Opening Remarks of External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar at 4th CARICOM-India Ministerial Meeting in Guyana
April 22, 2023
Thank you Ministers,
Let me begin by saying it’s a really great pleasure to be here. This is my first visit to Guyana. It’s my first visit to the Secretariat. And I am really looking forward to a very open and productive exchange of views on how we can take our relationship forward. First of all I must acknowledge and appreciate that all of you have made this effort to come here at very short notice. I am truly grateful to you for that because I know that you would have put yourself at some inconvenience. But I assure you that, you know, it will be worth our collective while because it will give us a chance at a very important juncture to see how we look at our relationship with a greater sense of purpose.
As a broad point, I think it’s very….all of us know, that there is much that history and geography in a way has done to bind us together. Certainly, yet if there is a lack of bond, cricket makes up for it and I assure you that if you schedule the next meeting in this part of the world next year when the World Cup is on, I promise I will come. The only problem is a lot of other Indians would follow as well. But more seriously, I think today we face similar challenges, similar aspirations, questions of prosperity, of reduction of poverty, quality of life. And if one looks especially in the last five years the COVID experience, the increasing intensity and frequency of climate events, the debt and many stress situations that many of us find ourselves in. And I would say food and energy, security concerns, these are really pressing issues where it is important for us to sit down and discuss. And to do so because, this year we have the privilege of chairing the G-20 and my Prime Minister is very clear that we will be there not just for ourselves but also for the countries, who are not on the G-20 table. Therefore we did a round of consultation from what we call the Voice of Global South process; many of you participated in it, we are very grateful for that. So as I said this is really a time when we should really be looking at Global problems and our own problems and seeing how we can find a solution together. Now there are obviously some process issues and I would like to confirm that we would like to hold the Joint Commission sometime this year; we seek your convenience in this regard, we are very flexible there. And when I look at the relationship itself, I think we rightly focus on capacity building, on development cooperation and where we can be of help on disaster management and the resilience.
Now in the last four years since we had a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and many of your leaders in 2019, the window, the UNDP India window, which we opened up in 2017, has yielded a number of projects. We have agreed on 23 projects so far. I believe 10 of them are done, some of them have been done through a CARICOM window, some of them through a commonwealth window, some through a broader developing country window. But I would leave the thought with you that, this is something we need to perhaps take forward with vigour.
In the same way, today I would like to put forward for your collective consideration, a proposal, whether in the field of small and medium scale industry, small and medium enterprises. We would be open to supporting on a grant basis; projects, individual projects of up to a value of a million dollars and we would solicit proposals from you. What we would like to do is to create a partner group in India which will be from our small and medium enterprises, the Foreign Ministry fronting. And see whether, you know, our capability which will include the supply of machinery, of technology, of training, whether if we can get really viable project or offers from your side; we would be very, very happy to look at that. I know for some years now we’ve had discussions on working together in agriculture. We actually have an MOU between the Caribbean Agriculture Research Institute and our counterpart in India. It has not been operationalized for some reason; I do think it might be in our mutual interest to do so.
The COVID brought out the importance, the growing importance of health security. What is it we could be doing more, you know, again….we have a global, I would say initiative, really at….it’s a domestic initiative which we have tried. We are taking on the global stage, which is really how to put generics, cost effective generics, which would hugely benefit low-income consumers, you know, whether that is something we can be doing. We in fact today with our colleagues from Guyana…..not today, tomorrow at the business conference, we have a presentation. I would hope that the same presentation, I would request my colleagues to send to your respective countries, so that our Ambassadors can sit and walk you through it. If you feel that is of interest, the idea of really creating a system for low-cost generics, to be available to your people is something we can look at, we would obviously like to create a regional hub and that to happen as well. And I should add that, you know, most of these would come, not most of these, all of these would come really from USFDA approved plants of which currently we have about 600 of them in India.
Moving on, a related point on wellness, you know, there has been a lot of interest in Yoga. With the support of all of you, we started an International Day of Yoga in 2015 and it’s been spectacularly successful. But we are increasingly seeing post-COVID, tourism benefit which flows out of it; there is a lot of wellness tourism which is happening in the world. So in the case of Yoga too, if there is some way by which we can purpose it towards a much more deeper acceptance for your tourism industry, that is something we would be keen to do. I would like to draw to your attention that the WHO has actually approved the creation of the first traditional medicine center, the Global Center in India. So work is going on that as we speak, obviously a lot of it is Indian, but we are very open to soliciting traditional practices from every other part of the world.
Energy, renewable energy particularly, is our collective interest. Many of you are members of the International Solar Alliance. I think 13 members are there from the CARICOM. I believe it’s been of some help in capacity building, in some cases even a funding. I’ll be again open to taking that help. Regarding capacity building as a whole, we have for many years now, under what we call, the ITEC programs. We offer programs, exchanges, scholarships, but quite honestly the offtake has not been as strong as we would have liked. So looking at it, very honest, my suggestion which I would like you to consider is; whether instead of our inviting you to participate in a general course, which we are doing globally for everybody, can we actually take domains or area specific areas which are of specific interest to the CARICOM. And we are prepared to customize programs in whatever area, which are completely dedicated only to the requirements of CARICOM officials or users as the case maybe.
Finally, I want to stress the importance of people-to-people relations, culture. Just want to underline that, you know, many of you are marking important anniversaries this year, next year, including, my congratulations on 50 years of CARICOM. And if there is any way we can be culturally contributed, please feel free to let us know. We will consider it a privilege in some way to be associated with, you know, whatever you do.
So once again really very, very sincere thanks today for assembling here, for encouraging me to come. And I hope, as I said that, this would be only the first of my visits.