Focus on Southeast Asia, remarks by OECD's Angel Gurría


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the OECD Forum 2014

Paris, France, 5 May 2014 – 16h45

Dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure to welcome you to our Southeast Asia panel at the OECD Forum. With this panel we mark the beginning of two days of events which will culminate with the launch of the OECD Southeast Asia Regional Programme tomorrow.

For the OECD, this is a critical undertaking, as our members are convinced that, to continue to be as relevant as it is, the Organisation needs stronger links and involvement with the countries that integrate this important region.

Through our discussions, we aim not only to identify policies that can continue promoting competitiveness in South East Asia, but also to support the on-going efforts to ensure that growth is inclusive and equally shared. We further aspire to enrich our own knowledge from the best practices in the region, and to share those lessons learned.  

A diverse and dynamic region

The OECD engagement with Southeast Asia comes at a crucial time. The economies in the region have benefited from positive growth rates since the early 2000s and have recovered faster than the advanced economies from the effects of the global crisis.

Growth prospects are looking good. According to our “2014 Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India” report – which explores key policy areas where the region could focus upon for improving growth outcomes, fostering competitiveness, and better sharing the benefits of growth – GDP growth rates are projected to average 5.4% per annum to 2018.

More than half of this growth has been productivity growth, which shows how countries in the region are moving up the global value chain. Indeed, they have become very important players in global trade. Their total exchange of goods and services with the world jumped from 985 billion euros in 2008 to 1.4 trillion euros in 2012.

Southeast Asia’s competitiveness has improved significantly. This is also reflected in the increased inflows of foreign direct investment to the region. According to UNCTAD, ASEAN countries drew $116 billion in FDI in 2013 – or 8% of world FDI flows – which was approximately double the 2005-2007 average figures.

Significant challenges persist

These figures tell a remarkable story and are very good news indeed. However, despite this dynamism, all of these countries continue to face important structural challenges that need to be addressed.

For example, many countries in Southeast Asia have now reached the stage where they need to move up the global value chain and to achieve higher levels of income and development.

Most of these economies still need to sustain strong productivity growth to close the gap in relative living standards vis-à-vis the more advanced economies. Structural reforms in key sectors are needed as well as the development of a modern services sector.

Southeast Asian countries are highly integrated in global value chains. But to remain competitive, new policies are needed for sustaining trade integration, supporting the creation of domestic entrepreneurial capacities and internationalised SMEs.

The region needs to continue its efforts to achieve its goal of regional economic integration by 2015. In this respect, the ASEAN Economic Community constitutes one of the most ambitious programmes of economic cooperation.

Last but not least, the region needs a very strong social agenda, and to develop the necessary safety nets, to overcome poverty and exclusion, and ensure that the benefits of growth are widely shared. Indeed, fostering inclusive growth is the most important challenges of all.

To address all this, the region requires a clear vision of a common future, and the kind of Southeast Asia that they we want in 20-30 years. It needs an ambitious roadmap, strong leadership and effective multilateral cooperation. The OECD is delighted to help the region move in that direction.

The Southeast Asia Regional Programme

To help contribute to the region’s integration process, to promote sustainable growth and strengthen institutional capacities, members of the OECD are launching tomorrow an ambitious and comprehensive Southeast Asia Regional Programme. Our aim with it is to create a more solid and broad based partnership to support the region’s development.

In its first phase, this Programme will focus on policies supporting tax, investment, regulatory reform, PPPs for infrastructure, SMEs, and education and skills. We will also be paying particular attention to innovation, trade and gender issues.

The Programme will also help enhance and broaden the OECD’s knowledge of the region and foster the exchange of good practices and mutual learning between policy makers in Southeast Asia and OECD countries. It will enrich our won policy debates and recommendations, as we gain a better understanding of the region’s unique perspectives and experiences, it vibrancy, its dynamism, its resolve and its success.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Southeast Asia is experiencing a momentum which demonstrates the drive and conviction of the region’s economies, its governments and its people to lay the foundations to a better future for generations to come.

Through our discussions today and tomorrow, we hope to open the doors to closer cooperation and to ensure this dynamism is sustained throughout the region. We warmly welcome your contributions and ideas on how to shape this new Regional Programme.

Thank you.