Press Conference by Caribbean Community Leaders on UN Economic Conference

25 June 2009

Press Conference by Caribbean Community Leaders on UN Economic Conference

25 June 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) considered the absence at the highest levels of the developed world at the United Nations Conference on the World Financial Crisis and its Impact on Development to be a form of disrespect, the Prime Minister of Belize and current chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dean Barrow, said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Speaking to correspondents as the conference in New York entered its second day, Mr. Barrow said CARICOM leaders found it perplexing that the developed world, which had declared the current economic crisis the worst since the middle of the last century, would fail to attend a meeting convened to address it.

He was joined at the podium by fellow CARICOM leaders –- Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas; Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister, Stephenson King; and CARICOM Secretary Edwin Carrington.

When pressed by correspondents about developed countries’ level of representation at the conference, he said the situation did not augur well for any tangible gains by the meeting.  Although some of the larger developing countries had stayed away -- everyone had known for some time now that the developed world was not going to attend -- developing countries basically could not afford the luxury of “taking up our marbles and going off to play elsewhere”.

The United Nations was a place where, at least in principle, there was equity and equality, and so developing countries had to try and work within the United Nations system, he said.  And so, when there were conferences sponsored by it, they needed to come.  This conference, despite its shortcomings, was still “a wonderful forum” at which to give voice to the “particular and excruciating” pressures that all small societies had been experiencing.

Prime Minister Thomas added that it showed the structural weakness of the United Nations itself.  “I believe the time has come for global governance,” and there should be a governance structure within the United Nations by which it could lead by example.  It needed to democratize.  If the United Nations was indeed a democratic organization, there would be better participation in this event.  The situation showed a need for reform of the United Nations itself. 

“We need global governance and a body like the UN is really the body to show the way forward in terms of global governance,” he stressed. 

Expanding on that theme, Mr. Carrington agreed that it was puzzling to hear that the world was experiencing the worst global economic and financial crisis since the middle of the last century, and yet all those who were making those pronouncements had failed to attend a meeting to discuss the issue.  He too felt that any outcome agreed at the meeting would ring hollow and leave a big question mark as to whether it would really produce results.

Another correspondent sought the reaction of CARICOM leaders to remarks yesterday by United Kingdom’s Lord Mark Malloch Brown, who had said that the Bretton Woods institutions had seldom been popular, but they had never been more necessary than now.  Mr. Malloch Brown had also said that they had responded quickly, flexibly and transparently to the demands placed on them.

Responding, Mr. Barrow said there had been no change in the “business as usual relationships” with the Bretton Woods institutions.  The International Monetary Fund, in particular, “talks to us” one way, but “talks to the big countries” in a completely different way.  The Fund “has not yet learned how to speak truth to power”, and, thus, the statement ascribed to Mr. Malloch Brown should be “taken with a large grain of salt”.  What he had said was only true if it referred to the way in which the Bretton Woods institutions had dealt with the large countries, with the industrialized countries, with the developed countries.

Earlier in the briefing, in general remarks to the correspondents, Mr. Barrow said CARICOM took the conference very seriously and had taken the decision to make every effort to attend at the highest level.  The regional body hoped that after the conference, the words would be met by deeds; it was anxious for the work of the intergovernmental group that was to be appointed to go forward as quickly as possible.  While the meeting’s outcome document was imperfect, he had been impressed by the 20 principles it embraced. 

What was most important was for something tangible to occur after the conference, he said, stressing that it was critical for the world, and especially for the developed countries, to hear the developing nations.  It was vital for them to understand the level of anguish the crisis had caused their populations.

“I speak for myself here when I say that -- while I express this very strong hope that there will be measurable, concrete achievements to follow the conference -- hope is not completely matched by confidence.  We’ve been grappling with this issue for a while.  We’ve seen and heard in principle the commitments made by the G-20 earlier at the summit in London, absolutely nothing concrete has followed that summit,” he lamented. 

The flows had yet to begin, he said, and it was still unclear, if and when they did, exactly how they would entail.  Heads of highly-indebted middle-income countries were extremely concerned, as their special plight loomed very, very large indeed.  They had come to the conference and they were satisfied at the meeting’s progress thus far.  They only hoped there would soon be measurable progress along the lines of implementation of the 20 principles.

Prime Minister Thomas of Grenada welcomed the United Nations initiative to give consideration to the global financial crisis and to show the way forward and expressed gratitude to President of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, for convening that important meeting.  CARICOM nations in particular had felt the impact of the crisis, which had led to a lack of investment in tourism, decline in revenue collection, rise in unemployment, decline in revenues from abroad and the economy generally contracting by 0.5 per cent this year. 

Underscoring the significant economic dependence of the small island nations on foreign direct investment and services, particularly tourism, Prime Minister King of Saint Lucia said the implications of the global financial downturn had been reflected by the sheer numbers many had recorded and were predicting in the performance of their various economies.

That meant they needed to look to their friends in the international arena for assistance in their recovery, he continued.  There was need for immediate attention to deal with the prevailing situation, which could lead to social and economic unrest and plunge the countries into even more social difficulties.  It was thus important that any interventions designed to address the situation were timely.  The meeting under way was an opportunity, not just to talk, but to trigger action within the shortest possible timeframe.

There was also a need to begin to put in place the global architecture that would allow for the various nations to withstand such shocks in the future, he said.  That required a lot of work beyond the immediate interventions to ensure that whatever reforms were designed would allow for an environment in which small islands States could survive.

CARICOM Secretary Carrington reiterated that the region’s populations felt “badly done in” and were made to suffer the most painful consequences of a global financial crisis for which they were least responsible.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.