September 29, 2023

What does the CARICOM Secretary-General do?

Photo credit: CARICOM

Alicia Nicholls

Belizean Dr. Carla Natalie Barnett has been unanimously selected by Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to be the next Secretary-General of that organisation. The eighth person to hold the position, Dr. Barnett will make history when she assumes office on August 15, 2021. First, she will be the first Belizean to hold the position. Second, while it should be noted that Dr. Lolita Applewhaite of Barbados acted in the position previously, Dr. Barnett will be the first woman appointed to the position.

Dr. Barnett will join the distinguished and growing pantheon of women leaders of trade organisations across the world. Currently, the three major Geneva-based trade organisations – the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) are all currently women-led. But what’s the role of the CARICOM SG?

Appointment of the SG

For my many non-Caribbean readers, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) comprises 14 independent Member States and 1 dependent territory. In a virtually held Special Session held on Tuesday, May 11, the Heads of Government unanimously agreed to appoint Dr. Barnett as the eighth CARICOM Secretary-General as per their powers under Article 24 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC). This Article provides for the SG’s appointment by the Conference on the recommendation of the Community Council for a term not exceeding five years, with the possibility of reappointment.

The first CARICOM Secretary General was William Demas of Trinidad & Tobago, who had also served as the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Free Trade Association(CARIFTA), CARICOM’s successor. Dr. Barnett will succeed Ambassador Irwin Larocque of Dominica who was appointed in 2011 and is currently nearing the end of his second term of office.

What does the SG do?

The SG heads the CARICOM Secretariat based in Georgetown, Guyana. According to Article 24 (2) of the RTC, the SG is the Chief Executive Officer of the Community. He or she is not an all-powerful figure, however. The SG’s functions are primarily administrative as it is the Conference of the Heads of Government that determines and provides policy direction to the Community as per Article 12 of the RTC.

The specific functions of the SG as outlined in the RTC (Article 24) are as follows:

(a) represent the Community;

(b) develop, as mandated, decisions of competent Organs of the Community into implementable proposals;

(c) identify and mobilise, as required, external resources to implement decisions at the regional level and undertake studies and develop decisions on relevant issues into implementable proposals;

(d) implement, as mandated, decisions at the regional level for the achievement of Community objectives;

 (e) implement, with the consent of the Member State concerned, Community decisions which do not require legislative or administrative action by national authorities;

(f) monitor and report on, as mandated, implementation of Community decisions;

(g) initiate or develop proposals for consideration and decision by competent Organs in order to achieve Community objectives, and

 (h) such other functions assigned by the Conference or other competent Organs.

Dr. Barnett will be assuming office at a time of particular social and economic challenges for the Community, some endogenous and others exogenous in origin. For instance, while it is hoped that the worst of the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by August, it is clear that the economic and social effects will continue for some time. There are also persistent concerns over CARICOM’s implementation deficit and the suitability of its current governance model. Dr. Barnett is an economist. Having been a former CARICOM Deputy SG and having held several key positions in the Belizean government and in financial institutions in that country, she is more than equipped for the enormity of tasks ahead.

The Caribbean Trade Law & Development Blog congratulates Dr. Barnett and wishes her every success during her tenure.

The statement released by the Heads of Government on Dr. Barnett’s selection may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. All views herein expressed are her personal views and should not be attributed to any institution with which she may from time to time be affiliated. You can read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


The Caribbean Trade Law and Development Blog is owned and was founded by Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. (Dist.), LL.B. (Hons), a Caribbean-based trade and development consultant. She writes and presents regularly on trade and development matters affecting the Caribbean and other small states. You can follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw. All views expressed on this Blog are Alicia's personal views and do NOT necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may from time to time be affiliated.

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