CARISEC, Guyana – The Sixth Summit of the European Union (EU)and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), described as “one of results and agreements,” has ended; and perhaps on a positive note for the Caribbean.
The more than sixty leaders who met in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday agreed on a slate of measures aimed at strengthening trade and improving European relations with Latin America and Caribbean. This, they pledged to do by establishing a joint investment agency and a foundation – the EU-LAC Foundation – to promote social development within the Caribbean and Latin America.
European Leaders had also committed to setting up a new financial facility to support investment projects in the region and to re-open talks with the Mercosur trading bloc – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay – which were suspended in 2004, due to disagreement over tariffs and subsidies paid to European farmers. But it was not all about trade issues: perhaps the resonant message in the Summit was the call made by CARIFORUM Leaders who in their special Summit with European leaders on Monday, asked their European counterparts to consider the unique characteristics and special circumstances of the Caribbean, and in so doing, pay special attention to Small Island Developing States.
Chairman of CARICOM Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, Prime Minister of Dominica, led the charge on behalf of CARIFORUM stating that the Caribbean wanted to be treated as partners especially as it related to the global agenda and the challenges in advancing that agenda. He was supported by his colleague Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr the Hon Ralph Gonsalves who highlighted the many and significant strides that the Community had made especially in weathering the global financial storms even while contending with those brought about by climate change.
Prime Minister Gonsalves left no stone unturned in pointing out that special treatment ought to be given to the Caribbean, especially those of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) grouping but stressed that it ought to be done in the context of partnerships which were mutually beneficial. In a brief yet comprehensive presentation, Prime Minister Gonsalves reminded the European Leaders of provisions under the Cotonou and Economic Partnership Agreements; noted the threats to those commitments; cautioned against Agreements with other countries brokered at the expense of CARIFORUM and drew their attention to ‘less than favourable’ treatment of Caribbean exports such as rice, sugar and rum.
The appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Prime Minister of Spain, Honourable Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose country holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, asserted that the answer to both regions’ prosperity lay in “uniting efforts where growth and social policy go hand-in-hand in liberalising economies.”
As he declared the Summit open, Mr Zapatero acknowledged the need to view Latin America and the Caribbean as “partners in vital issues on the global agenda: the economic crisis, the future financial stability, the fight against climate change, energy problems and efforts to overcome inequality and poverty.”
The President of the European Council, Mr Herman Van Rompuy also echoed the importance of the EU’s strategic partnership with Latin America and the Caribbean, reaffirming the EC’s determination to further strengthen cooperation in the mutual interest of both regions.
The issue of Climate Change and its effects on the Caribbean was more poignantly brought home when CARIFORUM presented the case of Haiti: The Summit underlined the importance of strengthening the partnership in tackling the effects of climate change and expressed solidarity with Haiti and Chile following the recent natural disasters suffered in both countries. That solidarity was distilled into an agreement to hold a joint CARIFORUM-EU Conference on Climate Change and to consider setting up a special investment fund for Haiti, in addition to the 1.235 billion euros already pledged for that country’s recovery from the January 12 earthquake.
The Summit has also spawned commitments on strengthening regional integration, gender equality and mainstreaming; cultural diversity; the fight against illicit drugs and the provision of increased funding for several projects in the area of research and development, science, innovation and technology, in keeping with its theme: Towards a new stage in the bi-regional partnership: innovation and technology for sustainable development and social inclusion. In the aftermath of the Summit, bi-lateral meetings were still being held and bi-lateral trade agreements were still being brokered.
Heads of State and Governments from both regions left the Summit quite cognisant of the fact that the still waters of bi-lateral and bi-regional relations may still run deeper; that the economic crisis might not have reached its end; that further regulation of the global financial markets was required and that those challenges could only be tackled locally and globally, by collaboration and cooperation – a greater investment in a solid partnership.