Your Excellencies, High Commissioners and Ambassadors
Heads of International Organisations
Members of the Jamaican Foreign Service
Ladies and Gentlemen all,
I am pleased to welcome you here this morning and to extend warmJamaican greetings from the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister, and other members of the administration. I extend a special welcome to the twenty non-resident Heads of Mission joining us today, as well as those, both resident and nonresident, who are sharing in Diplomatic Day activities for the first time.
This year’s engagement with the diplomatic corps as a group, has been modified from what some of you would have experienced in previous years. On reflection of how best to engage effectively with our partners, in a context of increasing demands on the same resources, we have agreed that there would be value in convening a Diplomatic Day and a Diplomatic week of activities in alternate years. I can assure you, however that the change in the number of days we spend together is not a reflection of the importance we attach to our relationships. I know you all understand and I very much hope therefore, that this Briefing and our exchanges will prove useful.
Positive Signs Beginning to Emerge on the Domestic Front
I begin with an overview of local political, social and economic developments – as I believe that an understanding of our administration’s vision and developmental aspirations for Jamaica, will facilitate a better appreciation of what we can do together to promote national, regional and international pursuits.
The past year, the second since our administration assumed office under the leadership of Prime Minister Holness, has been an extremely active year, characterised by valiant efforts to address varied challenges, within and outside of our national borders. At the same time, we are encouraged by indications that concerted efforts to advance the social and economic condition of all Jamaicans, through a focus on inclusive and sustainable economic growth and job creation, have begun to achieve positive results.
Among the most impressive are the following:
- Continued successful implementation of a macro-economic programme, evidenced by a stable exchange rate, low inflation, strong international reserves, and a lower current account deficit.
- Improvement in the country’s debt profile with a reduction in the debt to 115% of GDP at March 2017, down from 120% in 2016 – the lowest level in over 10 years. We are now at 105%
- Record employment of 1.2 million persons, which resulted in an unemployment rate of 10.4% in October 2017, the lowest level in the past 10 years, including a 7% decrease in youth unemployment.
- Growth of 1.1% in the October to December 2017 quarter, in spite of heavy rainfall which adversely affected output from the agricultural sector.
These achievements have been acknowledged by the international financial community, particularly the International Monetary Fund’s first two bi-annual reviews under the government’s current [US$1.64 billion] Precautionary Stand-by Agreement. Notably, Jamaica’s performance was given further endorsement by the Fitch Rating Agency, which revised its outlook for Jamaica, just a few weeks ago, from ‘stable’ to ‘positive’.
Notwithstanding these gains, there is much work ahead to ensure delivery of our commitments to the Jamaican people. Sadly, the issue of crime and violence remains the greatest threat to our development targets at this time, causing deep distress to the government and our citizens alike. However, we continue to take some bold steps, particularly in recent months to address the problem, which is rooted in multiple socio-economic, cultural and political factors, that have prevailed for decades. Enhanced security in the most problematic locations; the allocation of additional resources to our security and justice sectors; proposed reform of the police force to transform it into a modern service, and tackling the root causes of crime through social intervention are just a few of the initiatives being taken to address the untenable crime problem – as we implement the Ministry of National Security’ 5 pillar Anti-Crime Strategy.
Looking ahead, the government has designed an aggressive legislative programme for the 2018/19 fiscal year, which was presented by His Excellency, the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, Governor-General, during last week’s opening of the new session of Parliament. I believe that it will be useful to share with you, some of the broad range of initiatives that he cited and which might represent areas for possible future cooperation with some of your countries in support of the government’s domestic priorities. We will, therefore disseminate the text of the Throne Speech to your respective Missions.
Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Pursuits over the last year
The fundamental principles that have always guided Jamaica’s foreign policy will remain at the core of what we do in the ensuing year. Among these are: respect for the rule of law, democracy, sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights, multilateralism and the peaceful and just settlement of disputes. We believe all of these principles are essential to a world where peace and security, friendship and cooperation, prosperity and the well-being of all our peoples can prevail.
