Ladies and gentleman,
On the occasion of three very important European Union (EU) related meetings which will take place here in the BVI next week.
I would like to update you on my Government’s involvement and our plans as we welcome to the BVI senior European Union officials; high-level representatives from Britain, France, Netherlands and Denmark; and the Political Leaders and their delegations from the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) located around the world
The European Union is not new to the BVI. We have been partners for some time now.
The BVI is currently the Co-Chair with the European Commission (Commission) of the Financial Services Partnership Working Party (PWP) in Brussels which is a framework established to provide for discussions between the member states, European commission and OCTs on financial services matters.
The BVI also manages an EU funded project for small and medium sized enterprise on behalf of all Caribbean Overseas territories, which is focused on capacity building within the small business sector and which we expect will benefit our local small business sector and those in all participating Caribbean OCTs.
In the past, BVI has also benefitted here in the territory from cooperation with the EU that supported construction of the HLSCC Culinary Arts Centre, which supports culinary and hospitality training of students locally and from the region; HLSCC Library and Resource Centre, Eileen Parsons Auditorium, which has supported student development and research and the preforming arts; and the newly built Sage Mountain Visitors Centre.
On balance our relationship with the Union remains strong.
After taking office in November 2011, my Government continued BVI’s partnership with the EU by playing a lead role in the negotiations on a new partnership between the territories and the Union.
These negotiations culminated in the EU’s adoption of the Overseas Association Decision (OAD) that came into force on 1 January 2014.
The OAD sets out a wide range of areas for cooperation in trade, environment and development between the EU and the territories.
The new agreement opens the door for further cooperation from which we can benefit. It was against this backdrop that I assumed the role of Chairman of OCTA and became host of the meetings I will discuss today.
As Chairman my objective has been to ensure a smooth beginning of the process of implementation of the Overseas Association Decision between the OCTs and the EU that will run from 2014 – 2020.
Implementation has begun in earnest with regard to identifying and agreeing on projects and progammes of importance to the territories.
These will hopefully begin by the end of the year and continue to a successful conclusion.
As Chairman, I also made it my goal to strengthen the position of the territories within the European Union and also with other international partners.
The BVI has significantly raised the profile of the territories in the EU under my chairmanship.
From the outset, I delivered a speech at the European Parliament where I highlighted the strategic value of the territories in the European context and the importance of the EU’s engagement on key issues.
My Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Honourable Kedrick Pickering, represented me also in the European Parliament where he delivered a speech on the value of the territories’ biodiversity in a global context.
With regard to trade, I importantly initiated a dialogue with the incoming Secretary General of the well-known ACP Secretariat in Brussels that is the main international negotiating body for Africa, Caribbean and Pacifica states in trade agreements with the EU.
I have sought to have territories included for their benefit in trade arrangements between the EU and these parties; and this process is now moving forward.
In the area of climate change, the BVI was a co-organiser of the historic Guadeloupe International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change, alongside OCTA, the Regional Council of Guadeloupe, the European Commission, French Government and United Nations CBD Secretariat.
As OCTA Chairman, I supported the drive to place a stronger international focus on Overseas Countries and Territories and Outermost Regions to tackle their challenges in the areas of climate change and biodiversity.
I underlined this in my speech at the opening of the meeting in Guadeloupe.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour, led by the Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, played a critical role in the success of the meeting and representation of the BVI and OCTA throughout.
Finally, the BVI took its message of the strategic value and importance of territories to one of the highest international forums in 2015: the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa, where he called the international community’s attention to the success of the BVI and other territories in advancing sustainable development
The EU meetings in our territory next week are the culmination of all of this hard work over the past months.
They are special in that never before has a Caribbean territory played such a central role in hosting EU activities of this magnitude.
I will Co-Chair with the European Commission a Caribbean Regional Conference for Overseas Countries and Territories involving a number of partners that will focus on how the Caribbean’s territories; independent states; and islands and coastal areas that are integral parts of France, can better work together to achieve sustainable development.
There are a number of important areas for cooperation such as renewable energy, waste management, sustainable tourism, biodiversity and climate change that are key areas of cooperation.
I will also Chair the OCTA Ministerial Conference where the Heads of Government and Political Leaders of the territories will engage in a range of discussions, including on my theme, “Unlocking the value of the OCTs: Sustainable development through innovation, competitiveness and green growth”.
An important item on the agenda is the future of the Overseas Countries and Territories in the EU as Europe and the rest of the world grapple with the economic, political and environmental challenges of our day. As a group of territories we must think carefully about how we position ourselves to secure our partnerships with the EU, even under the stress of great change.
Finally, I will attend the 13th OCT-EU Forum which is the main vehicle for political dialogue between the EU and the territories. This will take place at the highest political level.
Ladies and gentleman, for the first time, a European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, currently Mr. Neven Mimica, one of the most senior EU officials, along with his team, will participate in roundtable discussions with the Heads of Government and Political Leaders of the territories.
Together we will consider how the EU and territories can partner to create centres of excellence and regional hubs and sustainably use our natural resources.
I will chair one of the two roundtables on the theme “Unlocking the potential of the OCTs”.
Ladies and gentleman, the EU remains a key international partner for the British Virgin Islands. Our engagement over the past year with the EU on behalf of the territories has displayed our international leadership and ability to advance the international agenda in strategic areas.
We have enhanced our reputation with the EU in a way that positions us to be a hub for EU activities in the region.
As I meet international leaders next week I will keep the interests of the BVI and the territories in the forefront of my agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen, beyond all this, this conference is a very important and special occasion of the BVI. It marks yet again my government’s commitment and initiative to move the Territory into new spheres such as conference hosting, which will benefit the Territory economically.
I want to call on all residents to join with us in welcoming our visiting friends and to join us at our exhibition at Maria’s By the Sea Hotel on Wednesday, February 25 and Thursday, February 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. each day, where we will feature displays from the Virgin Islands and other Overseas Territories.