FOREIGN Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett has called for a review of the basis by which countries are classified, and by which they are graded as low-income or middle-income countries.
At the Eighth United Kingdom (UK)-Caribbean Forum, in London on Monday, she spoke on behalf of Caribbean States represented at the forum and said: “Our classification as Middle Income Countries and the resulting imposition of ‘differentiation’ and ‘graduation’ impede access to concessionary funding.
“…this inequitable classification is based on one metric, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, a flawed assumption that cannot be a sound measure of development. It utterly ignores the susceptibility to external economic shocks, the debt situation, and several other vulnerabilities and peculiarities of our small economies.”
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett suggested that an alternative metric must be considered, one that takes into account resilience and vulnerability in the context of Caribbean nations’ sustainable development.
COMPLEX GLOBAL CLIMATE
She said that countries in the Caribbean Region are still reeling from the shocks of the global financial crisis, which has been exacerbated by the arbitrary classification based on GDP per capita alone. “We in the Caribbean, for the most part, are still in global economic crisis mode, reeling from its continuing severe impact on our economies. There is little reason for us to be optimistic in the immediate and short term. The external resource flows, private and official, on which our economies rely to stimulate growth continue to dwindle,” Rodrigues-Birkett said.
She referred to the added challenge of battling natural disasters, and made it clear that, unlike in the United Kingdom, it is not a localised occurrence with “circumscribed” effects, but a devastating national event which wipes out significant percentages of countries’ GDP.
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett said, “Instead of going forward, we are constantly rebuilding and replacing lost infrastructure, which no doubt has contributed to the high debt situation in several small Caribbean countries.
“In addition”, she said, “the increasing frequency and severity of climactic events, along with the deepening threats to our security from the mounting illicit trafficking in drugs and small arms through our Region; as well as the growing incidence of health pandemics, further burden our attempts at economic resilience.”
The Guyanese Foreign Minister opined that there is a danger of gains made by Caribbean nations being reversed because of the prevailing state of affairs. “Indeed, many of our countries — notwithstanding the challenges we encounter — are set to meet several of the MDGs by the 2015 deadline….We are, however, worried that these gains may be reversed if the current trends continue,” she stressed.
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett added that Caribbean nations are not “throwing their hands up” in despair, but are taking steps to address the difficult economic challenges.
“I must indicate that we are taking steps to address the difficult economic situations in which we find ourselves, undertaking the required structural reforms and applying the bitter fiscal medicine necessary despite their potential unpleasant political side effects.”
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett also underscored the importance of partnerships with nations like the United Kingdom. “We are, however, counting on our long-standing friends and international development partners, including the United Kingdom, to better understand our present situation and the many constraints that impede our best efforts, and to highlight these realities on our behalf in the European Union and in the international decision-making fora, such as the G20, where our voices are not heard and our realities perceived as insignificant, and thus marginalised.
“We are only asking that the method used to classify us be amended accordingly,” she said, adding: “We meet at a time of increasing complexity in the global political and economic environment, with profound systemic changes taking place. This evolving political and economic environment is at the same time particularly unfavourable to the small developing economies of the Caribbean. The developed countries like yours can speak of a post-crisis economic recovery, though it remains weak.”
Rodrigues-Birkett also pointed out that Caribbean States are interested in building stronger partnerships for prosperity, with emphasis being placed on energy security, the enhancing of skills, and education levels that redound to the benefit of youth employability and of our economic development; and on crime and security, which are increasingly impinging on our economic and social development.
Additionally, the minister referred to the fact that the ambitious Action Plan, including some 31 points, which was agreed to at the Seventh UK-Caribbean Forum, has seen “few tangible” results; and she stressed the need for actions that are focused, actionable and measurable in order to make good on the promise of the forum as a vehicle for cooperation.
The minister said, “The fact that we are gathered today for our Eighth Forum testifies to the long-standing relations between our Caribbean countries and the United Kingdom.
“For us in the Caribbean, it underlines our collective desire to enhance this relationship and deepen our levels of cooperation.
“This forum provides an excellent opportunity for the Caribbean and the UK to engage in productive discussions towards reaching agreement on concrete measures that will contribute to improving the quality of life of our citizens. It is an opportunity that we should grasp with both hands.”
Along with Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, the Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom (UK) were engaged in the Eighth UK-Caribbean Forum, which ended on Tuesday.