Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
Santiago de Chile, Chile, 23 October 2013
Left/right: Felipe Larraín, Chile's Minister of Finance & Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General (23/10/2013, Santiago)
Although the crisis is still being felt in the world economy, Chile has made significant progress in the economic area. The Chilean economy has been growing since 2010 at a rate close to 6%, nearly 3 times the growth rate for the OECD as a whole and well above the average for Latin America, at 4.5%. While Chile has benefited from the export boom in commodities, its solid economic performance can also be attributed to prudent macroeconomic policies, with particular emphasis on controlling inflation, and on the consolidation of a healthy financial sector.
Building on this economic dynamism, Chile has made considerable progress in combating poverty. It has also been gradually reducing its levels of inequality. Although the country still has far to go in the social field, welfare yardsticks such as the "degree of satisfaction" and life expectancy are now close to the OECD averages, while incomes per capita have doubled in the last 20 years and are now the highest in Latin America.
Chile has also taken important steps to broaden the productive base of its economy and to boost the entrepreneurial spirit by reducing barriers to the entry of new firms. This has helped to create a more dynamic labour market, and has brought the unemployment rate down to its lowest level in 15 years. These measures have been focused on supporting innovation and on making it a quicker and easier process to access credit for research and development, to open a business, and to obtain financing.
These are important advances, but much remains to be done. As the report notes, the country faces great challenges in promoting growth that is more inclusive and less dependent on external factors.
There are still some major challenges to address
Despite the progress it has made, Chile still presents some glaring inequalities. In fact, Chile displays the greatest inequality gap in the OECD, together with Mexico. The average income of the wealthiest 10% in these two countries is 27 times that of the poorest 10%, in other words, a ratio of 27 to 1. By contrast, the OECD average is around 10 to 1.
Labour market access also needs to be improved. Despite progress, the participation rates for young people (15 to 24 years) and women still trail behind the OECD average and behind countries such as Brazil. In turn, it is apparent that some of the measures taken in favour of unskilled workers are affecting labour market access for recent arrivals, and particularly the young.
The education sector is also lagging behind. Chile has made some considerable progress, yet according to the PISA test scores Chilean youngsters perform poorly against the OECD average in reading, mathematics and science. On the overall PISA reading scale, Chile ranks 44th among the 65 countries and regions assessed.
There is also much to be done to promote green growth. Air quality in Chile's main cities is still low, although it has improved in Santiago. Chile stands last in the environmental dimension of the OECD Better Life Index and is facing serious water supply problems. Moreover, there is still a shortage of information on soil pollution and arsenic emissions from mining activities, an essential consideration for establishing taxes that will adequately cover environmental externalities.
Chile faces considerable challenges in the area of innovation. The last decade has seen an accumulation of human and physical capital, yet spending on research and development and on innovation is still among the lowest in the OECD, at less than 0.45% of GDP.
OECD recommendations: the road ahead
To address these and other challenges and to consolidate the progress I mentioned at the outset, our survey offers a series of policy recommendations. Let me share some of them with you:
In order to create a more inclusive labour market and overcome the barriers that impede women's participation, it is essential to improve childcare services and social attitudes through education. Working hour regulations could be made even more flexible, and day care services should be more accessible.
At the same time, young people’s access to the labour market needs to be improved by reducing the obstacles that in some cases result from high severance allowances and minimum wages for unskilled workers. The age cut-off for the reduced minimum wage could be extended to cover all people under 25 years, and not only those under 18, while public employment services could be strengthened.
In order to improve basic education, Chile needs to promote reforms in the area of teacher training and selection. It will also have to increase student loans for low-income families, reduce interest rates on those loans, and gear them to income levels. These measures should be accompanied by improvements to the tax system and to social security, by broadening the tax base, eliminating exemptions and combating evasion. The family allowance system known as “Ingreso ético familiar” as well as the “Chile Attiende” single-window programme should be further expanded, together with improvements in access to public services.
The Economic Survey highlights the need to promote green growth in order to improve air quality in Chile's major cities. This will require the implementation of mechanisms to offset environmental costs through higher prices (particularly when it comes to water pollution and overuse). Such a move could generate new revenues for protecting the environment and promoting "green" innovation.
It is also essential to expand the production of renewable energy, which at this time is confined to hydroelectric power. This will require the offer of greater market incentives for wind, geothermal, solar and wave energy. It would also be well to re-examine the tax treatment of profits from natural resource exploitation, in order to guarantee long-term development. Achieving these objectives will require improvements in institutional arrangements for the design of environmental policy, and a comprehensive strategy for green growth.
If long-term economic growth is to be maintained, Chile will also have to improve and expand the innovation system and strengthen its institutional coherence. The recent proposal to create an Innovation Ministry could lead to better coordination of these policies. Yet the key point will be to ensure that the innovation programmes put in place are reviewed regularly so that they can be expanded, adjusted or cancelled in light of their results.
At the same time, Chile needs to continue strengthening its human capital for the knowledge economy, boosting the number of fellowships for engineers and scientists and creating interactive networks between researchers and the private sector.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Gabriela Mistral once said that the only way to measure Chile was to unfold the Andes and roll the country flat. Today we are witnessing such an unfolding across many dimensions of Chile's economic and social potential.
Chile has become a source of inspiration for Latin America – it is moving forward in the right direction, and it is opening the way to new and innovative public policies. Yet the challenges it faces are great and they demand continuity in the efforts that have been made to date.
Chile has sound macroeconomic practices that have won the confidence of investors, and these must now be cast within a context of long-term public policies. Chile can count on the full support of the OECD. We will continue to work with you to achieve a future that is greener, more inclusive, more innovative, and more prosperous.
Thank you very much