UNCTAD Secretary General’s post: An opportunity for Caribbean leadership?


By Elizabeth Morgan

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is infrequently in the news in the Caribbean, but should be this year, COVID-19 permitting. First, in October, Barbados is scheduled to host the fifteenth session of the Conference, UNCTAD XV. Barbados will be the first Member State of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to host this significant United Nations conference. It was postponed from 2020 due to COVID-19. Second, it is reported in the international media that the current Secretary General, Mukhisa Kituyi of Kenya, is demitting office early on February 15. This, his second term should have ended on August 31. In this article, I will focus on the post of Secretary General now open for nominations. Countries are being encouraged to nominate women.

The Secretary General of UNCTAD will be selected taking account of geographical rotation. I understand that it is the turn of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) to field a nominee. The GRULAC members, including CARICOM Member States, can now identify and propose nominees. Ideally, from these nominees, GRULAC should be able to coalesce around one person who could gain the support of the other Member States. The Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), following consultations, would then submit the consensus nominee to the UN General Assembly for approval.

Of the seven (7) UNCTAD Secretaries General to date, all men, three (3) have been from Latin America, specifically, South America. These are Raúl Prebisch of Argentina; Manuel Pérez-Guerrero, Venezuela; and Rubens Ricupero, Brazil. Carlos Fortin of Chile, Deputy Secretary General, was Officer-in-Charge on two occasions.

Alistair McIntyre

Where CARICOM is concerned, in 1985, Alistair McIntyre of Grenada, Deputy Secretary General, was Officer-in-Charge. Alistair McIntyre was perhaps one of very few CARICOM nationals to hold such a senior post in the UN system.

Between 1970-1997, some other well-known CARICOM nationals have held technical posts at UNCTAD as Advisors and Directors. These include Nassau Adams, Jamaica; Havelock Brewster, Guyana; George Williams, Dominica; and Maurice Odle, Guyana.

From 2019-2020, Jamaican, Pamela Coke Hamilton, was Director of UNCTAD’s International Trade and Commodities Division. She now heads the International Trade Centre (ITC).

A CARICOM nominee?

Are CARICOM Member States able to propose a nominee for the post of Secretary- General of UNCTAD?

UNCTAD was established in 1968 as a UN specialized agency with its mandate to assist developing countries to integrate into global trade and to use its benefits to advance development. The focus then was the nexus between trade and development. UNCTAD was instrumental in promoting preferential market access through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). It also addressed commodity prices establishing the international agreements for sugar, coffee and cocoa, and did considerable work on investment.

Today, UNCTAD is assisting developing countries with trade, economic and sustainable development issues through, among other things, research, analysis, policy recommendations, technical assistance, and capacity-building. UNCTAD’s work covers globalization and development, trade and commodities, investment and enterprise, and technology and logistics. The objective continues to be to promote development through integration into the global economy. Its emphasis is on the least developed, landlocked and small island developing states.

UNCTAD, through the years, has supported countries in the Caribbean as small island developing states (SIDS).

A potential Secretary General must understand and support the work of UNCTAD which in recent decades has come under the close scrutiny of the developed countries, the major contributors/donors, especially the USA. Such a nominee needs to have political and diplomatic credentials and an understanding of development economics and the trade and development issues. He or she must be a good administrator. UNCTAD, located in Geneva, Switzerland, has a staff of about 470 and a budget of approximately US$100 million. This person ought to be adaptable, an innovator, original thinker, and good negotiator. A foreign language, Spanish or French, would be an asset.

Past Secretaries General have held elected or appointed political office, served in the national public sector and in international organizations at senior levels. Their educational and career backgrounds have been in international trade, finance and development economics.

In recent times, as far as I am aware, except for ITC, a CARICOM national has not competed for the highest level posts in UN and related international organizations. Most recently, a CARICOM national, Patrick Gomes of Guyana, was Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and a member of the diaspora, Britain’s Baroness Patricia Scotland of Dominican heritage, is currently, Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The question of extending her term has been left to the next in-person Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting now scheduled for Rwanda this year.

It seems to me that CARICOM needs to further build trade and economic capacity at every level and position itself to have qualified nationals assuming positions of regional interest in international organizations. It possibly needs to be more strategic about this as a goal. CARICOM Member States should be looking at this matter and should also be looking closely at regional institutions and their staffing. They should be encouraging our brightest and best to serve at the regional level which would also position them to serve at the hemispheric and international levels.

I would, indeed, be pleased to see CARICOM put forward a suitably qualified nominee for the post of UNCTAD Secretary General.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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