Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans: “I am at St. Maarten’s disposal”

POSTED: 06/10/13 1:05 PM

SWW and Timmermans

Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans and Prime Minister Wescot-Williams at Friday’s press conference. Photo Today / Leo Brown

St. Maarten – “We do not come and tell St. Maarten what our foreign policy is as defined by The Hague. Instead, I see this as an opening for a dialogue whereby I can by formulating my foreign policy take on board the priorities St. Maarten may have,” Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans said at a press conference yesterday morning at the A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall at the Government Administration Building.

Timmermans is on a brief working visit to the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. He also visited Venezuela where he signed a memorandum of understanding.

Asked about St. Maarten’s maneuvering space to develop its own relationships with other countries in the Caribbean, Timmermans said that he really wants to assist the country wherever possible. “I really want to facilitate St. Maarten wherever I can when it sees opportunities or possibilities in its own environment to develop relations with other countries. I am at St. Maarten’s disposal and I would do anything St. Maarten wishes me to do. Having said that, it is very important in our relationship with the outside world that people know there is one foreign policy that takes into account the interest of the four countries in the Kingdom. This foreign policy must be unified, especially in the relationship with our most important partner in the region, the United States of America. It must be clear to the United States how we deal with border issues and with visas and immigration. We have a joint responsibility to make sure that St. Maarten remains a preferred destination for American tourists.”

Timmermans said that one of his foreign policy priorities is the strengthening of the ties between the Netherlands and its Caribbean part with Latin America. “The reason for this is the astonishing economic development in this part of the world. There are great opportunities for businesses in the countries of the Kingdom. Opportunities will also rise again in Europe once we have taken care of the consequences of the financial crisis. We have the unique opportunity to build a bridge from Europe to Latin America and vice versa.”

The minister described Venezuela as the Kingdom’s biggest neighbor (“bigger than Germany”) and said that the memorandum of understanding he signed in Caracas on Tuesday is the basis for developing better relations in different fields. “In other countries in the region we will invest more in terms of time and also economically. There are great opportunities in Panama, Colombia, Cuba and other countries in the region and I think we should be part of this. I will do everything I can to make sure that St. Maarten can help us with its expertise and that we can be of assistance to St. Maarten to make sure that we seize all opportunities with one goal in mind: to create more opportunities for our citizens, that more people have a job, that more people can improve their lives and that we can contribute to a stronger economy.”

Timmermans visited the Oyster Pond area to get a firsthand look at the border situation. “I wanted to see with my own eyes what we are talking about,” he said. “That always helps. I live myself in a border area and I know that people who quite literally live on the border always have to deal with different challenges and issues.”

In Oyster Pond, Timmermans said, France and the Netherlands need to resolve an issue concerning “the demarcation of our borders.”

The minister furthermore said that he will look into St. Maarten’s troubles with getting access to generic pharmaceuticals to treat HIV/Aids. “I will look into this very carefully,” he said. I see the problem, and combating HIV/Aids is one of the priorities of the Dutch government and therefore also of the Kingdom.”

Timmermans said that St. Maarten’s trouble to get access to generic pharmaceuticals is most likely not only due to the fact that, as part of the Kingdom, it is considered a developed country. “It is not just because you are part of the Kingdom, it also has to do with your income position,” he said.

To put this last remark in perspective, according to a ranking of 187 countries published by the International Monetary Fund, Qatar had the highest annual income per capita with $102,211, followed by Luxemburg ($79,785) and Singapore ($60,410). The Netherlands ranks twelfth on this list with an average annual income per capita of $42,194. From the 116th position down citizens in all countries earn less than $6,000 per year.

According to the recently published Unicef report about the position of children and adolescents in St. Maarten, our average annual income is $15,000. Had the Friendly Island been included in the IMF-ranking, it would have found itself right behind Turkey on place 67. The global average income per capita is according to the IMF $11,975.

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