Ladies and Gentlemen,
I bring you warm greetings from Sint Maarten. It is truly good to see and welcome all of you for this reception. And particularly, to see several persons and representatives of organizations who, over the years, have been positive partners of Sint Maarten.
This evening I shall, in keeping with the theme, share some remarks with you on building partnerships of cooperation for socio-economic sustainability.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A brief survey of some of the defining characteristics of Sint Maarten show, that the people of Sint Maarten have a long history of collaboration and partnership. Partnership is etched in our DNA.
1. Sint Maarten is the southern part of the smallest island in the world shared by two nations. We share our 37 square miles (around 87 square kilometers) Caribbean island with our brothers of the Northern side based on the principles of cooperation and solidarity.
2. As the southern side of the island, Sint Maarten is one of the four (4) countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands built on the ideals of autonomy, democracy and solidarity.
3. The people of Sint Maarten have a long tradition of regional and international orientation. A tradition which in our interaction with others has earned us our reputation and name as “The Friendly Island”.
4. And as the home of about 50 thousand residents with over 100 nationalities, Sint Maarten has a highly diverse, dynamic and multicultural population. In that regard Sint Maarten despite its small size has the makings of a cosmopolitan island.
Sint Maarten is, as such, a small island state, that forms an integral part of a shared Caribbean island, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and part of the increasingly interdependent and inter-connected Global community.
Anchored in its geographic and constitutional context, blessed with its natural beauty, fueled by its hardworking people and thanks to effective partnerships between government, business, civil society and an attractive investment climate, Sint Maarten has built a vibrant tourism-based economy.
Over the years, the island has grown into the preferred vacation destination for some 2 million stayover and cruise visitors a year, from all parts of the world. As a result, the island’s per capita income amounted to some USD.26,000 in 2016. That is one of the highest in the region.
This provides a good insight into the island’s potential, but does not say anything about its socio-economic challenges.
Speaking of challenges, it is common knowledge that small island states, like Sint Maarten, are more vulnerable to external global developments. And it is no secret that our Global Community faces a variety of global challenges, such as:
• illegal trafficking of goods and persons,
• money laundering, and
• climate change
to name a few.
These global challenges have translated in real threats for the financial systems and social economic sustainability of small island states like Sint Maarten. This through, among others, de-risking by international correspondent banks and an increase in the strength of hurricanes.
As most of you are aware, hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, devasted Sint Maarten in 2017, resulting in an estimated damage of USD.2.3 billion to the island’s socio-economic infrastructure. As a result of the effects of hurricane Irma, the economy is estimated to have contracted by 8.5% in 2018 following a decline of some 4.5% in 2017. As a result, unemployment has increased to 9.2% and government revenues have declined leading to a budget deficit of USD.80 million (NAf.144 million) in 2018 and USD.37 million (NAf.67.2 million) in 2019.
It is, in the face of these challenges, therefore worth stepping back for a while to assess what we need to do to address these challenges and create new opportunities.
As Sint Maarteners, our people have and continue to travel to The Netherlands, the US and other countries to visit as tourists, to live as students or to work. At the same time Sint Maarten has and continues to welcome many citizens of your countries each year as tourists. It also serves as a home away from home for many of your citizens who reside, work and do business on our island.
These contacts play an important role in building expertise, mutual respect and understanding and as a result shared values and ideals. This is especially important in building societies on shared principles of democracy, equality, the rule of law, peaceful co-existence and international solidarity.
It is, in other words, essential for the building and maintaining of strong sustainable communities in which our citizens can live safe, free and in prosperity. For Sint Maarten, this is particularly important for the growth and sustainability of our people driven tourist economy.
Securing these shared values is therefore essential to us as a people. Cognizant that we cannot secure these values alone, I believe that it is in our mutual benefit to build partnerships of cooperation.
Sint Maarten is, in that regard, working in cooperation with the Netherlands, to recover from the devastating impact of hurricane Irma and to build resilience for a sustainable future. It is doing so via the Trust Fund of €470 million established by the Netherlands at the World Bank.
As representatives of international organizations, as ambassadors, consuls and other officials representing your countries, and as business representatives, present here this evening, I also invite you to partner or facilitate partnerships with Sint Maarten.
In that regard I wish to highlight several areas for consideration:
• First, partnerships that supports investments in our tourism and hospitality infrastructure;
• Second, cooperation that stimulates investments in the sustainability of our natural environment;
• Third, cooperation that promotes investments in educational programs, exchanges, and access aimed at building capacity;
• Fourth, collaboration that supports the expansion and maintenance of quality medical services; and
• Fifth, cooperation that strengthens our law enforcement institutions to combat forces that threaten the security, peace, and stability required to offer our residents and visitors, the prosperity they aspire.
These are some essential areas for Sint Maarten as a small, open Caribbean country as we continue to chart our economic recovery and build a more hurricane-resilient and sustainable economy.
Thus, as we gather here this evening at this reception, I wish to emphasize that in our globalized world, where countries are highly interconnected there is an imperative for us to “build partnerships of cooperation for socio-economic sustainability” in the interest of our people.
I am as such pleased with your presence here this evening. Because our interaction is the best foundation for mutual understanding, lasting friendships and effective partnerships of cooperation.
In that respect, I wish to applaud the Minister Plenipotentiary and her staff for organizing this event. You are the first point of contact for our partners here in the Netherlands and are, as such, well positioned to channel the dialogue that supports our partnerships.
Excellencies, Ladies, and gentlemen,
In that context, I believe that it is our joint obligation to continue to move forward as agents for partnerships between our countries for mutually beneficial cooperation.
And in embracing our obligation, I wish to close with the message that building partnerships of cooperation for socio-economic sustainability through friendship and dialogue is the bedrock for a sustainable, interconnected, global community.