In that context, it is important for me to underscore that Jamaica deeply values, the strong bonds of friendship that underpin our relations with both our bilateral and international partners. It is those strong partnerships and cooperation between Jamaica and your respective countries and organizations, that have facilitated our development achievements, at both the national and international levels.
Within the framework of those important partnerships, Jamaica remained fully active last year in a range of diplomatic engagements:
- Coinciding with the 55th anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence, the Ministry celebrated the 55th anniversary of its establishment. In that regard, we have produced two publications to commemorate that milestone: One on the History of the Ministry and the other a compilation of National Statements delivered to the United Nations General Assembly between 1962 and 2017. We would be pleased to also make copies of these available to you electronically.
- Of special interest also is the fact that Jamaica observed fifty five years of diplomatic relations with seven partner countries: Belgium, Brazil Canada, France, Germany, India, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
- With respect to the expansion and strengthening of Diplomatic relations, we established relations with the Republic of Tajikistan in December and yesterday we received the credentials of the first Ambassadors of Malawi and Nepal to Jamaica, further reinforcing our broader engagement with the international community.
- Jamaica was successful in elections to the following bodies for varying periods between 2017 and 2021: Executive Council of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation; the Executive Board of UNESCO; and the Council of the International Maritime Organisation. We are deeply appreciative of the tremendous support provided to Jamaica and for the confidence shown in our selection for membership and leadership of various bodies. We will honour the trust that you have placed in us to make a meaningful contribution to the work of those organizations.
- In December 2017, Jamaica signed the landmark International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, underscoring our commitment to the realization of a nuclear-weapons-free World.
- Issues relating to the welfare of children has been one of the major policy pursuits of our administration. In that context, we recently deposited our instrument of accession to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For my part, I was also pleased to have participated only last week in the Solutions Summit to End Violence Against Children in Sweden, where as a Pathfinder Country we continue to work on ways to end the scourge of violence and its impact on our children, as we seek to achieve
- Throughout the year, the Ministry continued its concerted efforts to leverage bilateral relations with various partners to secure increased access to economic development and technical cooperation initiatives, as well as trade and human resource development programmes. These efforts have resulted in the signing of several agreements and projects, including with Argentina, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Chile, Indonesia and the European Union.
- Hundreds of Jamaican government officials have also benefitted from scholarships and short-term training programmes offered by partners such as Brazil, Chile, China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Spain, New Zealand, Thailand, United Kingdom and that United States. These have greatly facilitated capacity building and institutional strengthening in areas aligned to Vision and AGENDA 2030, including entrepreneurship and small business promotion, informal sector enterprise, local economic development, water resources management, disaster risk management and health.
- Since we last met, several summit-level visits have been undertaken to strengthen relations with bilateral partner countries. These included a visit by the Honourable Prime Minister to the Dominican Republic in May; to Singapore in July and Chile in August. I also paid an official visit to India in October. For its part, Jamaica was also pleased to have received State Councillor and Vice Premier of China, Dr. Yang Jiechi in September. We also hosted President Danilo Medina Sanchez, of the Dominican Republic in November, and just two weeks ago we received a visit from the Honourable Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State of the United States.
- Additionally, at various points throughout the year we were pleased to welcome other high-level officials, from Canada, China, Chile, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Japan, Nicaragua, Spain, the UK, as well as the US. The most recent of those high-level visits was that of Stefano Manservisi, Director General for Development and International Cooperation at the European Commission, representing the first such high-level visit in over a decade. All of these visits served to strengthen the partnership with Jamaica in key areas in support of the country’s development agenda.
- Only yesterday, we engaged in the fourth round of Jamaica-EU dialogue on a range of bi-regional and multilateral political and economic issues. The discussion focused primarily on areas in which the EU continues to provide important support to Jamaica’s development agenda, within the framework of the existing ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement and the regional CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement.
- Jamaica hosted the Caribbean Action 2030: Regional Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals in June 2017 which saw the engagement of representatives from government, academia and civil society on strengthening regional partnerships for implementation of the Goals by the region. An important outcome was the creation of an online platform to deepen engagement of regional stakeholders on mechanisms for attaining the SDGs.
