Challenging road ahead warns T&T PM

Prime Minister Keith Rowley.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley.

As the United Nations approaches the 75th anniversary since its establishment, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley warns about the challenging road ahead, “unless we collectively do what is necessary to alter the current trajectory of global events.”

“We continue to note with alarm, the number of persons living in poverty, the innumerable threats posed by the effects of unmitigated climate change and the continued exclusion of the most vulnerable in our societies with respect to access to education, social protection and healthcare,” said Rowley in his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

“Migration, violent extremism, the scourge of terrorism, the threat of violent conflict and the spread of communicable diseases, such as the recent resurgence of the Ebola virus and measles are pressing challenges that transcend the borders of individual countries,” he added. “We have witnessed extreme flooding, droughts, coral bleaching, rising sea levels, heat waves and devastating hurricanes with increasing strength and frequency in many parts of the world.”

In this regard, the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister said it was with “profound sadness that we witnessed, just a few weeks ago, the horrific destruction of our CARICOM (Caribbean Community) neighbor, by Hurricane Dorian, which sat on the small islands of the Bahamas for almost 30 hours.”

He, therefore, joined other speakers during the debate of the 74th Session of the General Assembly, in offering Trinidad and Tobago’s deepest condolences to the Government and People of the Bahamas on the loss of life and extensive destruction of properties and livelihoods as a result of this unprecedented weather event.

“Trinidad and Tobago stands in solidarity and strong support of our brothers and sisters in the Bahamas,” he said.

As a family of nations, Rowley said the challenges facing the global community require emphasis on multilateral approaches, rather than unilateral ones.

“We should be strengthening our partnerships through mutual respect and cooperation,” he said, stating that this approach “would allow us to regain some ground in reversing the current patterns of growing inequality and insecurity, and transform current circumstances to the benefit all of humanity.”

It is against this backdrop, Rowley welcomed the opportunity to share the perspectives of Trinidad and Tobago on the appropriately selected theme of the General Debate, “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion.”

Stating that since 1956, nationals of Trinidad and Tobago have been central to the republic’s develop¬ment and its people remain its greatest assets, Rowley called for the building of a society that shares the principles and cultural norms of trust, goodwill, honesty, respect, tolerance, integ¬rity, civic pride, social justice and community spirit.

“Accordingly, Trinidad and Tobago has adopted an integrated National Poverty Reduction Strategy that is collaborative, sustainable and meaningful for all stakeholders involved,” he said.

“The consolidation of our economic stability and capacity to remain effectively integrated into the global financial and trade architecture remains a priority for my Government, as we continue the search for measures to strengthen our fiscal resilience through diversification,” he added. “Our national development ambitions should be buttressed by an enabling international economic environment through international trade, development cooperation, business activity and finance.”

Fully aware that financial services play an important role as a contributor to economic growth and international trade and investment, Rowley expressed “grave concern regarding the unilateral insertion of some CARICOM Member States including Trinidad and Tobago on the list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions by a number of our international partners.”

He said the label of “non-cooperative tax jurisdictions” has the potential to inflict irreparable damage to the reputations and economies of small island developing states, calling on “our international partners to adopt a more collaborative, just and fair approach in addressing this issue.”

At the same time, the prime minister said Trinidad and Tobago remains “deeply concerned about the progressive decline in correspondent banking services by international banks.”

He said this is particularly problematic for CARICOM Member States, “as it threatens our financial stability, impedes our efforts to alleviate poverty and limits our achievements in respect of socio-economic growth and development.”

Rowley said the withdrawal of correspondent banking services undermines the region’s efforts to consolidate a global partnership that will achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Thus, he said Trinidad and Tobago joins with other CARICOM Members in calling for international banks to “engage collaboratively with affected Member States to restore mutually acceptable financial relationships,” welcoming the observation by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in July that eligibility for Official Development Assistance and other forms of concessional financing should include vulnerability criteria.

“Trinidad and Tobago, therefore, takes this opportunity to reiterate its call for the international community and international financial and development institutions to consider the formulation of new multidimensional parameters in determining access to concessionary financing,” Rowley said. “We continue to endorse the view that the United Nations Development System should be driven by a multidimensional approach to development assistance, which is more appropriately suited to each country’s specific needs and national priorities.”

