Premier Andrew Fahie explains why the Virgin Islands wanted to be the first Eastern Caribbean country to sign on with a United Nations framework meant to unite the efforts of its various agencies and programmes to further regional development. (Screenshot: GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS)

The Virgin Islands became the first entity in the Eastern Caribbean to join a new United Nations effort to facilitate sustainable regional development when Premier Andrew Fahie signed a framework on Friday during a virtual meeting with UN and VI representatives.

The agreement will last through 2026 and focuses largely on assisting countries and territories with their recovery from the pandemic.

The initiative follows a similar five-year agreement put in place in 2017.

Didier Trebucq, UN resident coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said Friday that the signing was timely as it fell on Human Rights Day.

“We really see this cooperation framework as primarily a commitment to truly leave no one behind,” he added.

The central development framework is designed to help UN agencies and programmes pool different resources to meet the shared goals of Caribbean governments, according to the UN.

Consultations

Mr. Trebucq said consultations among key stakeholders took about a year, and they were pleased to end up with a clear roadmap for how the UN can best support countries with their development priorities.

In particular, he said the UN hopes to speed up a steady recovery from the pandemic’s socioeconomic effects in the region.

He thanked the VI for its contributions to the framework, especially Special Envoy of the Premier Benito Wheatley.

Mr. Trebucq added that the collaboration is perhaps one of the most significant in recent history for the region, given that there is no clear end to the pandemic in sight, climate change poses an existential threat to many island nations, and debt continues to climb for many.

“All combined, it can really erode hard-earned gains and limit governments’ responses,” he said. “The way we see it, it provides a renewed focus from the United Nations to step up our effort to support Caribbean seats to weather the storm and build further resilience.”

Leaders identified four priorities: increasing economic support, particularly for businesses’ international competitiveness; improving the wellbeing of citizens and creating policy to elimination discrimination and structural inequalities; enhancing countries’ ability to respond to climate change issues; and ensuring citizens have adequate access to justice expected in any peaceful society.

In the coming weeks, stakeholders will create their initial two-year implementation plans.

Stakeholder input

Before the signing, Mr. Fahie said stakeholder countries and territories gave extensive input on the document and likewise thanked the UN team for working hard to ensure their voices were captured in the final agreement.

“As we all know, the Caribbean is at a critical stage where the global pandemic has increased our vulnerability as a group in our small island developing states and low-lying coastal countries,” he said. “The now-fast-spreading omicron variant also reminds us that we are not out of the woods yet. … Without a doubt, we need the support of the UN now more than ever.”

A big focus for the VI in particular is implementing a new national sustainable development plan, and Mr. Fahie said he welcomes the UN’s support. An “advanced draft” has been prepared based on feedback from community members, he added.

Grateful for support

The premier said the territory is grateful for this pledge of support, especially given the VI’s difficulties in qualifying for development assistance.

He also looked forward to the opening of a satellite resident coordinator office in the territory next year that he said will help with the cooperation.

Mr. Wheatley added that the VI plans to set up its own human rights commission next year.

Mr. Fahie invited members for an in-person forum on sustainable development between the VI and UN in the first half of 2022, for which Mr. Trebucq said they would make plans.


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