CARICOM members petition for international assistance at COFCOR

CARICOM's 21st. Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) takes place at the British Colonial Hilton, May 7-8, 2018. Foreign Ministers & Heads of Delegations are in group photo at the official Opening Ceremony. (BIS Photos/Patrick Hanna)

Members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have a two-day audience with some of the world’s most powerful financial hubs, as they met for the 21st session of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) of CARICOM, which commenced Monday at British Colonial Hilton Nassau.

Countries outside of CARICOM, including the United States (U.S.), Romania, Belgium and Canada, are also attending the forum, which according to CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque, provides the perfect platform for the Caribbean to speak with one voice on a number of issues.

“We need to keep speaking with one voice on our collective issues and advocating for change,” LaRocque told Eyewitness News.

As incoming Chairman of COFCOR, Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon. Darren Henfield, pictured at podium on Monday, May 7, gave Opening Ceremony remarks. Officials of Belgium, Canada, and the UN paid courtesy calls on Minister Henfield prior to the Opening Ceremony proceedings.

“We need to address concessionary financing. The issues of blacklisting our countries is also another critical one. It impacts our corresponding banking relationships, our commerce and our tourism.

“We have a number of guests here with us from other parts of the world and these are the issues that we need to bring to them.”

The group said it is hopeful that unilateral discussions will open new avenues that will mitigate blacklisting and offer easier access to international concessions in the wake of natural disasters.

The Bahamas now holds the chairmanship seat for the forum, after succeeding Barbados.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield, who now serves as COFCOR’s incoming chairman, yesterday highlighted the importance of the two-day forum.

“With a very active hurricane season ahead of us, dialogue within this forum must include sustainability, resilience and access to development financing at concessionary rates which consider vulnerability over gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP),” said Henfield.

“As you know, concessionary loans are judged now on GDP and GNP. The Bahamas in the same category as China, which is quite unfortunate for us, because we are not able to attract the kind of overseas development assistance that we need, and we are not able to get those loans at the concessionary rates that we need to rebuild.

“So, we will speak to them about this and also speak to them about blacklisting and other important items on the agenda that needs to be addressed.”

COFCOR’s aim is to provide a platform for regional heads to discuss and tackle issues affecting Caribbean countries, including climate change, border protection, migration and how best small island nations can attract international concessionary loans, following devastating natural disasters.

The dialogue at the two-day forum will be documented and presented to CARICOM ahead of its next sitting, which is slated for June.