SMALL ISLAND FORUM OPENS IN NASSAU, BAHAMAS; SLOGAN –- ‘SMALLISLANDS,
BIG POTENTIAL’ -- PROPOSED FOR MAURITIUS MEETING
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
NASSAU, 27 January -- A one-week forum of small islands developing States (SIDS) opened yesterday in Nassau, Bahamas, attended by the Bahamas Prime Minister, Perry G. Christie,and more than 300 representatives of some 50 small islands States, including several ministers, a dozen donor countries, United Nations officials, experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
The Bahamas forum aims to develop by the end of the week a common platform in preparation for the international meeting to review the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action on SmallIslands, to be held in Mauritius from 30 August to 3 September.
Addressing the opening session, the Secretary-General of the Mauritius meeting, Anwarul Chowdhury, acknowledged that in spite of the efforts made by small islands, the expectations for international cooperation to implement the Barbados Programme of Action have not materialized. Overall assistance for small islands has fallen from $2.3 billion in 1994 to $1.7 billion in 2002, he said.
"In order to enhance implementation of the priorities that the small islands identify, I urge development partners to enhance official development assistance directed towards these countries”, Mr. Chowdhury said. “I also urge them and the international financial institutions to enhance flows of concessional financing through regional and other multilateral financial institutions to promote the economic growth and human development and enhance the domestic and regional capacities of the small island developing States.”
In the absence of prospects for greater international development assistance, Mr. Chowdhury called on small islands to show “a greater degree of realism”, especially for the priorities that SIDS intend to set for themselves. “Importantly, we have to determine what worked against the effective and speedy implementation of the Barbados Programme”.
Mr. Chowdhury mentioned several emerging issues that impact on small islands’ development prospects and which he felt should be included in the discussions towards the Mauritius meeting: HIV/AIDS, which is making rapid inroads in small island States; the development and expansion of information and communication technology (ICT) to reduce the isolation of small islands; terrorism-related security issues that directly affect tourism; and the need for special and differential treatment for small islands’ export products, especially as an interim measure. Mr. Chowdhury also emphasized the need for enhanced South-South cooperation.
Mr. Chowdhury concluded with the following suggestion: “For the conference in Barbados, our slogan was ‘SmallIslands, Big Issues’. For Mauritius, reflecting today’s realities, I would adjust it to say: ‘SmallIslands, Big Potential’.”
José Antonio Ocampo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, emphasized the pertinence and urgency for SIDS of the six discussion panels featured in the Bahamas forum: implementing national sustainable development strategies; enhancing competitiveness through trade, finance, entrepreneurship and partnerships; promoting cultural diversity and empowering youth; developing knowledge-based societies by building capacity for more effective application of science and technology; and building resilience through strategies for overcoming risk, uncertainty and vulnerability.
Talking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Minister of Environment of Mauritius, Rajesh Bhagwan, said that his Government and people were “anxious to receive all their brothers and sisters from SIDS, as well as our partners and the international community as a whole, for the international meeting” from 30 August to 4 September.
He also enumerated key new issues for small islands that were identified by regional preparatory meetings for inclusion in the Mauritius process. They include: good governance, a concept which covers an enhanced role for the civil society, appropriate legislative frameworks, transparency, accountability and market-oriented policies; security in all its aspect, including food and water security; trade and investment policies, which are considered by small islands as the driving forces for their economies; and health, given the severe impact of diseases like HIV/AIDS and SARS.
The President of the General Assembly, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saint Lucia Julian R. Hunte, called this week’s meeting in the Bahamas “a decisive step on the road to Mauritius”, adding, “it is here that we will evaluate the findings and recommendations of the preparatory meetings held in the three regions. From these findings and recommendations, we will begin to craft the collective position we will recommend to the international conference in Mauritius. This position must be one that will re-energize and give new momentum to national, regional and international initiatives for the sustainable development of SIDS”.
“Globalization and trade liberalization have not yet proved to be a viable solution to the economic problems of a majority of the SIDS”, Mr. Hunte said, but in many cases “have compounded them”. “Regrettably”, he added, “we live in a world where the rights of shareholders in a multinational corporation can be considered to have priority over the rights, for example, of banana growers in the eastern Caribbean. Consequently, entire economies can be thrown into virtual collapse to protect shareholders rights.”
Market access is not readily available for the products of SIDS, Mr. Hunte said, and, following the dismantling of preferential arrangements under agreed rules of the World Trade Organization, “the agricultural commodities that financed the development of many SIDS -- sugar, bananas and cocoa among them -- have, under competition, been damaged, some beyond repair”.
* *** *