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Central American Forum 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meg Munn, Minister with responsibility for Central America, spoke at a reception at Lancaster House to mark the opening of the Central American Forum 2007. The Forum is intended to promote democracy, regional integration, good governance and economic growth within the region. It will be held at Canning House and runs from Monday 12th to Thursday 15th November. For information about Canning House visit: http://www.canninghouse.com/content/


Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen


Buenas tardes señores y señoras. Para empezar, quiero decir que es un gran placer estar aqui, y que estoy feliz a dar la bienvenida a todos, al comienzo del Foro CentroAmericano en asociación con Canning House.


I hope the pronunciation wasn’t too bad – I’ve only recently started learning Spanish and needed some help with that! When the Prime Minister rang to ask me to join the Foreign Office he said that my languages would come in useful. I was delighted to discover that more than one of the Central American Ambassadors speak German – I’m not sure that’s what he was thinking of!


I want to extend a special welcome to those who have travelled from the region to take part in the Central American Forum. Also to those perhaps travelling not so far, but also making important contributions at the event.


As I’m relatively new to my role as Minister for Central America I’ve yet to visit the entire region. But the contacts I have made suggest that links between our countries are strong. One of my priorities is to make these relationships even more productive by further developing areas of mutual interest and importance.


In the short while in post I have been able to visit Mexico and Panama, as part of my first overseas visit as a Foreign Office Minister. In Mexico I was able to have useful exchanges on climate change, sustainable development, trade and investment and human rights. I also had an opportunity to see Cancún, a favourite location for British tourists.


In Panama, I met with the team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by Vice Foreign Minister Duran. I also made useful contact with the President of the Supreme Court, Graciela Dixon, and the Vice Minister of Commerce, Carmen Gisela Vergara.


Visiting the Panama Canal was an experience I shall remember. The authorities let me loose on the controls of the lock gates for a short period, but you will be relieved to know I did not sink a single ship!


It was very interesting to be briefed by Alberto Aleman on the plans for the canal’s enlargement, and to visit the location for a $405million development project which the  UK company ‘London and Regional Properties’ is shortly to undertake. These are huge construction projects that should bring many benefits to the region as a whole. 


These visits were extremely worthwhile and I was made to feel most welcome. I look forward to visiting other countries and getting a greater feel for the whole region.


The Central America Forum has a fascinatingly diverse programme featuring talks on business, politics, literature and tourism, as well as musical and film events. These topics are an excellent reflection of the rich contribution that Central America makes to the international community. Our thanks to Canning House for hosting such a splendid range of events, and to the sponsors for their input and help to make it all happen.


It was interesting to see that today’s first session centred on Central American integration. I understand there were important contributions from representatives of SICA, including Sr. Rubén Omar Orozco, Director of International Aid & Development, and Sr. Julio Guillermo González, President of the Central American Parliament.


Negotiations will begin shortly for an Association Agreement between the EU and the majority of SICA’s members. I understand that Belize and the Dominican Republic are negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement as part of Cariforum. In addition I know that all SICA members - except Panama and Belize – have been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. I’m hopeful that these agreements can be swiftly and successfully negotiated as I’m sure that they will benefit all involved.


I’m pleased that during the Forum you’ll have the chance to hear some expert opinion on the subject of Climate Change. Tackling Climate Change is one of the key global issues that the UK wants to see at the forefront of the international agenda.


It is increasingly accepted that if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, hundreds of millions of people across the world could be affected by hunger, disease, water shortages, environmental degradation and coastal flooding. Climate change on this scale will bring substantial risks of instability – affecting us all. 


Your region has direct experience of this having been hit by two category 5 hurricanes this season. In August Hurricane Dean passed through the Caribbean, Mexico and Belize, causing severe damage. I know from the time I spent in Jamaica in September, following Hurricane Dean, that even when loss of life is small, the impact on agriculture, businesses and homes can be long lasting.


Dean was followed by Hurricane Felix, causing devastation to the Atlantic Coast of Central America, and in particular the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. Most recently, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have suffered the effects of tropical storm Noel and torrential rain in Tabasco State Mexico has caused devastation. Our sympathies are with all those who lost loved ones and whose families and livelihoods have been affected by the storms.


I’m pleased that the UK was able to provide direct assistance to aid relief efforts in the Dominican Republic. We deployed a Royal Navy vessel and helicopter, able to bring relief supplies to areas that had been cut off. We are also helping Mexico, contributing to relief efforts in Tabasco through the International Red Cross.


But we must also look to the longer term. The international community has to agree a series of measures which will tackle the problem. Climate change truly is a global problem – there will be no geographical regions and no sectors of society immune from its effects.


A number of the organisations supporting the Forum are global brands, and reap the benefits that globalisation brings. But I think that it’s encouraging that they are helping to support a Forum which doesn’t shy away from addressing challenging consequences of globalisation on the world’s weather.


Developed countries must take the lead by agreeing deeper, binding emission reductions. We have to tackle various concerns of course - concerns about economic competitiveness and the right of every nation to pursue sustainable economic growth. But the difficulties must be balanced against the extent of the problem.


We have to find a global solution in Bali in December to achieve our common goals by signing up to a package of financial and practical commitments. We must ensure that we each make a fair contribution to what is our mutual responsibility to act to protect our fragile planet. 


There is scope for us to work together on this, and we already have projects in the pipeline. The UK will be financing a project to establish what impact climate change will have on Central America and identify ways to prepare for and reduce potential damage. This project will be getting under way shortly and I look forward to its initial findings being passed on to the Central American Presidents when they meet at their Climate Change Summit in San Pedro Sula next year.


I look forward to learning more about each of your countries during the course of my term as Minister, and working with you all on specific objectives of common interest. 

All that remains is for me to thank you for being here tonight, to wish you a successful Forum and a pleasant evening. 

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