OECD Secretary-General

The OECD at 50: Five decades of contributing to development and international economic co-operation


Comments by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at a seminar organised by the Spanish Agency for International Development Co operation (AECID)

Madrid, 4 May 2011

(As prepared for delivery)
Secretary of State; Ambassador Narbona; friends.

It is a privilege to be here with you today. The AECID and this seminar give us an excellent opportunity to review the OECD’s contribution to development over the last half century, as well as the challenges facing co-operation today, and how we can continue to work together to achieve the objectives we have set ourselves.

The OECD and development co-operation: much more than aid

I know that the audience today includes many co-operation professionals — staff from the agency itself and colleagues from academia and civil society representatives. I am sure that for most of you the acronym OECD evokes macroeconomic analysis, growth figures and the technocracy inherent in so-called “international financial institutions”.

In contrast, if I mention the DAC - the Development Assistance Committee (which in Spain is known as the CAD or Comité de Ayuda al Desarrollo), the image that springs to mind will probably be very different: monitoring of aid flows, evaluation of development policies, and co-ordination of co-operation.

So, let me tell you that that is precisely what the OECD is: a forum for dialogue in which, through the exchange of experiences and identification of good practices, governments develop responses to the economic and social challenges facing them.

Nonetheless, our contribution to development goes way beyond, and is not confined to, the consistency of aid. If I mention the acronym PISA, I am sure all of you will know what I am talking about. But some of you will be surprised to hear that this study, which nowadays is the main benchmark used to evaluate the quality of secondary education worldwide and improve our educational systems, is 100% an OECD initiative. And what better investment in development is there than educating our young people?

So I would like to stress that in 2011, we are doing more than just celebrating 50 years of the OECD’s contribution to co-operation through specific initiatives such as the Paris Declaration or the report Shaping the 21st Century, which in the mid-1990s for the first time proposed  launching what would subsequently become the Millennium Development Goals.

Our activity in practically all public policy domains, ranging from employment to trade, and encompassing governance and many other issues, is, and contributes to, development. For example, in the 1970s, we pioneered the fight against climate change, coining the polluter pays principle. And in the 1980s, we started to combat tax havens, long before the G20 put them on the agenda of international action as a result of the financial crisis.

For us, this is development: recognising the importance of assistance and co-operation, but going way beyond that to promote development in all of the areas in which we work.

Development co-operation in a changing world

Despite the achievements of the last 50 years, much still remains to be done — particularly in the current context, where we are facing a new international co-operation map and our traditional development paradigms need to be rethought..

The transformations of the global economy and the emergence of new actors are also making themselves felt in the field of co-operation. It is estimated that development assistance to emerging economies has multiplied one hundredfold over the last 20 years, and now accounts for about 15% of all DAC assistance. 

Apart from South-South co-operation, trade between emerging and developing regions is burgeoning. China is now the main trade partner of Brazil, India and South Africa; and Asian multinationals are among the leading investors in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. 

It is also undeniable that, while the number of people living on less than one dollar day has decreased by a quarter since 1990, i.e. roughly 500 million people have escaped from extreme poverty, this is due to countries such as China, where up to 90% of this progress has been made. This success forces us to recognise the existence of different development models and take them into account. But it also tells us that the issue of poverty cannot only focus on the case of China.

At the OECD, we are analyzing these trends and realise that development policies need to encompass these new key co-operation actors, whether emerging economies, non governmental agents such as large foundations, or multilateral public-private financing mechanisms.

For that reason, we believe that the global architecture of co-operation needs to adapt to these new circumstances and reflect this changing reality, making a firm commitment to meeting the challenges of our time.

If the economic crisis tells us anything, it is that we can work together when we perceive a serious threat that puts the foundations of our system at risk. And what greater challenge exists for mankind than the fact that one child dies every three seconds as a result of easily treatable diseases, or that a sub-Saharan woman is 138 times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth complications than a woman in an OECD country?

How the OECD can help

I would like to identify three specific areas in which the OECD will continue to contribute to better development policies.

Firstly, we will remain committed to monitoring co-operation flows, to ensure that our countries maintain their commitments even at times of budgetary constraint and fiscal consolidation.

Clearly, Spain deserves congratulations for being the OECD country which has most increased its development assistance in relation to GDP between 2004 and 2009, and which has incorporated the DAC recommendations for improving the effectiveness and quality of aid into its policies. Nonetheless, the aid growth rate, which has ranged between 6% and 8% a year over the last three years, is forecast to decline to 2% from now until 2013. In the case of Africa the situation is even more alarming: aid to that continent could grow by as little as 1%, compared to the 13% rates we have been seeing recently. It is our duty to bring these numbers to light and urge governments to make good on their promises.

Secondly, and no less importantly, we will remain committed to ensuring the quality of co operation. We will put the emphasis on effectiveness, and we will work to ensure that multilateral forums such as the upcoming meeting at Busán further the goal of making the new co-operation map more consistent.

Here, it will be essential to fully exploit and organise all potential resources, both domestic and external, public and private. Our close collaboration in the G20 Action Plan on Development and our leadership in many of the pillars and workgroups also point in this direction, enabling us at the same time to explore new channels of collaboration with the main emerging economies.

Lastly, we will actively endeavour to lay foundations for a new development strategy that makes it possible to retarget global policies towards the challenges posed by the current global context and the needs of low- and middle-income countries.

In this regard, our more-than 200 committees and specialised workgroups will work tirelessly to identify good practices that foster development in all public-policy domains. Exchange of experiences can and should form the basis for generating agreements, commitments and international standards that establish a fairer framework enabling all countries to benefit equally from the advantages of globalisation.

The clearest evidence of this commitment is that our forthcoming ministerial meeting, to be held at the end of this month in Paris, chaired by North American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and attended by some 20 heads of state and government and over 50 ministers, has put discussion of this new strategy at the heart of the agenda.

The ministerial will discuss ways to promote more inclusive development that encompass different perspectives and promotes new partnerships. The four priority areas we have identified and will be discussing are: (i) the pursuit of new sources of growth based on innovation and respect for the environment; (ii) mobilisation of domestic resources through effective and fair tax systems; (iii) decisive support for transparency and good governance; and (iv) development indicators that enable us to measure progress beyond the traditional parameters, taking account of dimensions such as the creation of opportunities, gender inequality and the quality of life. Naturally, we will also pay particular attention to food security.

Dear friends,
Co-operation and development are more than mere components of our acronym. They were the cornerstones on which the OECD was founded in 1961, from the legacy of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation), and tasked with administering the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of post-war Europe.

This spirit of multilateral dialogue is what inspires us to approach the next 50 years with the same enthusiasm and hope as on the first day, aware of the major progress that has been achieved but also of the huge task that lies before us.

Thank you very much.


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