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Regional foreign ministers discuss wide-ranging issues

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — Caricom foreign ministers met earlier this week to discuss a wide range of issues confronting the 15-member grouping, from the issue of climate change to the leadership of the 54-member Commonwealth.

A statement issued by the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat said that the ministers, who met virtually under the Caricom Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), also discussed their preparation for the region’s participation in the high-level segment of the United Nations General Assembly which begins in New York on September 21.

It noted that the agenda for the COFCOR meeting had also included “issues of particular importance to the interests of the community such as climate change and the related preparations and coordination of positions for the forthcoming COP26 Summit in Scotland in November of this year.

“Attention was also paid to the economic and public health concerns related to COVID-19. The accent was placed on financing for development issues including access to concessional financing to facilitate the recovery of the debilitated community economies,” the statement said without elaborating.

The foreign ministers also discussed “vaccine discrimination” with the statement noting that “the acceptance by developed countries of only a narrow range of vaccines, limits the travel possibilities of the nationals of countries that have used other types of vaccines”.

The regional foreign ministers further discussed their preparation for the upcoming Sixth Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), due to take place in Mexico on Saturday.

The issue of the leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat was also included on the agenda. At their last summit, Caricom leaders had expressed support for the incumbent Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland for a second term.

However, earlier this year, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Keneyatta was reported to have written regional leaders seeking their support for a new candidate being proposed by Kenya.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organisation of American States (OAS), Sir Ronald Sanders, writing in his widely circulated weekly column, said Kenyatta had nominated his Cabinet Secretary for Defence, Monica Juma, for the post of Commonwealth secretary-general.

“The Kenyan nomination suggests that African nations still believe that the Commonwealth remains potentially relevant to its 54 member states and the international community, despite the fact that it has lost the radical voice for which it became known and respected in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s,” Sir Ronald wrote in his column, which he termed as his personal view and not that of the Antigua and Barbuda government, whose Prime Minister Gaston Browne now chairs the Caricom grouping.

“In nominating Monica Juma for the post of Commonwealth secretary-general, President Uhuru voiced his dissatisfaction with the Commonwealth Secretariat’s recent performance by saying: “The success of our organisation lies in its ability to effectively address the needs of the member states, shape the collective agenda and implement its decisions for the realisation of our common aspirations. All these require steadfast leadership at the Secretariat to deliver a dynamic and influential Commonwealth,” Sir Ronald wrote.

Scotland is also facing opposition for a second term with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is the current “chair-in-office” for the Commonwealth, indicating in 2020 that he hoped the heads of government can instead agree just to extend Scotland’s contract temporarily until they meet in 2021.

The 54 heads of government had expected to decide Scotland’s future at their big biennial summit — known as CHOGM — in Rwanda in June last year, but the meeting was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new date had been set for June 21, 2021, in Rwanda but was again postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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