The Honourable Mervyn Assam

Minister of Enterprise Development and Foreign Affairs

at the 


15th NOVEMBER, 2001

Check Against Delivery

Mr. President,

Trinidad and Tobago congratulates you on your election to preside over the 56th Session of the General Assembly. Your unanimous endorsement by both your regional group and all Member States, is testimony of the high esteem in which you and your country are held by this Organisation. You may rest assured of the full cooperation of my delegation as you engage in the task of presiding over the work of the United Nations.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago takes this opportunity to thank H.E. Harri Holkeri, President of the Assembly during its 55th session, for the skillful manner in which he guided the organisation during his tenure.

My delegation also congratulates the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, on his election to serve this body for a second term. Mr. Annan has brought a unique vision and a sense of purpose to the United Nations, engendering in the organization a renewed spirit to address the issues confronting the international community at the dawn of this century. In so doing, he has sought to put the basic rights and collective aspirations of human beings at the centre of the work of the United Nations. It is not surprising therefore, that both Mr. Annan and the organization which he so effectively heads should this year be recipients of one of the world's most coveted and prestigious awards, the Nobel Prize for Peace. Trinidad and Tobago extends most sincere congratulations. It is with an equal sense of pride that I feel compelled to make mention here too, that the twin island State of Trinidad and Tobago is the birth place of another of this year's Nobel Laureates, Sir Vidia Naipaul, recipient of the Prize for Literature.

Mr. President, it is propitious that the year 2001 was proclaimed the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations by the General Assembly. It is a clear acknowledgement by the international community that it is only through dialogue, that the voice of diverse peoples and their approaches to the many challenges that face them, find expression. Indeed, tolerance and a respect for diversity remain key components of the strategies that must be developed to address these concerns. Dialogue that is fair and free of fear, speaks not merely of a civilized society but of a society that will endure. History, Mr. President will judge us, not by our so-called progress, but by what we as a people, as nation states, and as a world community allow to endure. Relatedly, the fundamental values enshrined in the Millennium Declaration are so integral to this process, that they can never be over-emphasized. They provide the much needed guidance required in maintaining focus and commitment as we strive to address these global challenges. Indeed, in the context of unfolding world events there appears to be greater need, more urgent need to re-commit ourselves to the values inherent in dialogue and among nations.

Two months ago in our host city and country, the world witnessed the most heinous terrorist assault. Many Member States, including my own, count their citizens among the victims. We have all been affected by the diverse and widening repercussions stemming from the assault. It was a harsh and tragic reminder that we live in a global environment and that events in one country can have an impact on each and every one of us.

Mr. President, we must recognize these vicious acts for what they are. No country is immune from terrorism. We have a collective responsibility to send a strong and clear message that such acts will not go unpunished. Action has been initiated to counter them. It is with renewed vigour therefore that Member States must pursue at the national and international levels all appropriate measures designed to combat this scourge against mankind. In keeping with this stance, Trinidad and Tobago had already acceded to eleven of the international conventions against terrorism. Trinidad and Tobago vehemently condemns terrorism in all its manifestations, wherever it occurs.

Mr. President, acts of terrorism lie in the hearts and minds of the misguided. There are now looming threats of recourse to bioterrorism, chemical warfare and even nuclear weapons. The international community should not delude itself that conventional tactics will return that sense of security that many parts of the world enjoyed prior to September 11. A world forum like the United Nations must address the fundamental underlying causes - the social, economic, political and psychological conditions - that provide a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. We do have a moral responsibility to our citizens, to our children, and to the coming generations, to make the world a better place for them by denying the terrorist his use of Fear and Intimidation.

Mr. President, despite the gravity and topicality of the phenomenon, we cannot allow the spectre of terrorism to deter us in our sense of purpose as we pursue developmental objectives aimed at the betterment of our peoples. Neither should we allow it to deflect attention from other activities which impact just as negatively on our societies, such as the illicit drug trade and the illegal trade in small arms. For its part, my Government has enacted legislation authorising the confiscation of the assets resulting from drug trafficking. In like manner, existing legislation will be strengthened and relevant measures put in place as part of my country's contribution to the international effort in the fight against terrorism.

Mr. President, it is this very need to preserve democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights, that spurred the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to propose in 1989, a renewed focus on the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court. We will continue our efforts to have the crimes of illegal drug trafficking and terrorism included within the jurisdiction of the Court.

At the national level the government of Trinidad and Tobago recognises the need to also maintain a focus on promoting economic growth and creating a better quality of life for all its citizens as key elements in preserving democracy. In this context, the Government has identified nine(9) key objectives aimed at creating a healthier, better educated and a highly skilled nation, capable of fully participating in the life of the national community and wider global society. But even as we pursue these objectives, we know that as a small island developing state, we have special needs and vulnerabilities. Therefore what is required is a supportive, regional and global environment. That is why we place special significance on the achievements of the various development targets set out at last year's Millennium Summit. As a Small Island Developing State, we would like to remind this Assembly of the Summit's resolve to implement rapidly and in full. the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action and the 1999 outcome of the Twenty-Second Special Session of the General Assembly pertaining to the needs of Small Island Developing States.

Trinidad and Tobago is also of the view that trade remains one of the essential elements for our economic growth. While safety and security concerns have become a priority, the onus is still on the international community to guarantee the strength and stability of commodity prices on which the majority of developing countries depend to finance their growth and development.

