Calls for U.S. to consider allowing  CARICOM to purchase vaccines through US purchasing arrangements

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Dear Editor:

Caribbean American Legislative Week wrapped up yesterday (Saturday) with a number of critical announcements and recommendations which serve to reinforce the CARICOM/United States partnership under the Biden/Harris Administration.

Before getting into details about the week’s deliberations I would like to highlight and commend the level of Guyanese participation in this year’s deliberations which were held virtually. The deliberations were officially declared open by Ambassador George Talbot of Guyana on behalf of Foreign Minister Hugh Todd and benefitted from comprehensive contributions during the week from Education Minister Priya Manickchand, former ministers Carl Greenidge and Dr. Richard Van West Charles, National Security Adviser Gerry Gouveia, Professor Edward Greene, Dr. Troy Thomas, Dr. Vincent Adams, Ramesh Dookhoo, Rishma Eckert and Desmond Sears, among others. Oh for the brain power of our dear land of Guyana!

By way of background Caribbean American Legislative Week is one component of Caribbean American Heritage Month which is celebrated each June in the United States and is organized by the Washington, DC based Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS). For more than two decades Caribbean American Legislative Week has served as a forum to advance recommendations on, and concerns about US/Caribbean relations. Prior to COVID-19 these deliberations were held on Capitol Hill, the White House, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS).

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In the interest of brevity in this letter I will focus  only on the US/Caribbean Diplomacy Agenda component of the deliberations which I had the honor to chair on the opening day of the week’s engagements. The United States, through its representative Mr. Pedro Martin, acting director of the Office on Caribbean Affairs at the US State Department delivered a comprehensive report on the ongoing and new initiatives being taken by the Biden Administration to reinforce the US/Caribbean partnership.

First, Martin announced that a total of 20 million vaccines would be made available to the Caribbean and Latin America by the end of June. He also disclosed the possibility of  Caribbean countries receiving additional vaccines from an allocation of 500 million which are to be donated by the United States  to 92 low and middle income countries, as well as from another program geared to assist small island states in the Caribbean, Pacific and North Atlantic.

In a later panel on the diplomacy platform, Guyana’s former health minister Dr. Richard Van West Charles requested the US to consider allowing the CARICOM region to purchase vaccines through US purchasing arrangements, in the event the donations do not satisfy the needs of the region. He said purchase through the US would provide for lower purchase prices due to volume and ensure the effectiveness of the vaccines acquired.

Noting the sharp decreases in revenue experienced by CARICOM countries as a result of the pandemic and its devastating impact on their economies, Martin disclosed a menu of initiatives being developed under the US 20/20 Enhanced Strategy for Development in the Caribbean which include collaboration in areas such as health, education, disaster preparedness and resilience and public safety and security.

In declaring the deliberations open Ambassador George Talbot, Guyana’s top envoy to CARICOM and director of the Division of the Americas in the Foreign Ministry, praised the ongoing level of the US/Caribbean partnership while advancing recommendations for reinforcing the relationship. He thanked the US for the announced donations of vaccines noting that the Americas, including the United States, with 13 per cent of the world’s population has accounted for 40 per cent of the pandemic’s cases and 48 per cent of deaths, globally. These statistics he pointed out highlight the need for equitable and efficient vaccine distribution and urged the US to encourage the G7 countries to implement commitments given regarding vaccine distribution.

Pointing to the devastating impact of the pandemic on the CARICOM member states, Talbot said that debt to GDP ratios in the region have gone up significantly with financing gaps nearing four billion US dollars annually. He made a case for increased attention to be paid by the international community to the region’s external debt which has been compounded by the pandemic. He urged Caribbean diaspora organizations to assist in helping to bring this issue to the attention of the relevant agencies and international financial institutions.

Also impacted by the pandemic is the issue of food security, a recent survey in CARICOM revealing that 2.7 million people in the region are food insecure since COVID-19, compared to 1.7 million in 2020, a 58 per cent increase which impacts 15 per cent of CARICOM’s population.Talbot urged that the US government seeks to encourage heightened US private sector investment in agriculture in the region.

Critical to strengthening the US/Caribbean partnership is assistance with digital transformation, which Talbot disclosed forms part of a CARICOM economic report entitled Speeding Up the Economy 9.58, taken from Usain Bolt’s world record. He said the report points out that digital transformation goes beyond technology and includes training, upscaling and modern digital regulations.

Editor, thank you for affording me the space in your letter column to inform readers about just aspect of last week’s deliberations.

Sincerely,
Wesley Kirton



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