Intervention By Premier Dr. The Honourable D. Orlando Smith, Obe Minister Of Finance On The Occasion Of The 11th Overseas Countries And Terriories Of The European Union (OCT-EU) Forum Ilulissat, Greenland

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Intervention By Premier Dr. The Honourable D. Orlando Smith, Obe Minister Of Finance On The Occasion Of The 11th Overseas Countries And Terriories Of The European Union (OCT-EU) Forum Ilulissat, Greenland
Intervention By Premier Dr. The Honourable D. Orlando Smith, Obe Minister Of Finance On The Occasion Of The 11th Overseas Countries And Terriories Of The European Union (OCT-EU) Forum Ilulissat, Greenland

ROAD TOWN, Tortola (GIS) — Mr. Chairman , Fellow Heads of Government, Ministers, Member of the European Parliament Mr. Maurice Ponga, Representative of the Cyprus Presidency of the European Union (EU Heads of Delegations), European Commission (Commission) officials, Greenlandic officials, delegates and other invited guests, a pleasant good morning.

It gives me great pleasure to deliver this intervention on behalf of the Government and people of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as the revision of the Overseas Association Decision (OAD) enters its final phase.

Let me first thank Premier Kuupik Kleist and the Greenlandic Government for the generous hospitality we have received thus far here in Ilulissat. Greenland is a most beautiful country and boasts one of the most striking environments I have ever seen.

I would also like to thank the Commission for the invitation to attend this year’s forum and for your efforts to sustain dialogue and develop a partnership with the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs).

My Government recognises and appreciates the complex fiscal and economic challenges currently being faced by the EU. However, we continue to view the EU as an important partner in our development and indeed we have benefited in recent years from the European Development Fund (EDF). We are grateful for this support and hope to continue benefitting from regional and other programmes to which the BVI is eligible.

At the top of my Government’s EU agenda is the draft legislative proposal for a revised OAD that has been passed on to the European Council (Council) for consideration. I would like to commend the Commission for its thoroughness in preparing the proposal and for your efforts to engage OCTs at various phases of the revision, albeit imperfectly.

Tripartite meetings, Partnership Working Parties (PWPs), and various communications, including the Joint Position Paper (JPP), were important outlets for updates and feedback on the documents progression.

The proposal is certainly an improvement upon the existing OAD as it adds a new chapter on the Environment that includes related sections on biodiversity, climate change, disaster risk reduction and renewable energy. It also expands cooperation on trade to include Trade in Services. We welcome both additions, among other things.

We also welcome the proposed shift in the balance of EDF funding from the territorial to regional envelope. However, we remain of the view that the eligibility criteria for territorial funding should be revised, including replacing its key criterion, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, with Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, which provides a more accurate measure of OCTs’ economic development. We also believe that the EU should consider the development of a Vulnerability Index that can measure OCTs vulnerability and be used to assess their developmental needs and eligibility for EDF funds. Both recommendations are supported by the EU’s OCT Statistical Systems report published in late 2011.

The OCTs themselves must also strive to develop the capacity to provide accurate statistical data to support the implementation of these recommendations. I believe this reinforces the importance of the EU partnering with the OCTs to improve our statistical systems to bring them up to international standards.

I am well aware that in the past OCTs, and in particular British OCTs, have not taken complete advantage of the OAD’s trade and other provisions, but our interest in EU technical assistance for trade development in particular has risen in response to a recognition by OCTs of their need for economic diversification in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

We believe that our development is primarily our own responsibility and must be driven by our desire for sustainable growth. At the same time, we do require support in key areas that will enable us to meet the challenge of economic and social advancement.

My Government also welcomes the draft proposals implicit support for greater OCT access to EU horizontal programmes such as the BEST scheme. Already our environment Ministry has applied for BEST funding to support our hosting of the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI) in 2013 aimed at helping our region preserve our marine and coastal resources. Our only recommendation is that the EU take steps to help OCTs set up proper access and benefit sharing schemes (ABS) to ensure the protection of their environmental assets when partnering with non-profit organisations (NGOs) and foreign institutions.

While we are grateful for the many new proposed provisions and improvements for a revised OAD, my Government is unclear about a reference to “convergence of legislation” related to financial services between the EU and OCTs in a newly added chapter on Financial Services. This language is inconsistent and not in keeping with the text agreed between the Member States (MS) and OCTs in the Joint Position Paper (JPP) signed in New Caledonia in 2011. The JPP appropriately called for recognition of OCTs’ regulatory achievements in the area of financial services, as opposed to convergence of legislation between the OCTs and EU.

My Government’s second concern is related to a sustainable development provision that provides OCTs with financial assistance in the event of fluctuations in export earnings that affects their financial position. The provision, however, only covers earnings generated by traditional export sectors and excludes services earnings.

We firmly believe that the proposed financial assistance should also cover tourism related services and others. In the BVI tourism is one of our main economic drivers and one of our primary services exports. However, the past four years where earnings have fluctuated as a result of the global financial crisis demonstrates the vulnerability of this sector of the economy to external shocks.

My Government is of the view that whether an OCT’s export earnings are generated from goods or services, the key consideration should be their economic vulnerability. We believe, therefore, that favourable consideration of exports should be expanded to include services in order to help support those OCTs’ whose exports are services-driven, should they require it.

Our final concern is a general one that regards the simplification of the administrative procedures associated with EU funding programmes. Meeting the related administrative requirements is an increasingly burdensome task as we deepen our engagement and programming with the EU. We have limited human and other resources with which to do so.

The OCTA Bureau’s operationalisation will be a welcome development and provide OCTs with additional administrative support. Nevertheless, my Government would welcome the simplification of the various procedures, where feasible, to ensure that accessing technical assistance is as efficient as possible.

My Government will continue working with our Member State on examining the earlier mentioned issues in the hopes of sensitising the Council to our concerns. I am also encouraged by the presence of the EU’s Cyprus Presidency here today.

Before I close I would like to mention that as the Deputy Regional Authorising Officer (DRAO) for the Caribbean, the BVI is working diligently to move toward implementation of the Small and Medium Enterprise project (SME project) that will benefit all participating Caribbean OCTs. Our goal is to strengthen the region’s SME sector that will position us to take advantage of existing and emerging opportunities in our own markets, as well as enable closer trade links and cooperation with our ACP neighbours, to our mutual benefit.

My Government is also eagerly awaiting the launch of the Territorial Strategies for Innovation (TSI) project, which we believe can also help boost our region’s global competitiveness.

Mr. Chairman I thank you and yield the floor