Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD
8 April 2014, Tokyo, Japan
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to talk today about why I’m here in Japan this week, about the OECD’s blossoming bilateral relationship with Japan and, of course, the important issue of Global Nuclear Safety, which we have just been discussing at this afternoon’s seminar.
Celebrating Japan’s 50th Anniversary
Firstly, and most importantly, this year marks Japan’s golden jubilee: 50 years as a member of the OECD, and tomorrow I will speak at a Symposium being hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to mark the anniversary. Japan has transformed itself over the past half century. We in the OECD have been proud partners in this process, one from which so many other countries can learn. In more recent years, of course, Japan has become one of the most important contributors to the work of the OECD.
Japan was our first Asia-Pacific member country, and has paved the way to strengthen the OECD’s ties within the region. Japan endorsed Korea’s 1996 accession to the OECD, took a leading role in OECD initiatives to address the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and has been a strong financial supporter for programmes to promote investment and improve corporate governance in the ASEAN region.
And, most recently, Japan has been a leading voice in establishing the South-East Asia Regional Programme which we will formally launch in Paris next month at our Ministerial Council Meeting, or MCM.
This year, for the second time, Japan is chairing the MCM – the most important annual decision-making event of the organization – adding another chapter to what has been a long history of cooperation and collaboration.
I can’t think of a more fitting way to mark the 50th anniversary of Japan’s membership and its ongoing commitment to the work of the organization. We are working closely with the Japanese government to deliver a high-impact, ambitious MCM agenda that is relevant to the policy priorities of our Member and Partner. We are here in Tokyo to invite the Prime Minister Abe to preside over the MCM of the 50th anniversary of Japan’s membership of the OECD.
Advancing Abenomics’ Third Arrow
Aside from celebrating the golden jubilee and preparing for next month’s MCM, the second important reason I am in Tokyo this week is to meet Prime Minister Abe and senior members of his government, as part of our on-going efforts to advocate ‘better policies for better lives’. I intend to present to him an OECD Policy Brochure that we have straight from the printing press: “Advancing the Third Arrow for a Resilient Economy and Inclusive Growth”.
The first two arrows of Abenomics – bold monetary policy and flexible fiscal policy, including a large fiscal package equivalent to 2.2% of GDP in 2013 – have achieved their immediate goals of reviving growth and moving inflation into positive territory.
Confidence has strengthened and Japanese stock prices have soared - by 57% in 2013 alone - outpacing the US and other major stock markets. Industrial production has also surged, surpassing its peak prior to the 2011 impact of the Fukushima tragedy. And headline annual inflation is now at around 1½ percent, while underlying inflation has moved upwards.
These are very significant achievements, but they don’t tell the whole story. Japan continues to face long-standing challenges, such as its low productivity growth and significant fiscal burden. Our policy brochure sets out policy priorities and key recommendations that can help Abenomics’ ‘third arrow’ hit its target.
We are recommending a structural reform package that would focus on narrowing the productivity gap with leading OECD countries, would make it easier for women to combine work and motherhood, and increase the participation of older citizens in the labour market.
We also focus on strengthening competition across the economy, reforming the agricultural sector, and fostering innovation. These measures may be challenging, but they are essential for Japan to reach its ambitious target of boosting output growth to 2%, double the average over the past decade.
Clean, safe nuclear power has never been more important
As I explained at this afternoon’s seminar, today’s economies are highly dependent on energy and electricity. Of course, it is for each country to decide on the energy policies it wishes to adopt to support economic and social development.
For the Japanese government it is important that all energy technologies, including nuclear power, are given due consideration when deciding which energy mix to adopt in order to ensure security of supply, preserve economic competitiveness, reduce CO2 emissions and maintain affordable electricity prices.
But, no matter how nuclear power fits into the chosen energy mix, safety must always come first! The tragic disaster that struck Fukushima in 2011 has taken its toll on Japan’s economy and society. We had the opportunity to visit Iwaki city on Monday, to meet local people and to see first-hand not only the scale of the challenges facing communities, but also the remarkable efforts under way to ensure they bounce back, stronger than ever before.
The OECD and NEA have been partnering with Japan on recovery efforts in two important respects. On the one hand, through the Tohoku school project. We are working with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and with Fukushima University to underpin the efforts of local students to speed the region’s recovery through creative thinking.
Students are working on ways to attract visitors back to the region, while acquiring important life skills like critical thinking, creativity and teamwork. We plan to showcase the results of the project in our Paris Headquarters next month during the OECD Forum, just before our MCM.
We are working not only on supporting recovery, but also on trying to draw lessons from Fukushima to ensure that disasters can be avoided or mitigated in the future. Last September, the NEA published a report on the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident which outlines international efforts to strengthen nuclear regulation, safety, research and radiological protection in the post-Fukushima context. It also highlights key messages and lessons learned, notably relating to assurance of safety, shared responsibilities, human and organisational factors, defence-in-depth, stakeholder engagement, crisis communication and emergency preparedness.
Looking forward to 50 more year of cooperation!
So, as you can see, the OECD-Japan working relationship continues to go from strength to strength, as we work together across a range of initiatives and policy areas. I am sure this great partnership will continue to flourish in years to come, and that 50 years from now, we can look forward to a happy centennial celebration.
Now, I’m happy to answer any of your questions.