2019 SEARP Regional Forum


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, France -  11 March 2019

(As prepared for delivery) 




Dear Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am delighted to welcome you to the 6th Forum of our Southeast Asia Regional Programme (SEARP). Since Prime Minister Abe and I launched the SEARP in 2014, we have met in Bali, Jakarta, Hanoi, Bangkok and Tokyo. Today, we meet in Paris at the OECD’s Headquarters. Welcome to our home – “nuestra casa es su casa!”

The SEARP – and our engagement with other Southeast Asian fora, including ASEAN, APEC, ADB, ACMECS and UNESCAP – is a key pillar of the OECD’s wider global relations strategy. This strategy seeks to intensify the OECD’s support for global and regional fora and step up our engagement with emerging economies, to help globalise our best practice international standards.


Why connectivity matters for Southeast Asia

We are facing many pressures that are reshaping globalisation and multilateralism as we have traditionally known it. The OECD’s latest Interim Economic Outlook shows that the global expansion is continuing to lose momentum, with trade restrictions having adverse effects on confidence and investment plans across the world. At the same time, entrenched inequalities, declining trust, and megatrends including rapid digitalisation, migration and climate change, are all deeply transforming our world. In principle, globalisation is about bringing economies, societies and people closer together, but in recent years, it has left many feeling excluded from its benefits.

The issue of connectivity, or more importantly “of inclusive connectivity”, is therefore becoming increasingly paramount, not only in emerging economies – where critical gaps, for example, in hard and soft infrastructure, remain – but also across OECD countries.

At a supranational level, multilateral institutions are struggling to keep an open and inclusive agenda. Our efforts to remain a global community are under threat. This is why the OECD is working hard to strengthen ties with its partners in Southeast Asia, building on common principles including openness, international co-operation, stronger economic integration, and also mutual respect and tolerance.

This co-operation is critical given that ASEAN’s weight in the global economy is growing. ASEAN is home to more than 640 million people, is a hub for global manufacturing, and is an increasingly important technological pole. With a current combined GDP of almost US$2.8 trillion in 2017, ASEAN’s economies collectively rank as the 5th largest in the world.

As a diverse economic community, a key policy challenge for ASEAN will be to narrow development gaps between its Members. Inclusive connectivity is one answer to this challenge.

As such, improving connectivity is an explicit objective of ASEAN’s Community Vision 2025, which strives to build a region that is “highly integrated and cohesive; competitive, innovative and dynamic; with enhanced connectivity.” The importance of connectivity was also underlined during the SEARP’s first Ministerial Meeting in Tokyo last year, where Ministers identified ‘connectivity’ as a core pillar for inclusiveness across ASEAN and earmarked it as a priority area of work for the SEARP.


The OECD is helping ASEAN advance its connectivity agenda

The OECD has acknowledge this priority and is supporting the ASEAN region to improve its connectivity. We are working in different areas:


  • First, institutional connectivity, particularly through better regulation. For example, to promote a more transparent regulatory climate for trade in services, we are supporting the development of a customised Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI) for ASEAN. We are also conducting a series of Investment Policy Reviews in the region to encourage more predictable, coherent and fair investment rules. Finally, through our ASEAN-OECD Good Regulatory Practice Network, we are fostering knowledge exchange on regulatory reforms.

  • Second, rules-based physical connectivity. With the support of our Regional Policy Network on Sustainable Infrastructure, we have developed the ASEAN Principles for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Frameworks. These have provided ASEAN governments with a tried and tested guide to foster effective PPP frameworks for enticing private investors.

  • Third, people-to-people connectivity. Our Regional Policy Network on Education and Skills continues to promote knowledge-sharing on how to deliver better Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and employment services across the region. Southeast Asian countries are also increasingly participating in the OECD’s flagship PISA assessment, with some scoring at the top! In addition, to promote more competitive and inclusive SMEs, our Network on SMEs has recently conducted a comprehensive assessment of the policy environment for SME development in each ASEAN Member state. This ASEAN SME Policy Index was launched last summer at the 50th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore.

  • Last but not least, OECD digital connectivity. In parallel to today’s meeting, the OECD is hosting a “Going Digital” Summit to understand better how the rapid adoption of digital technologies is creating both challenges and opportunities for policymakers. We hope that our guests from Southeast Asia can benefit from these insights.

It is important to note that while most connectivity initiatives explicitly seek to combine the physical, institutional and people-to-people dimensions of connectivity, the level of commitment is uneven, with most progress occurring in respect of physical connectivity. The OECD believes that special emphasis should be put on institutional connectivity – trade and investment facilitation, regulatory reform, and generally good governance – as a key enabler for physical and people-to-people connectivity.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

The importance of connectivity between economies and regions cannot be overstated! It is crucial in helping us to foster stronger national cohesion, international co-operation, inclusion, transparency, trust, you name it. It is also a cornerstone for designing, developing and delivering better policies for better lives.

I very much look forward to hearing the outcomes of your fruitful discussions today. Count on the OECD as we work towards a more connected Southeast Asia!  Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Global Relations


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