Speech by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General at the 100th Meeting of the Competition Committee
OECD Conference Centre, Paris, 20 February 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am doubly delighted to welcome you to this special event today to mark the 100th meeting of the Competition Committee. First, I feel very honoured that the EU Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes, her predecessor Mario Monti and Ministers Amato and Chatel are here with us today. Second, it is a great pleasure to have this anniversary session in our new Conference Centre. This meeting had to be postponed because of the construction of these facilities but you will agree with me that it was worth the wait. We have worked hard to provide a setting for your meetings that is modern and pleasant and enables you to work as efficiently as possible.
The OECD Competition Committee can look back with pride to a long history. The first meeting was held in December 1961. At that time, it was called the Committee of Experts on Restrictive Business Practices. There were fewer members, there were no observers, and there were mostly lawyers and very few economists attending the meetings. Many countries did not have competition agencies and delegates came from a range of different ministries and agencies.
Since then, much has happened – both in the OECD and in the global competition environment. The OECD is advancing in the two-tier process of enlargement and enhanced engagement with 10 new countries that account for nearly half the world’s population. We have started accession talks with Chile, Estonia, Israel, the Russian Federation and Slovenia. In parallel, we are strengthening our co-operation with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa with a view to possible membership. Trying to shape a better world economy without acknowledging the growing, even soaring importance of China, India and others is not only unrealistic, it is a mistake we would regret. We have to work with them to successfully address any global issue.
Of course this is no news to this Committee. I am pleased to note that you already count a number of these accession and enhanced engagement countries among your observers and that you work closely with most of the others. I congratulate you for being one of the pioneering committees of the OECD on this score.
Where do we stand? What worked well and what can be improved in our work? The recent review of the Competition Committee by the OECD Council suggests that you have much to be proud of. You have achieved the highest score ever under the Council’s criteria. According to its evaluation, you are relevant for member countries’ policy concerns, efficient in your work, effective in using and spreading the messages, and sustainable when it comes to bringing about long-lasting changes in Member countries’ competition policies. Congratulations!
In fact, your scores were so good that some of the permanent delegates to the OECD were wondering how to share your wisdom with other parts of the house. But what sets you aside from others is that, like top performers in other fields, you have simply remained ambitious. Instead of resting on your laurels you are coming here to work and improve even more. You continue to strive for the best working methods, and you are successfully adapting them to a changing global competition environment.
And there has been a lot of change that came with new challenges for your work. The number of countries that rely on market-based principles as foundation for their economies has grown considerably since 1961. More than 100 countries now not only have competition laws but they are also enforcing these laws more and more. Competition agencies have become more independent and more influential.
Nowadays, there is a widely shared view that consumer welfare and economic efficiency should be the sole objectives guiding competition policy and enforcement. Rigorous economic analysis is playing an important role in rationalising anti-trust policies. The OECD has been a leading force in this process and I would like to encourage you to keep this momentum.
Another achievement has been the increased awareness that competition is important for economic growth. It stimulates efficiency and higher productivity, it disciplines managers, it reinforces incentives for innovation, and it speeds up the adjustment to change. OECD countries that have implemented pro-competition reforms have seen higher growth rates and lower unemployment than those who failed to reform. They have also proved to be more flexible and resilient to economic shocks.
At the OECD, we contribute to your work by carrying your message to heads of governments and ministers around the world. Using your work, I encourage them to use competition to help revitalise their economies. Your new Competition Assessment Toolkit is a path-breaking instrument to help countries get on the path to strong and steady growth.
One of the OECD’s strengths is the dissemination of best practices and this committee is among the best for broad dissemination and real impact. In 2006 and 2007, 28 jurisdictions used your work to improve legislation, 37 to strengthen law enforcement, 29 to boost their advocacy efforts and 37 to train their staff. I’d like to share with you a few of these stories:
In my own country, Mexico, your peer review report was used as the basis for a major overhaul of the competition law. At the urgent request of the OECD’s Mexico Centre
, in 2006, two members of the Secretariat, including the author of the report, came to Mexico to meet with Senators and Deputies to support the reforms. Later, when the fate of the legislation hung in the balance, a key Senator spoke up in her party caucus and said that the OECD’s support persuaded her to vote in favour. Her party followed suit and the legislation passed.
Currently, in Brazil, a major overhaul of the competition legislation, based on a Competition Committee peer review, is before the Congress. We hope that it too will pass soon.
In Japan and Russia, your peer reviews also supported major legislative improvements, in Japan to the Antimonopoly Act and in Russia to the new Federal Law on the Protection of Competition and the Code of Administrative Violations.
Sometimes, your work has been used to block anti-competitive legislation, as in Lithuania, where your roundtable publication on resale below cost was used against a draft law which would have prevented price-cutting by supermarkets.
There are many more examples but I’d like to finish with one from Australia, which relates to your new work on competition assessment. Your current work was inspired at least in part by Australia’s ambitious National Competition Policy, which led to the review of some 1,800 laws and regulations from 1995 to 2001, and has supported Australia’s outstanding economic performance. On the other hand, Australia has already taken your Competition Checklist, improved it further, and incorporated it into their ongoing competition assessment process. That’s a great example of how work in capitals and here in Paris can be mutually supportive, creating a virtuous circle of better policies for stronger growth.
Clearly, if more countries implement comprehensive pro-competition reform, we will be well on our way to achieving the main mandate of the OECD: increased economic growth and employment to make the world economy work better.
In closing, let me thank you again for your outstanding work in the past 46 years and wish you all the best for this meeting and those to come.