Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría
Tuesday, 4 September 2018 - Paris, OECD
(As prepared for delivery)
Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, honourable guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the first OECD Blockchain Policy Forum. Allow me to begin by thanking the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Mr. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth; the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ms. Ana Brnabić; and the Premier of Bermuda, Mr. E. David Burt, for joining us. Their governments are already actively pursuing the opportunities presented by blockchain.
I am also delighted to see so many other countries represented here today, representatives from civil society, organised labour and other International Organisations, and the entrepreneurs who are pushing these technological boundaries.
As some of you may know, blockchain first emerged in 2008 as the underlying technology of bitcoin – the digital currency that, in the words of its creators, ‘sought to eliminate the need for trusted third parties in financial transactions’.
Looking back, it seems no accident that this technology arose in the midst of the financial crisis, at a time when the public’s trust in institutions – governments, financial providers, rating agencies, central banks – was at its lowest point.
Early proponents had hoped that open blockchain networks would give rise to a new form of governance which would bypass the need for banks, courts and administrative bodies. In the years since, reality has understandably met these visionaries half way.
Blockchain does have great potential to cut out the middle-man, drive efficiencies and bring about new ways of doing business across a range of sectors. For example, the World Bank has demonstrated this with its first globally issued blockchain-based bond, which has brought settlement times down from around five days to just a few seconds.
Blockchain is also shaping up to be a valuable part of governments’ digital toolkit, and goes far beyond its common financial applications.
Countries are currently looking at how blockchain can improve the transparency, accountability and efficiency of public services. Georgia, Honduras and Kenya are focusing on a blockchain-based registry to bring integrity to land registers, while Sweden is conducting trials which could help bring the time it takes to buy property from several months down to a few hours.
At the same time, the City of Zug in Switzerland is developing a blockchain-based identity management solution; this technology was used to bring security to distance voting in the West Virginia primaries earlier this year.
These efforts are all in their early stages, but the potential is clear. Blockchain is part of a wider digital economic transformation. Governments need to make sure they understand the technology and keep up to date with developments.
However, many of blockchain’s current uses have also raised legal and regulatory issues that still require a ‘trusted third party’ – that is, government. In financial services and within the broader economy, governments have a clear role to play in making sure that markets are fair and orderly. They need to do this in a policy environment that also allows promising new innovations to develop.
The OECD’s Going Digital project has been helping policymakers better understand the forces of this digital transformation underpinned by new technologies like blockchain, and respond in a way that helps their economies and societies to prosper in a time of rapid change.
Going Digital has explored the core policy issues behind this digitalisation, from jobs and skills to security in critical infrastructure and essential services; from productivity and competition to the broader social transformations. It has fed into the work of the G20 and G7, with analysis and advice on the digital gender divide, measurement of the digital economy, the future of work, and adapting to rapid innovation.
We are now taking this body of work and developing an integrated policy framework to help countries build a whole-of-government approach to the digital transformation – this has already been piloted in Sweden, and is currently being tested in Colombia.
This work has also been feeding into our Inclusive Growth Initiative, for example, looking at skills levels in digital and less-digital intensive industries, and focusing on the need to reskill workers and upskill displaced workers.
Looking ahead, Going Digital will focus on some of the emerging technologies which will drive the digital transformation further – in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
As such, the Blockchain Policy Forum is particularly timely! We will be discussing how blockchain can contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable economy through its use in areas like migration, health, energy, transport, agriculture and development assistance, to name but a few. We will also consider blockchain’s potential benefits for compliance and enforcement, as well as its impact on supply chain management and in what ways it could disrupt today’s business models.
Over the next two days the Forum will focus on three overarching themes:
We very much hope that these discussions will allow us to address the benefits and risks of blockchain for our economies and societies, and begin to identify good policy and regulatory approaches, and investigate uses in specific policy areas.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are in the midst of an unprecedented technological revolution. The potential gains can help us to make a quantum leap forward; equally, if we do not manage this transformation, it can significantly – even dangerously – disrupt our world.
The discussions, ideas and lessons learnt from this event will guide our efforts going forward, so that together we can continue to design, develop and deliver better policies for better lives. Thank you.