a world frontrunner), peace and security, migration, health, financial issues and food security. We need to work together in robust alliances in the UN and other international fora to achieve our many common goals.
“After forty years I’m sure Barbados and its Caribbean colleagues trust the EU to be considerate of their needs, even as relationships are updated. And let me assure you, if there is any doubt: when it comes to vulnerability, be it from climate change or other sources, the EU will continue to ‘cover your backs’ from disaster risk management, to humanitarian aid to reconstruction. The flash flooding in St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in December 2013, as well as Dominica last year are clear examples”.