Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Joint Ministerial Opening Caribbean Regional Review Meeting
St.Georges, Grenada, 17 March 2010

Mr. Chairman,
Honorable Prime Minister Tillman Thomas,
Foreign Minister Peter David,
Assistant Secretary-General Edward Green,
Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena,
Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you at this high-level segment of the Caribbean Regional Meeting.

I wish to begin by thanking the Government of Grenada and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, for kindly co-hosting this important event, together with DESA.

This meeting will contribute to the five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation to be convened by the 65th session of the General Assembly in New York this fall. So our discussion does not end here. The views expressed will represent the Caribbean region’s perspectives and expectations on the assessment of the region’s sustainable development challenges, and on the way forward.

The significance of this meeting cannot be overemphasized.

Excellencies,

The Caribbean region is known as the earth’s paradise – turquoise seas, white sands, and the warm sun, and above all the innate generosity and creativity of the Caribbean people. These are the assets upon which nations build in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Yet we must face the fact that until now progress has been slow and uneven.

Let me start with positive developments. Governments in the Caribbean region have invested significantly in basic education and health facilities, with the result that infant mortality is low, life expectancy is high, and human development indicators are higher than countries at comparable levels of income. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this achievement.

There are some remaining problems of course. The expenditure on health has not kept up, and access to basic services and economic opportunity is not equal. These will need attention.

A second area of progress is regional cooperation. CARICOM itself is building its capacity, and other institutions have been created, including CARIFORUM, The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and the Regional Development Fund. Here too, there are difficulties. Institutional development has yet to result in more trade and investment flows or the integration of trade issues into development policies.

Third, the share of investment in GDP is at the encouraging level of 28 per cent, higher than countries at a similar stage of development. We hope that this will continue to increase in the future, but again this is a solid foundation. There are some warning signs here also, mainly that the bulk of investment is funded by external sources, and that the productivity of the investment could be further enhanced.

We know the ingredients of the successful development policies: high and productive investment, public policies to protect people as well as nature, and a strong focus on equity – implemented with support of the international community. The result is high growth, social equity, and protection of nature. It is our job collectively to make all this happen in all countries. This was precisely the goal of the Barbados Program of Action (BPOA) and the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation (MSI), namely to ensure that the next generation in all countries enjoys the fruits of sustainable development.

We place a central importance in this regard on carefully prepared national strategies for sustainable development (NSDS). These are vehicles for governments to guide investment, and for stakeholder to provide advice and ideas.

In this case too, we are happy to learn that two thirds of the countries have prepared NSDS, and others are in the process of doing so. You are leaders in a growing number of sustainable development initiatives, including eco-tourism, marine biodiversity, and education, and you have led the fight for combating climate change. Again, this is a good foundation.

While we congratulate the Caribbean region on its achievements, we must also focus on the gaps in implementation. The first point is that vulnerability to natural as well as economic shocks has increased. In 2004 and 2005, Hurricanes Ivan and Emily devastated the country that is hosting us today, battering and destroying 90 per cent of homes, and inflicting damages worth $1,100 million – more than twice Grenada's GDP.

The latest is the tragedy that struck Haiti, taking the lives of over two-hundred thousand people. These include 101 UN personnel, the largest one-day toll in the history of the UN, and eight newly arrived civilian police officers from China.

We cannot eliminate hurricanes or earthquakes, but we can help prepare ourselves to protect peoples’ lives and livelihoods through technical cooperation on monitoring and modeling, early warning, and resilient infrastructures.

Besides vulnerability to natural disasters, the region has proven to be enormously vulnerable to economic changes in the rest of the world, especially the industrialized countries. The global economic recession has led to negative growth in the Caribbean region for the first time since 1992. Similarly, debt levels have risen as budget deficits have expanded. Other trends have also contributed. ODA levels have stagnated (and ODA as a fraction of regional GDP has fallen by 40 percent since 1992), foreign direct investment has declined, and extreme dependence on food and energy imports created balance of payments difficulties. In part this is because of a lack of diversification in economic partnerships.

Excellencies,

The outcome of our discussions today will be pivotal in helping to shape the outcome of the high-level SIDS meeting of the General Assembly this fall. I am confident that the regional synthesis report, which will be consolidated during this meeting, will succeed in outlining priorities to successfully address the vulnerabilities of Caribbean SIDS.

This report, together with those consolidated in the Pacific and AIMS (Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Mediterranean) regional meetings, will be presented at the SIDS interregional meeting in New York on the 8th of May, immediately prior to SIDS Day at the 18th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The meeting will serve as the Preparatory Committee for the high-level SIDS review meeting of the 65th session of the General Assembly.

In a recent meeting with DESA, the Alliance of Small Island States underscored that the General Assembly high-level review meeting should offer the international community an opportunity to assess progress achieved over the past five years and to identify gaps and obstacles, as well as the mechanisms that could and should be put in place to address the barriers and shortcomings.

AOSIS also highlighted that the outcome document should include concrete, time-bound targets supported by realistic and feasible means of implementation. This desire for a greater focus on results will undoubtedly help inspire our discussions today.

Among the concrete strategies to be considered are energy independence, which will require significant investment in renewable options, continued investments in health and education, strengthening the basis for regional cooperation, and supporting key economic sectors.

At an international level, the promises of additional financial support must be fulfilled, and these are supplemented by complementary policies in the areas of trade, intellectual property, investment, environment, and migration.

My department DESA and the five Regional Commissions and UNCTAD - together we make up the development pillar of the UN. In this capacity, we can collectively act as a virtual think tank for all SIDS, to assist on strategies, monitor progress on international commitments, and help translate strategies into results.

Excellencies,

The sustainable development challenge of SIDS is often captured in the phrases of “small islands, big issues” or “small islands, big stakes”. I challenge all participants to “think big and think different”. The islands may be small; but our dreams are big; and our visions are full of hope.

I look forward to a fruitful and constructive discussion.

Thank you.