OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity - opening remarks


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

22 June 2016

Cancun, Mexico

(As prepared for delivery)



Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Buenos días, Bienvenidos a Cancún,


It is an honour to open the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity, which was last held in 2008. Eight years is a long time in the digital age! So this is a timely meeting to explore how the digital economy can become a means for more innovation, growth and well-being.


I would like to thank the Mexican government – especially the Minister of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal and the Minister of Communications and Transports Gerardo Ruiz Esparza – for their generosity in hosting us here in Cancun. Your support and leadership for this Ministerial reflects Mexico’s strong commitment to reforms in this area, which while challenging, are bearing fruit. I also want to warmly welcome our partner countries. Your presence here today reflects our shared priority to advance the global digital agenda. And lastly, I’d like to express my appreciation to the stakeholders from business, labour, civil society and the technical community, who have been active participants in our work.


Digitalisation is reshaping our economies and societies


We are at a turning point. The digital shifts underway are reshaping our economies, our societies and our cultures. Self-driving vehicles are already on our roads, underscoring the significant impact that artificial intelligence will have in the coming years.  Macy's - a major US retailer - adjusts pricing in near-real time for about 73 million items, based on demand and inventory, showing the potential of big data analytics. Last year, 42 of the world’s leading banks initiated the R3 project to develop common standards for Blockchain use in global financial markets, highlighting the key role that digital technologies can have in driving radical changes in business models. Digital innovation is also revolutionising health, education, transport, and other public systems, contributing to our well-being and to the preservation of our planet.


But all these benefits go hand-in-hand with disruptions. Digitalisation transforms how we interact with one another and with society more broadly, and it changes the nature and structure of organisations and the profile of jobs, raising important issues around privacy, security, individualism, and skills, among others. We need to be forward-looking to seize these opportunities.


Fostering a vibrant and innovative digital economy


We need to foster a vibrant and innovative digital economy. Let me point to three major challenges:


1. First, we all need access to 21st century digital technologies and services, and skills to use them effectively. Whilemobile broadband penetration rose to 85% in the OECD area in 2015, differences in Internet uptake persist, driven by age and education, and often linked with income levels. There also remains a substantial gap between large firms and SMEs in the use of more advanced ICT applications such as enterprise resource planning software or cloud computing, which are essential components to boost productivity. Another revealing piece of information is that, in 2014, 95% of firms had a broadband connection and over 76% had a website, but only 42% purchased via e-commerce, with SMEs lagging behind larger firms across countries. It is essential that governments promote investment and competition in the provision of high-speed networks and services, to ensure that key enablers are in place and that all businesses can benefit.


2. Second, we need trust in the digital economy. About 19% of Internet-using households in the US reported an online security breach, identity theft, or similar malicious activity last year. One out of five!  That is staggering.  More needs to be done to strengthen trust in an age of increasing connectivity and data-intensive activities that are beyond the control of any single jurisdiction or organisation and raise more than technical and legal challenges. Political leaders need to send a clear signal to ensure that trust is a priority for governments, businesses, and individuals. Protecting digital consumers and strengthening digital security and privacy protection is essential to allow individuals, firms and governments to feel safe and unleash the benefits of "going digital".


3. Third, we need to address structural changes in the labour market brought about by digitalisation, and equip all workers with the skills they need to succeed. The OECD Survey of Adult Skills shows that two thirds of people surveyed lack the basic skills needed to function in “technology-rich environments.” This not only means ICT skills, but also foundational skills, such as information processing, self-direction and problem solving, which makes workers more flexible. This is critical, because as digitalisation progresses, a majority of our children will do jobs that haven't been invented yet. The active engagement of governments, employers, trade unions, education and training institutions, as well as individuals, is crucial to ensure that life-long learning opportunities exist and that all individuals have the capacity to develop the skills needed in a world that changes by the day.


Working together to seize the opportunities of digitalisation


The OECD can do much to help, but let me underline three areas in particular.


First, we need to measure the digital economy better, and provide an evidence-based assessment across countries to identify and prioritise reforms. We have far more information on agricultural production, which represents about 4% of GDP and is falling, than we do on global data flows, which some very rough estimates suggest have increased by a factor of 45 in the past decade. We must do better if we want to craft effective policies. 


Second, we need to analyse the digitalisation of the economy and society from a whole-of-government perspective. We need to climb out of our policy silos and reach across them to better understand how digitalisation is transforming our lives, how we can exploit it, and how we can help those in danger of being left behind.


And third, we need to keep the Internet open and accessible. This means ensuring high-quality and competitively-priced access to communications infrastructure, as well as a regulatory framework that facilitates e-commerce and data flows, so that creativity, the exchange of ideas, entrepreneurship and experimentation – the bedrocks of innovation – can flourish.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


The ongoing digitalisation of our economies and societies will not stop. We must be ready to make the most of it. This is our ambition, starting here, today, using the multi-stakeholder model that has served us so well: to be creative and bold in making digitalisation work for all people and for the economy. I invite you all to partner with the OECD to build a brighter common future, designing, developing and delivering, together and across the world, better digital policies for better lives.


Thank you!