Remarks by Angel Gurría
21 November 2018 - OECD, France
Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the launch of our latest OECD Economic Outlook. Before handing over to our Chief Economist Laurence Boone, who will present our projections and policy challenges, I would like to reflect on one theme that comes out clearly from this Outlook: that is, the need for international co-operation.
Today’s Economic Outlook points to a global economy that is losing steam, with the pace of global expansion easing from 3.7% this year to 3.5% in both 2019 and 2020. And one major reason for this is a breakdown in co-operation. The imposition of new tariffs and uncertainty about further restrictive trade actions are contributing to a marked slowdown in trade growth, dampening global investment and threatening jobs and living standards. The international rules-based system that has governed trade since the end of the Second World War has been undermined.
This is not to say that existing trade rules are sacrosanct and should not be updated and revised: the world has evolved and there are new challenges to maintain a global level playing field. But protectionism is not the answer! We don’t see any winners from trade wars, only losers. We must work together to protect and strengthen the international rules-based system. We need to nurture and refine that system and the institutions that support it.
In addition, this Outlook highlights that beyond the loss of momentum that is our central projection, there are a number of risks that, if realised, could result in a much worse situation. It also notes that if the global economy does slow sharply, policymakers will be much less well placed to respond with adequate stimulus than they were last time.
In such circumstances, we see a good case for a coordinated response, particularly on fiscal policy. And even though this is not our central scenario, we think the major economies should be preparing the ground for such a coordinated response now. Again, we see international cooperation and collective approaches as essential to good outcomes.
Last but not least, the special chapter of this Economic Outlook focuses on the decoupling of median wages from productivity in many OECD economies over recent decades. This phenomenon is, by the way, among those highlighted by the OECD’s Inclusive Growth initiative, which emphasises the need to ensure that the benefits of growth are distributed widely, not just by ex post income redistribution, but ex ante. But this decoupling also suggests – even if only tentatively – yet another opportunity for fruitful international cooperation.
The chapter notes that the decoupling can be decomposed into a declining-labour-share component and a rising-wage-inequality component. And both these components may be linked to the increasing importance of “superstar firms” resulting from winner-take-most dynamics that we now seem to be seeing in many sectors of our economies.
More work is needed to clarify the picture, but several developments that we have been documenting point in this direction: higher corporate concentration in many sectors, rising mark-ups for leading firms, a tendency for labour’s share in income to fall, widening productivity dispersion across firms and declining business dynamism.
Since superstar firms are often large multinationals, the ability of traditional domestic competition policies to restrain their market power may be limited. We need to find new ways of designing competition policies that are effective in a highly globalised and digitalised world, ways that involve ever-greater international cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our Economic Outlook is sending a clear message: the stability and the improvement of the global economy needs stronger, more effective and more inclusive international co-operation. This is very much in tune with the message that we heard in last week’s Paris Peace Forum. The moving remembrance ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe 10 days ago reminded us that nationalistic and non-cooperative approaches can have disastrous consequences.
Next week’s G20 Summit in Buenos Aires will provide an excellent opportunity for Leaders to show that those lessons have been learned, by advancing international co-operation and working to resolve differences.
At the OECD we are supporting the G20 to find effective multilateral solutions to the challenges of our highly interconnected world, for example with our work on meeting the tax challenges arising from the digital economy. The OECD will continue to contribute to multilateral initiatives that bring about better policies for better lives in our member countries and around the world. Thank you.