The Trinidad and Tobago leader said his country remains “troubled” that, even as the third decade of the 21st century approaches, women, girls and persons with disabilities in many parts of the world are unable to enjoy basic human rights and freedoms.

“In our effort to combat this challenge, Trinidad and Tobago reaffirms its commitment to the delivery of improved healthcare, the continued enhancement of the educational system, and increased accessibility and support to persons with disabilities,” he said. “Women and girls must also be equal partners in our collaborative efforts to build peaceful and sustainable societies and to promote and protect human rights.

“The promotion of gender equity and equality is essential in this regard,” he added. “It is equally important to consolidate an integrated social protection system that improves living conditions and creates opportunities for women and girls to achieve their full potential.”

With climate change presenting a “very real threat that jeopardises our pursuit of sustainable development,” Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago is moving towards the employment of a “multi-pronged” approach towards adaptation and mitigation of the negative impacts of climate change.

Recognising that climate change adversely affects all countries, regardless of how much they each contribute to global emissions, the prime minister reiterated his government’s “unwavering commitment to addressing these adverse impacts associated with climate change, through a combination of collaborative approaches, improved partnerships and networking with stakeholders, in order to meet our international obligations, in alignment with our national laws, policies and priorities.”

With the marine environment and its resources remaining “critically important” to the livelihood of Trinidadians, their cultural and social identity, as well as their sustainable development ambitions, Rowley said the country, therefore, remains hopeful that the adoption of an international legally-binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction would be a reality in the not too distant future.

He said this agreement would establish a platform for “both the achievement of sustainable development and the protection of the common heritage of mankind for this and future generations.”

Stating that the foreign policy of Trinidad and Tobago is guided by the tenets of respect for the sovereignty and sovereign equality of all states, non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, and respect and adherence to international law and to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the prime minister said, as a small island developing state, Trinidad and Tobago remains “fervent” in its conviction that, despite existing in a world where these well-established principles of multilateralism are under threat, a country’s right to be heard ought not to be diminished or dismissed.

In this nexus, Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago joined with fellow CARICOM Member States to push for an urgent de-escalation of tensions and to build a platform for dialogue and negotiations for a peaceful resolution to the political and economic crises in Venezuela.

Arising out of CARICOM’s non-interventionist stance and “diplomacy of peace”, Rowley noted that he and the Prime Ministers of Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis, as mandated by CARICOM, met with Guterres, the Permanent Representatives of several influential Member States, as well as other stakeholders, “to underscore our concerns about the volatility of the Venezuelan situation, the safety of the citizens of Venezuela and the stability of our region.”

Resolute that the region remain a Zone of Peace, he said dialogue is “critical and indispensable.”

As such, Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago remains in “full support of the Montevideo Mechanism and any other suitable initiatives that seek to bring about a peaceful resolution through meaningful and constructive dialogue.”

In this regard, he made special mention of the Norwegian Government, applauding its efforts to date in bringing both sides to the negotiating table, most recently, in Barbados.

“We recognise that, in order to achieve meaningful progress, the negotiation process requires time and patience, and all parties must engage in good faith,” he said. “We, therefore, urge external forces not to further engage in unilateral intrusions, which could potentially undermine the negotiations and ultimately cause further hardship for the Venezuelan people.”

Rowley said the objective of the international community should be to ensure that both parties are allowed to arrive at conditions for progress in Venezuela, with the ultimate aim of achieving political stability, peace and economic well-being.

“The Norwegian/ CARICOM/ Montevideo Mechanism initiatives are, indeed, worthy of support towards this end,” the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister said. “We are saddened by the recent withdrawal of a party (unidentified) from this sane and sober initiative, but we trust that this development is temporary because only Venezuelans can properly take ownership of their situation, and we of this body can only help them along the path to security and economic stability.”

Noting that “history has taught us that the maintenance of international peace and security cannot be separated from sustainable development,” Rowley maintained that the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba, “a Caribbean nation, which has been in place for almost six decades, undermines the country’s potential to achieve sustainable development and economic growth.”

“Trinidad and Tobago maintains further that the imposition of unilateral coercive measures against Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act, is inconsistent with international law and the Charter of the United Nations,” he said. “Trinidad and Tobago, thus, reiterates its call for the unconditional lifting of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.”

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