Remarks by Angel Gurría
Thursday 30 April, 2020
(As prepared for delivery)
COVID-19 has taken a terrible human toll and the necessary containment measures have devastated our economies and societies. We have calculated a 2 percentage points fall in global annual GDP growth per month of confinement, but this is an optimistic assumption now.
Digital technologies and evolving business models and work practices are helping our economies and societies avoid a complete standstill. Now more than ever, we are going “Digital”. But the crisis has also exposed and runs the risks of exacerbating the vulnerabilities and inequalities in our societies - not every individual or business is equipped with the skills or the means to use digital tools. So as we grow digital, so does our duty to leave no one behind.
Mobile and biometric applications have been adopted in many G20 countries to improve the effectiveness of government front-line responses to COVID-19. The continuity of many public services has been assured virtually, including for education and health. Artificial intelligence is supporting the search for vaccines. And many G20 countries are helping firms engage in teleworking and e-learning or embrace new business models. Korea for example, is encouraging brick-and-mortar shops to open their business online through a dedicated support programme.
As we move towards the next phase of the crisis, there is a unique chance for governments to work towards a digitally-enabled recovery that strengthens the inclusiveness and resilience of our economies and puts people’s well-being at the core. The OECD’s Going Digital project sets out a comprehensive policy framework for the digital economy. Let me mention four key elements:
First, improving connectivity. Since the start of the crisis, the demand for broadband communication services has soared, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60% increase in Internet traffic. Now is the time to overcome the digital divide, invest in infrastructure and strengthen our broadband networks.
Second, data access and sharing, both within and across borders. Data flows, data pooling and data interoperability are not only essential in dealing with the health emergency, they will also be at the heart of tomorrow’s recovery. This requires that we recognise and address the profound issues of data protection and privacy.
Third, digital security. As malicious actors seek to take advantage of the crisis, digital security threats have increased. For example, coronavirus-related scams and phishing campaigns are on the rise.
Fourth, strengthening capabilities of firms and workers. In 2018, small firms used significantly less e-commerce on average (22%) than large firms (37%). Our analysis also shows that only 29% of 16-65 year olds in G20 countries are proficient in using ICTs at work. So we can only make this work if we accompany firms, in particular SMEs, and workers in this transition, helping them improve their skills, management and capabilities. This cannot be a transition that only works for a few leading firms or the most digitally enabled workers.
Your leadership is essential both to leverage digital technologies, to fight the pandemic and to pave the way for an inclusive and human-centred digital revolution, a vision you already outlined in the G20 AI Principles.
We are pleased to support the G20 with our Going Digital project and with our ongoing efforts to actively monitor data and country responses to the crisis through the OECD COVID Digital Hub.
Chairs, Ministers, count on the OECD!