Consideration must also be given to extending debt relief to middle income countries, as this will free resources otherwise allocated to debt servicing to assist in the financing of critical sectors such as health and education. Trinidad and Tobago, for example, currently utilizes a significant portion of its GDP to meet debt servicing requirements, resources which would be better utilized in our fight against the AIDS pandemic, which is fast emerging as a major development challenge, not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but for many of our sister islands in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world.

Mr. President, resource mobilisation at the national, regional and international levels is central to the development of small island states. Trinidad and Tobago has consequently given priority to the mobilisation of domestic resources within an overall macro-economic policy which encourages the creation of a competitive business environment.

Success in domestic resource mobilisation is however heavily dependent on the external environment and linked to success in accessing the markets of developed countries. Many of the factors which impinge on attracting foreign capital lie outside the control of developing countries. Trinidad and Tobago faces the particular problem of attracting foreign investment in the non-oil sector, 'which affects the overall development of social infrastructure. Foreign Direct Investment also tends to flow where profits are highest, not necessarily where sound policy for the creation of a hospitable local environment has been instituted.

Of equal significance for developing states is next year's Conference on Financing for Development, where the central issue of reforming the decision-making system will be under review. International Financial Institutions for their own part, must therefore work to ensure that developing countries are allowed to participate more fully in all policy decisions which directly affect them.

Similarly, the Special and Differential Treatment provisions of the WTO agreements must be implemented if developing countries are to maximize their potential gains of Trade. Trinidad and Tobago is convinced of the need for the WTO to recognize the differences in the levels of development capacity which exist among its members, including developing members. Our position on this issue was clearly enunciated at the just concluded Doha Ministerial.

As an ACP Member State, of critical concern too is the inordinate and unjustifiable delay in granting the waiver request for the ACP/EC Partnership Agreement. It is an issue which has serious systemic implications for the Organisation and it is for this reason that Trinidad and Tobago, like fellow ACP members, considered it imperative that it be addressed at the Ministerial Conference.

Even as I am addressing you now, active discussions are taking place in Doha on these two issues and it is my hope that the deliberations will result in the interest of developing countries.

In the sphere of health Mr. President, no one would dispute that a real connection exists between a nation's development capacity and the health of its people. In this regard, my Government has noted with special interest the call to strengthen the resolve adopted at the Millennium Summit to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. At the heart of our concern is the fact that the Caribbean region ranks second in the world where AIDS is the leading cause of death in the 15 - 44 age group, a distinction the region can ill afford to bear.

Trinidad and Tobago has again demonstrated its own commitment to international efforts by having hosted last month, the Tenth International Conference for People Living with HIV/AIDS. Further, Trinidad and Tobago was among those countries specially selected to participate in Phase II of the HIV/AIDS vaccine trials, which aims to develop a safe, affordable and accessible vaccine. The Government too, has successfully negotiated with pharmaceutical companies a ninety percent reduction in the cost of antiretroviral drugs (AZTs). Trinidad and Tobago supports also the establishment of the Global Aids Health Fund. As a member of the Transitional Working Group of the Fund, we will seek to ensure that in the modalities of the Fund, accession will not be burdensome and bureaucratic, and that special consideration will be given to the most seriously affected countries.

Another element in the pervading cycle of under-development is the presence of persistent poverty. Trinidad and Tobago fully supports the call of Heads of State and Government at the Millennium Summit, to strive to cut in half by 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. At the state level, Trinidad and Tobago's progress in the area of poverty eradication is illustrated by the high ranking it has enjoyed since 1977 in the United Nations Human Development Index.

Likewise, Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the agreement on the economic and environmental goals of the United Nations. We therefore welcome the agreements reached at the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 6) of the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, especially the establishment of a special climate fund, a fund for LDCs, and the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund to be established, in order to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes. We now encourage developed countries to ratify the Protocol so that it can enter into force as quickly as possible.

As a small island state which relies heavily on the marine environment for our petroleum, natural gas, fishing and tourism industries, we are also committed to upholding the principles and fulfilling the obligations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We support the work of the International Seabed Authority in respect of the development and exploitation of minerals of the deep seabed for the benefit all humankind. In our quest to ensure the preservation of the marine environment, we reiterate that the question of the transhipment of hazardous waste through the Caribbean Sea is a cause of deep concern to the region since, in many instances, the marine environment constitutes the only meaningful resource on which some states depend for their very existence.

Mr. President, against a landscape of differing stages of development, of differing cultural perspectives and of disparate and competing interests, what does emerge is an undeniable strength of purpose within this body, that unites us all in a shared commitment not only to improve the standard of human life but to preserve it at all costs. Harnessing this strength of purpose ultimately depends on every Member State appreciating its inherent value, and the value it adds by its participation in the work of fora such as these. It is for this reason, Mr. President, that we must continue the dialogue, albeit more vigorously, to ensure that the interests of peace and security are better served. Reform of the Security Council must therefore be advanced in a meaningful way. Democratization of the Security Council will require more equitable representation. This goal can only be accomplished by expansion of the Council in both the permanent and non-permanent categories.

The task before us is not insurmountable. We must deepen the dialogue to accelerate implementation of the goals defined in the Millennium Summit and specified in the various global conferences and reviews which have taken place to date. We must ensure that the process of implementation is conducted within a spirit of equity and justice. Equal attention must be given to all groups of countries, developed and developing, large and small, landlocked, transit and small island developing states. Trinidad and Tobago remains fully committed to this process. Let us make this 56th Session one of defining the process of implementation.

I thank you.