- Our region did not escape the ravages of savage weather conditions last year, requiring emergency measures. With the assistance of our Canadian, American, and British partners, the government was able to provide emergency relief supplies to several affected islands. We also evacuated 185 Jamaicans from the British Virgin Islands and St. Maarten that were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and provided emergency relief supplies, to persons affected in these islands. We are equally pleased that with the invaluable support of our Canadian partners, the government was able to provide emergency reconstruction support to the CARICOM island state of the Commonwealth of Dominica through the services of 120 Jamaica Defence Force soldiers, over a three -month period.
Looking Ahead to a Year of Intense Activity
Your Excellencies, already there is every indication that the current year will continue to be another extremely active one for Jamaica, as we seek to forge relations that present opportunities not only for the attainment of our economic growth and development, but also in the pursuit of global development, as a responsible member of the community of nations. In this regard, Jamaica will continue to actively engage its partners at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, where much is at stake in a highly interdependent and interconnected global system.
We began the year with the assumption of three (3) significant leadership roles ahead:
- Firstly, I assumed the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of 79 States on 1st A major task will be defining the kind of ACP we want, and parallel to that, the development of a clear negotiating strategy for the elaboration of a new ACP-EU partnership arrangement – one that reflects the realities of the current and ever-evolving global environment in which the partnership will ensue.
- Secondly, Prime Minister Holness will assume the Chairmanship of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of State and Government, the supreme organ of the Community, from July 2018 to December 2018 and will host its 39thConference of Heads in Montego Bay in early July. As incoming Chairman, the Prime Minister was invited to sit on the Bureau of the Conference with effect from 1st
- Thirdly, in our capacity as incoming Chair of CARICOM, Jamaica was invited by the President of Argentina, in the context of that country’s presidency of the G20, to represent CARICOM at the meetings of the G20 Finance Track and its various Working Groups. Those engagements will lead up to Prime Minister Holness’ participation in the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in December.
Trade and Economic Diplomacy
A priority area of our diplomacy is the promotion of Jamaica’s external trade, and attracting foreign investments in key sectors. Undoubtedly, while Government must provide the framework and enabling environment for doing business, it is the private sector that will provide the engine for growth. Our administration has therefore, instituted reform programmes to facilitate private capital and opportunities for the private sector to play a leading role in promoting economic growth and job creation. This also creates prospects for more solid long-term relationships with the private sector in your respective countries.
Through our regional and multilateral engagement, we will actively pursue initiatives which will ensure that the regional and international environment are favourable to private sector entrepreneurial pursuits.
We are also strengthening our external engagement in order to vigorously promote Jamaica as a location for investments and competitive opportunities for trade in goods and services. To that end, Cabinet recently approved a National Foreign Trade Policy with an accompanying Action Plan 2017 – 2020. It will be tabled in Parliament later this year. The Plan provides a road map for strengthening the foreign trade regime and also serves as a capacity building tool.
Jamaica will continue its constructive engagement in the WTO, and support efforts to preserve and strengthen the multilateral rules-based trading system on which we, particularly the small and vulnerable states, must rely. Our fourth Trade Policy Review (TPR) was successfully conducted by the WTO in Geneva. Furthermore, we were pleased to facilitate one positive outcome of the recently concluded 11th Ministerial Conference of the WTO as Chairman of the Rules Negotiations, focused on fisheries subsidies. I was honoured to have led efforts to secure a Ministerial commitment to conclude these negotiations with a view to implementation by 2020, as envisaged by SDG14.6. We continue to call for a trade agenda that ensures that trade contributes to economic growth, job creation and the attainment of the sustainable development goals. We will continue to collaborate within the WTO and in all trade-related processes, with these goals in mind.
Relations within CARICOM
Jamaica’s upcoming Chairmanship of CARICOM will present an opportunity to guide the policy direction of the Community, to advance its development agenda and the regional integration process, as well as to commence discussions on strengthening its organs, particularly their efficiency and effectiveness. Some of these priority considerations emanate from the findings and recommendations of the Commission that was established by Prime Minister Holness to review the effectiveness of existing arrangements within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as well as to explore the strengthening of strategic partnerships within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks.
