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OECD Secretary-General

Ceremony for award of the Grand Cross of the Chilean order of Bernardo O’Higgins

 

Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Santiago, 25 November 2015

(As prepared for delivery)

 

 

Minister, Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends,

 

It is for me a great honour to receive the Grand Cross of the Chilean Order of Bernardo O’Higgins. I want to thank President Bachelet, Chancellor Heraldo Muñoz, the entire Government of Chile, and Ambassador Serrano, who have been so gracious as to convey this distinction upon me, a distinction that I shall carry with great pride and responsibility.

 

As you know, my wife Lulu and I have strong ties with this country, which holds a special place in our lives. Lulu lived in Santiago for 15 years, two of her brothers were born in Chile, and her parents lived here for more than 20 years, culminating in the six years during which her father, Carlos Quintana, served as the head of ECLAC. When he arrived in Mexico he was eating his S’s! My mother-in-law, who came from Hawaii, always said that Chile was her second country, even though she lived more than 50 years in Mexico.

 

We were friends from the age of 15, and pololos [boyfriend and girlfriend], as you say here in Chile, by the time we were 19. We were married 42 years ago, and the images of Chile were always a topic of conversation in our lives – the Andes, the Colegio Nido de Aguilas, the gardens of ECLAC, Valparaíso, the Atacama Desert, the Maqui, the house of Adelita Prebisch, the sea urchins, the wine, the meat-filled empanadas, the fruit, the cueca [national dance], and the friends – so many close friends, some of whom are with us here today. And I knew about the aromas, the flavours, and the colours of Chile long before I visited it for the first time.

 

 

My professional relationship with Chile

 

But beyond the personal aspect, my relationship with Chile has also been intense and productive on the professional level. During the 1970s and 80s we watched sadly as this marvellous country languished in the hands of a bloody dictator.

 

During that time I had first-hand experience with the tremendous challenge posed by the external debt crisis that first struck my country, Mexico, and then spread to the entire region, and I was called upon to take part in various rounds of negotiations with creditors, negotiations that gave rise first to the Baker Plan, and later to the Brady Plan. There we learned some lessons that are still valid today, and I learned a great deal about Chile – about its economy and its challenges, about its people and their aspirations for freedom and democracy. I was invited many times to visit, but I never accepted. I decided that I would never set foot in Chile until the dictatorship was gone. I joined in the warm welcome that we Mexicans gave to Chileans who chose exile rather than sacrifice their freedom or their lives.

 

In the 1990s, I worked closely with the first governments of the transition – first as Mexico's Minister of Foreign Affairs and later as Minister of Finance, when I had the good fortune to work side-by-side with José Miguel Insulza in efforts to move forward with regional integration and to address the common challenges facing Latin America.

 

More recently, as Secretary-General of the OECD, I had the opportunity to promote and to participate in Chile's accession to our Organisation. The start of that process coincided with my own arrival at the OECD, in 2006, and during my first four years in Paris we worked with great enthusiasm and tenacity to bring the process to a successful conclusion. We produced many sector reports and the so-called "accession reviews", bringing Chile's delegates into our committees and working groups, and facilitating the gradual adaptation of Chilean legislation to OECD standards.

 

What we did, in the end, was to facilitate the mutual knowledge and understanding that allowed Chile to become part of this family, this "Club of best practices", as President Bachelet herself has called it.

 

At the OECD we are proud to have had a hand in some of the important legislative changes that took place in Chile in the second half of the past decade, in the context of the accession process: the end of banking secrecy and the introduction of financial information sharing in tax matters, an area in which we continue to make progress through the new automatic exchange and the BEPS package for combating base erosion and profit shifting on the part of big multinationals; the laws against bribery; improved and more transparent governance for State-owned enterprises, which are so important in the Chilean economy; and many other areas.

 

 

The OECD and Chile today

 

Today, five years after that accession, which took place under the first mandate of President Bachelet, Chile is one of our Organisation's most active members.

 

It is a member that understands that the added value of belonging to the OECD lies in learning from others and sharing experience. As a member, it is working with the other countries of the organisation to find a joint response to our common and global challenges. And it is a member that also seeks our support and our counsel when it comes to addressing its own specific issues, promoting reforms that will continue improving life for all Chileans.

 

Today, the OECD and Chile are working together more closely than ever. This co-operation extends to all spheres of public policies: education, health, employment, taxation, good governance, trade, the environment ... all those fields in which the OECD is a point of reference and where the Chilean government can count on us, within the important agenda of reforms that are being undertaken during this second mandate of President Bachelet.

 

As I mentioned a few minutes ago in introducing the 2015 OECD Economic Survey, Chile is facing a crucial moment, for which it is better prepared than ever, thanks to solid institutions and sound macroeconomic management during the commodity boom years. Chile is a modern and dynamic country that can look forward to the future with confidence and optimism. A prudent fiscal and monetary policy, a solid framework of inflation targets and a sound and well-regulated financial sector have produced stability and have allowed per capita incomes to double in the last 20 years, as well as making a significant reduction in relative poverty.

 

But we cannot claim victory, especially given the complicated times through which the global economy is now passing: a slowing of external demand, falling commodity prices, possible fallout from the Federal Reserve's policy reversal, and now the impact of the migration and terrorism crises in Europe. We must also recognise the scope of the structural challenges in the Chilean economy, including those of boosting productivity and narrowing inequalities.

 

We must ensure that the many achievements of these recent years are not diluted. The major reforms that the Chilean government has promoted in taxation, in education, and in strengthening women's participation in economic activity are very important steps in this direction, and we must ensure that they are fully implemented.

 

Chile is facing another important challenge, which it shares with the majority of OECD countries, and that is the serious crisis of confidence in its institutions. You can count on the support of the OECD in addressing this issue and in backing the admirable process of democratic regeneration and constitutional reform that President Bachelet has launched.

 

This process recognises everything that has been achieved, but at the same time it is aware of the need to adjust to new times – "adapt or perish". And the important thing is to approach this adjustment as you are doing: with consensus and inclusion, with broad consultations and with a civic education programme that will explain the importance of the process to the citizens. What this boils down to is creating a new social covenant.

 

 

The Ministerial Meeting and Latin America

 

Let me conclude by noting that Chile will chair the next OECD Ministerial Meeting, scheduled for 1 and 2 June 2016 in Paris. To preside over our principal annual meeting is symptomatic of the degree of maturity that Chile has acquired within our Organisation, as a member that is increasingly active in guiding our work.

 

This has been possible because we feel fully "in sync" with the Chilean government and its values, with the certainty that we cannot continue to promote growth and productivity unless we take into account such aspects as equity and inclusion, from the outset. For this reason, Chile has been one of the major proponents of our initiative on inclusive growth, and it has made the relationship between productivity and equity a fundamental theme of the next ministerial meeting.

 

The Latin American thrust will also find a special echo when we meet in Paris under the chairmanship of Chile: thanks to Chile's support, we will be launching a Regional Programme for Latin America, one that will bring greater coherence and structure to our multifaceted work with the region. And in this respect I want to thank Ambassador Serrano for her leadership and support in driving this programme forward.

 

Dear friends,

 

On top of all the other reasons I may have for my many years of affection, friendship and admiration for this country, I may add the fact that Chile was the first country to give public and solid support to my recent candidacy for a third term at the head of the OECD. And so I am doubly grateful to you, Mr. Chancellor. Once again, I thank Ambassador Serrano. I will continue working with wholehearted dedication to expand the OECD's collaboration with Chile and its institutions, in order to build a setting of development, of opportunities and of better policies for better lives.

 

Thank you.