I have the pleasure to address you this evening on the occasion of the Twelfth Annual Dinner in honour of the Diplomatic Corps. Lady Allen and I are truly delighted to host this event for the first time. I extend warm greetings to our non-resident Ambassadors and High Commissioners who are visiting. I am certain that after this Week’s events you will join the ranks of our repeat visitors who have made Jamaica their preferred destination.
The Diplomatic Scene
Diplomatic Week was developed in recognition of the need to facilitate closer collaboration and dialogue between the Diplomatic Corps and the various Government bodies which are charged with the achievement of our national development goals as well as our foreign policy objectives.
Jamaica has had a proud record of diplomacy, and despite our limitations, we continue to invest heavily in our overseas representation. We are therefore gratified by the quality and quantity of representatives accredited to our island.
A total of seventy six (76) High Commissioners and Ambassadors are currently accredited to Jamaica. Of that number, 29 are resident. Since Diplomatic Week 2009, a total of ten High Commissioners and Ambassadors were accredited. We welcomed five new resident Heads of Mission and five non-resident Heads.
I am pleased to acknowledge the new members of the Diplomatic Corps who are present with us this evening. Their Excellencies from:
- The Swiss Confederation.
- The Republic of Cuba.
- The Dominican Republic.
- The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
- The Slovak Republic.
- Burkina Faso.
- The Kingdom of Thailand.
- The Republic of Zambia, and,
- The Republic of Croatia.
It is my distinct honour and pleasure to welcome you to our family and I extend once again, my sincere congratulations on your new assignments.
We bade farewell to resident Ambassadors from:
- The Republic of Cuba.
- The Dominican Republic and,
- The United Kingdom.
Also leaving us were our non-resident Ambassadors and High Commissioners from:
- The Czech Republic.
- The Republic of Korea.
- New Zealand.
- Sri Lanka.
- The Republic of Zambia, and,
- The Kingdom of Sweden.
I officially acknowledge our representatives from the Consular Corps who are with us this evening.
In December 2009, following the departure of the Ambassador of Cuba and later the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain, became Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. We wish to congratulate him and assure him of our support in his new role.
During 2009, a total of four (4) Honorary Consuls for Jamaica were appointed in: Barbados; the Commonwealth of Dominica; Ontario, Canada; and Montserrat. The Government of Jamaica appointed Mr. George Ramocan as the new Consul-General to Toronto, Canada.
The Honourable Prime Minister welcomed a number of high level visitors during 2009. The vice president of the People’s Republic of China, paid a four-day official visit in February, and in that same month, the Honourable Prime Minister hosted Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain for a two-day State visit.
In April, Prime Minister Golding hosted Canadian Prime Minister the Hon. Stephen Harper. The President of the Republic of Guyana, His Excellency Bharrat Jagdeo came on a five-day working visit in July 2009, and in November, the President of Tanzania, made a State visit.
Each New Year we see new and daunting challenges as if to test the bounds of our resilience and indeed, our faith. The tragic earthquake in Haiti and the swift and generous response by so many nations, has shown that, even as nations reel under this continuing global economic crisis, we are motivated by an innate compassion to act selflessly to lessen the burden of people in distress.
Again, we have been reminded that we are ‘our brothers’ keeper.’ The survivors, their families, and all the people of Haiti, must always be in our prayers. It is my hope that we will remain seized of this matter after the cameras shift focus to other areas of critical need.
Less than two years ago, the global food crisis and the need for a global coordinated response, was the urgent issue of the day. But even as we worked to resolve that problem, we were hit by the worst global economic and financial crisis the world has experienced since the great depression of the 1930s. Although some countries are now on the path to recovery, for Jamaica, the end of this long economic downturn seems a little distance away.
Despite the challenges however, Jamaica continues to enjoy good relations and remains actively engaged with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. We hosted the Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the 28th Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Rio Group in November 2009.
At their November meeting, the Foreign Ministers of the Rio Group adopted an Action Plan geared towards strengthening cooperation among the countries of the region in nine areas of mutual interest. These include issues relating to the international financial crisis, energy, social development, hunger, and poverty eradication. After many years as an observer, Jamaica’s application for membership in the Rio Group in its own right, was also approved at that meeting, making Jamaica the 25th member of this group.
In keeping with its commitment to regional integration, Jamaica continued to play an active role in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). As Chair of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) Jamaica hosted the successful 12th Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in May 2008. Of note, is the fact that the meeting also approved the establishment of a hemispheric development fund for the Republic of Haiti.
I am aware that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has already briefed you extensively on foreign trade matters, particularly, those related to the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement, the negotiation of the CARICOM/Canada Trade and Development Agreement, and the negotiations in the World Trade Organization.
You would have been briefed by the Honourable Prime Minister and other Ministers of Government, as well as leaders of the Private Sector. We trust that the information obtained will assist you in fulfilling your role of monitoring development in Jamaica and reporting back to your capitals.
Areas of Progress
In spite of the worldwide economic crisis, the Jamaican Government made strides in a number of areas. Progress was made in the fields of:
- Information and communication technology;
- We saw growth in the agricultural sector, and there were developments in the fishing industry.
- In the field of health, thousands more Jamaicans were able to access public health care.
- With the kind assistance of the Canadian Government, the Ministry of Justice,
- Implemented the Restorative and Community Justice Programme,
- The Jamaica Justice System Reform Task Force recommendations, as well as
- Laws to protect human rights and guard against abuse.
Our proud achievements at the IAAF World Championships in 2009 following our success in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, have inspired in us a new wave of self belief. We hope we have inspired others, particularly those from countries with similar and even greater challenges, to just recognize that constraints are not necessarily obstacles.
We ask that you convey our best wishes to your Heads of State and to the Governments and peoples of the countries you represent. We trust that the bonds of friendship that exist between our nations will be further strengthened. I look forward to future opportunities for dialogue in which we can exchange views and ideas. I wish to assure you of the continued support of the staff of the Office of the Governor-General, and the people of Jamaica.
I Thank you.