Let me underscore here, that the review process was not intended to seek an exit from CARICOM, given its importance to our development, and for engaging with the global community. We considered it imperative, however, to undertake a full review of the structure, procedures and practices that have not worked effectively in the national and regional interest. The 33 recommendations of the Commission are being examined and will be discussed by members of the Jamaican Parliament, as well as by CARICOM Heads of Government in the coming months. During its Chairmanship of CARICOM therefore, Jamaica’s priority will be enhancement of reform processes in the Community, to make it more responsive to the social and economic challenges facing the region, as well to adopt and implement concrete decisions that advance the region’s development objectives.
Engagement of the G20
In the context of our participation in the dialogue taking place within the G20 construct, the priority areas for CARICOM and Jamaica will be employment, trade and investment, climate resilience, and energy transformation. It is important to note that all of these issues are also aligned with Jamaica’s medium term economic priorities. This engagement represents the first time that any small island developing state has been invited to participate in the work of the G20 and we are indeed grateful to the President of Argentina for giving us a voice, in the hearing of the members of that influential forum.
Jamaica continues to give priority to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and implementation of the SDGs which are 91% aligned with our National Development Goals, „Vision 2030‟.
The well-being of each of our citizens is at the centre of these efforts, so that together we can create the kind of Jamaica to which we all aspire. We remain concerned, however, that attainment of the agreed objectives will be adversely affected or even elusive without the requisite resources. The project initiated by Jamaica in partnership with Canada, through a Group of Friends, to identify new and innovative means of development financing, including corporate financing, have not yet achieved the desired results.
While we explore other creative financial mechanisms, the reality is that the international community must redouble its efforts to ensure that adequate financing is in place to accelerate implementation of the SDGs. We are most pleased therefore, that our Ambassador to the United Nations has accepted an invitation to serve as co-facilitator of the ECOSOC Finance for Development Forum Outcome Document, in the context of its importance to developing countries’ attainment of the SDGs.
Natural Disasters and Climate Resilience
In my presentation in the UN General Assembly General Debate last September, I reminded Member States that, for the Caribbean, the issue of climate change is not a philosophical debate, but an ‘existential issue’, which requires urgent and effective action by the international community.
We will continue therefore, to urge the UN system to establish a mechanism to provide support and compensation to states affected by natural disasters in order to avoid derailment of progress towards achieving the SDGs. It is projected that weather related phenomena such as those that devastated several Caribbean islands last year, will become more frequent and more ferocious. Few of our small islands will be able to survive these catastrophic events, without massive social and economic dislocation. What is urgently needed is access to concessionary funds for resilient infrastructure in the long term. Jamaica particularly welcomed therefore a proposal put forward by India in the G20 dialogue for the facilitation of Disaster Resilience in vulnerable countries and we very much hope that the proposal will find favour amongst member of the Group.
EU-ACP Relations in the Post Cotonou era
With the approach of the expiry of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in 2020, both ACP and the EU Member States have begun to intensify preparations for the commencement in September 2018 of formal negotiations for a legally binding successor agreement. This process is of critical importance to Jamaica because in addition to being the largest provider of grant funding the European Union is also our second most important export market. Accordingly, our partnership with the EU remains an invaluable pillar in our development aspirations.
Jamaica is especially honoured therefore, to be presiding over the ACP Council of Ministers at this pivotal juncture in the life of the ACP. We intend to lead the group in active pursuit of our“Common Interests, Common Goals, Common Destiny, the theme selected for the period of our presidency of the Council and chairmanship of the Committee of Ambassadors. Later this year, I will chair the Meeting of the Council in Togo in May, at which ACP Ministers will elaborate a post-Cotonou negotiating strategy, as well as the Group’s own future internal arrangements, as it positions itself to leverage new relations with the EU and other international partners.
Britain’s Exit from the EU (BREXIT)
The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the EU will continue to engage our thoughts, having regard in particular to trade relations with Jamaica and the region. Last November members of the troika of CARIFORUM and I held ministerial discussions with the United Kingdom on future trade relations postBrexit. During our exchange, CARIFORUM advanced its interest in ensuring the continuation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) terms, in the post-Brexit era. While Jamaica appreciates the fact the final terms of the UK exit from the EU have not yet been decided, we will continue to advocate for a rollover of the agreement leading to a CARIFORUM-UK arrangement.
