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Incoming Caricom secretary general sets priorities


BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) — The incoming Caribbean Community (Caricom) secretary general, Dr Carla Barnett, says one of her first priorities will be to extend outreach of the 15-member regional integration grouping as well as implementation across member states.

Barnett was named on Tuesday to replace the Dominican-born diplomat, Irwin LaRocque, who is ending two five-year terms in August.

She is the first woman to be appointed to the post. The Belizean-born economist was also the first woman to have served as deputy secretary general from 1997 to 2002.

“One of the things I would like to see us do is to share more of that information and bring more people on board in terms of communicating the message and the actions and offering ideas about what Caricom can do and how they feel the impact of Caricom,” Barnett said in an interview with Great Belize Television/Channel 5 on Tuesday night.

She told viewers that “so for me there is going to be a lot more outreach even as we deal with the issues of implementation because that is one of the things that we hear a lot of the time too that we are not very good at implementing the decisions that we take and so for me it is the outreach and the focus of implementation as well”.

Barnett said that it is “really an honour” to have been elected to the post, adding “It is very exciting and there is a lot of work to do and we are looking forward to doing it”.

She said she was also looking forward to rekindling the friendships she had developed while living in Guyana for six years as a senior official of the Caricom Secretariat. “But the most exciting part of it at this time is getting the opportunity to make that impact at the regional level because for me it is really important at this time for the region to be well organised to deal with the many crises we are faced with — the two most important being COVID and the economy.”

Barnett said that while she is happy with the work Caricom has been doing to tackle coronavirus and the economic downturn across the region, she believes Caricom will continue to build on these efforts, with a strong focus on financing for the region to bounce back.

“It is necessary for us to continue to do that work because all of us are in the situation where we had to borrow more than we normally would have wanted to…and we also need to access even more borrowing because liquidity— money in the bank is important to be able to buy vaccines.

“And so some of our countries are really hard-pressed coming up with the resources to do some of the basic things that need to be done and so there is a lot of work going on there and that work needs to continue as smoothly as possible so that there is no issues that may arise,” she told television viewers.

During the interview, the incoming secretary general also discussed the issue of de-risking which in recent years has placed serious pressure on the region’s financial services.

Financial observers note that due to the imposition of more stringent standards on the banking sector, there is a greater burden on financial institutions in smaller economies. They are faced with a shut off or restriction of services from the overseas financial sector, including correspondent banks.

Barnett said that the Caribbean region’s economic growth and development been affected and de-risking remains a major issue for the region.

“The same system you have to put in place in a large country that may cost 10 million dollars to deal with billions of accounts is the same system we have to put in a small country where we are talking about much fewer people and fewer dollars.

“So, the de-risking issue for us is significant. It threatens our ability to engage in the global financial market because if you don’t have correspondent banking relations you can’t do business internationally and that can undermine the economics and trade.

“So, it is really very critical and one of the things that we do have to keep doing aside from doing our best to keep up with the evolving legal requirements is to continue to press the discussion about the impact on our economies and the fact that we are having to respond to five or six different kinds of regimes – rather than having one – the same way we have a WTO (World Trade Organization) that deals with all the requirements for physical trade”.

Barnett said there should probably be one organisation that deals with the requirements for financial transactions instead of the several as now exists.

“There is the American requirement; the European requirement and within Europe you have two or three different kinds that are set up and so it becomes very complicated and very expensive for us. And we don’t want to be caught out, so to speak, and we don’t want to be where the weaknesses are but it does cost us much more on a per capita basis to put in the systems that the larger countries have to put in. So, that’s it, that’s the reality,” the incoming Caricom secretary general added.

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