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Remarks by Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Dr. Kedrick Pickering at inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories Council

GIS - Saturday, May 5th, 2012 at 9:28 AM

Dr. Pickering

Thursday, April 26, 2012 – Honourable Schotte, Honourable Hughes, Honourable Emerencia, Honourable Bush, Honourable Meade, Honourable Kerhoff, Honourable Wescot-Williams, Honourable Zagers, delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

I bring you warm greetings from the Premier of the Virgin Islands, Dr. the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE who wishes to convey his full support to the establishment of the Council and regrets not being able to personally attend this inaugural meeting, due to a death in his family.

This meeting is also dear to me and I hold the Council in similar esteem as our Premier, as I was fortunate again to take the agenda forward in Brussels earlier this year. One of the most important areas of our cooperation, the environment, falls under my direct responsibility as the Minister for that portfolio. It is not something that I am interested in because of my new ministerial responsibilities, but being an environmentalist has been a major part of my core existence since my formative years growing up in the Virgin Islands. And this is an area where we must cooperate as it has no national borders.

It would be remiss of me if I did not say how grateful we all are to Prime Minister Schotte and the Government of Curacao for so graciously hosting this inaugural Council meeting. We thank you for all that you have done to ensure this meeting’s success. I would also like to personally thank you for the superb hospitality that you have extended to us and I know that my other colleagues share these sentiments.

Today, we as Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands embark on a bold new venture by coming together to establish a mechanism by which we can become more integrated with each other and the region on a whole. We strive for greater cooperation and collaboration among ourselves and with our regional partners. As a body our voices resound louder and stronger than if we were to speak individually in the region and internationally – our collective voice rings louder.

Initially it was the Regional Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Project that brought us together, where we gathered and shared our experiences and challenges faced in the SME sector. This opened the door to wider discussions on many other areas and sectors where our experiences and challenges are the same. Outside the Regional SME project, however, there was no mechanism in place to have wider discussions.

The overall goal of the Council is to foster greater regional cooperation among us for our mutual benefit and advancement. It will also serve as a forum for us as leaders to set a common regional and international agenda and coordinate positions and issues of mutual interest and concern. This goal is also in keeping with the EU’s drive for regional cooperation among OCTs.

Regional cooperation is very important and necessary for us all, because of our relatively small size, our geographical location and remoteness in some instances, our internal challenges, the changing global economic conditions and the ongoing efforts for deeper regional integration with each other and other regional bodies, such as the OECS, CARICOM and CARIFORUM, in an uncertain world of large economic players.

As small island states, we share common concerns related to a myriad of issues, including waste management, climate change, maritime management, renewable energy, transportation, and food security. As we continue to develop, we also face issues related to infrastructure, connectivity, and human resources. Our social challenges include addressing issues such as youth development and unemployment, crime and border protection. The establishment of the Council gives us a unique opportunity to collaborate and cooperate on these and many other issues, and to determine a common position as a regional body.

We are here today to formalise the mechanism. I look forward to open frank discussions over the course of today and in the weeks, months and years to come. Forming strong networks, alliances and partnerships through this Council will be a true testament to our regional integration.

It is with great expectation that we initiated this process and we are indeed pleased today, that we are all here to sign the Memorandum of Understanding that now brings this process to fruition in formalising a mode of cooperation. I take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to all OCTs present today for your assistance in bringing this Council to this point.

I would also like to thank the BVI’s own EU expert, Ms. Elvia Smith-Maduro, who worked tirelessly to make this project happen.

Thank you.

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