At the same time, we expect continuity in Jamaica’s trading relationship with the remaining 27 EU Member States, as existing trade statistics illustrate that we have established a viable trading relationship with the EU 27 in the areas of both goods and services.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference (CHOGM)
Jamaica views the Commonwealth as an important pillar in its multilateral cooperation strategy, as well as a key partner in the achievement of its national development goals. For this reason, Prime Minister the Honourable Andrew Holness is pleased to be leading Jamaica’s delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, from 19 to 20 April 2018. Jamaica looks forward to its participation in the Summit, which will serve as an opportunity to engage with other member countries on several issues of collective importance, including youth unemployment and citizen security, as well as continuing to highlight the issues of economic and environmental vulnerability, that are characteristic of small states like ours. Prior to CHOGM, the Prime Minister will also participate in the Commonwealth Business Forum as a keynote speaker.
This year the Organization of American States (OAS) celebrates its 70th Anniversary. The OAS remains a critical collaborator for Jamaica in the pursuit of a range of shared political, social and economic interests among the countries of this Hemisphere. Our partnerships with the OAS over almost 50 years, has been a most valuable one. The establishment of the Office of the General Secretariat in Jamaica in March 1970, just a year after Jamaica became a member of the Organization has been helpful in establishing a concrete framework for our implementation of the four main pillars of the OAS namely: democracy, human rights, integral development and multidimensional security.
The VIII Summit of the Americas
We look forward to participation in the VIII Summit of the Americas which will be held in Lima, in April, and have fully endorsed the theme: “Democratic Governance against Corruption”. Jamaica is committed to fighting the scourge of corruption, which poses yet another major impediment to social and economic development, nationally, regionally and globally. I am pleased to advise that this commitment is well reflected locally in the 15 point improvement in our ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and the 5 point improvement in our score.
Consular and Diaspora Diplomacy
The Foreign Ministry has been making increased efforts to strengthen the efficiency of Jamaica’s consular networks around the globe. Since our meeting last year new Honorary Consuls have been identified for appointment or have now been appointed in: Germany (Bremen), Ireland, Israel, Hungary, Kenya and Spain (Barcelona). Indeed, it is important for Jamaica to continue to strengthen its links with the rest of the world and we are working towards additional appointments in specially targeted locations across the globe.
The success of the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference convened in July 2017 was affirmed by the more than thirteen hundred participants, including persons not only from the traditional Diaspora centres in the UK, US and Canada, but from Cayman, Japan, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. The conference focused on the Government’s strategic priorities of inclusive economic growth and job creation, and showcased opportunities for Diaspora investment in local business enterprises and projects of varying sizes across multiple sectors.
As a follow up to the Conference, the Diaspora Affairs Department is pursuing increased Diaspora Diplomacy, a key element for the growth and prosperity of our nation. We will redouble our efforts to harness the power of the Diaspora and to encourage more persons to become involved in all aspects of Jamaica’s development. In fact, we are at this time engaging the Diaspora to support social interventions in vulnerable communities, which we believe can contribute significantly to crime reduction.
Notwithstanding the myriad challenges that we have faced in the national experience and in the global arena, there have also been many fruitful achievements on the domestic and external fronts. We believe that every challenge can be transformed into an opportunity and so Jamaica will continue to work assiduously, in collaboration with the international community, to build on the successes of our domestic and foreign policy pursuits. You can always count on us as a reliable partner, to advance global peace and prosperity, to protect the planet for the benefit of future generations, and to improve the quality of life each person, ensuring that no one is left behind.
In closing, I must reiterate my sincere appreciation not only of your presence with us in Jamaica for Diplomatic Day but even more importantly for the partnership and consistent support that your countries and organizations continue to provide to the Government and the people of Jamaica.
His Excellency the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and I look forward to receiving you this evening at King’s House to culminate what I hope is already proving to be an enlightening and enjoyable day in Jamaica.