Later this week I will visit the Caribbean for the first time as British Foreign Secretary, to lead one of the strongest ever delegations of UK Ministers and senior officials to attend the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum.
This is both a sign of the strength the UK attaches to our enduring friendship with the Caribbean, and of our desire to use the Forum to mark a step change in our relationship. We believe this will herald a transition to a more modern, dynamic and forward looking affiliation.
This certainly does not mean that I want to throw away all of the strong bonds that tie the UK and the region together. These are deep and enduring and are reflected in all walks of life, from music to food, sport to prominent international figures. We in the UK value these ties highly.
But at the same time I believe that our relationship in recent years has been too backward-looking and less equal than it should be for the twenty-first century. There is no need for this, as there are many areas where our interests, values and views coincide, where our people, companies and NGOs interact and where we work together in partnership to tackle the scourge of drugs and crime.
We know what the relationship used to be, we have a feel for what it is now, but this Forum is all about determining what that relationship will be for the future.
So what should a modern UK-Caribbean relationship look like? I believe it should be built around the following three principles:
Firstly, it should be a modern partnership: a relationship of equals that sets the right tone for the twenty-first century. This should take the best from our shared history and culture and focus on working together to shape the global agenda to our mutual benefit.
We already do this on climate change - where we worked together successfully at Durban - and the Commonwealth - where we achieved a successful CHOGM in Perth last autumn. But we should look to take this further and cooperate more closely on some of the big international issues, such tackling Iran’s nuclear threat.
Secondly we need a dynamic partnership that delivers real benefits for our citizens. This means continuing and strengthening our efforts to make our streets safer by tackling the problems of drug and violent crime that blight all of our communities. It also means sharing ideas about how we can make our economies resilient to global shocks and create jobs for our young people. Our new DfID programme of £75 million over four years is focusing on these issues. And it is imperative that the agreements we come to this weekend result in a brighter future for the next generation.
Finally, the UK’s relationship with the Caribbean should be a broad-based partnership that involves business, civil society and ordinary people. That is why I am so pleased that we are starting the Forum with a meeting of UK and Caribbean companies.
The private sector is the engine of growth for our economies, so it is right that they frame the questions that we politicians will discuss. The UK is a major investor in the Caribbean. BG has recently made a large investment in Trinidad & Tobago, and Pinewood Studios are building a state of the art film studio in the Dominican Republic with local partners Grupo Vinci.
There are however more business opportunities available, which is why I am being accompanied by Nick Baird, Chief Executive of UK Trade & Investment, and will lead a discussion with a range of UK and Caribbean businesses at the Forum.
This year also provides an unprecedented opportunity for peoples of the UK and Caribbean to come together - in marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago celebrating fifty years of independence, and in cheering on our athletes at the London 2012 Olympics.
I look forward to discussing these issues, as well as our full range of national and international interests at the Forum this weekend. This is an invaluable opportunity for the UK to work with its partners in the Caribbean for a strong, equal and prosperous partnership based on shared ideals and mutual understanding.