An Economic Survey is published every two years for each OECD member country and for some countries that are not OECD members, such as China, Russia and Brazil. There is also a separate Survey of the euro area.
The Economic Surveys and the work of the Economic and Development Review Committee (EDRC) have evolved since the creation of the OECD in 1961 when the Surveys focused on short-term macroeconomic developments. Now, the focus is mostly on policies having a potential to improve the economy’s long-run performance. This involves a wide range of policy areas including labour markets, competition, innovation, human capital, financial markets, sustainable development, social security, taxation, health care and public spending. The hallmark of Economic Surveys is to clarify links between structural policies in these areas and macroeconomic performance. The functioning of housing markets, for example, matters not only for where and how people live, but also for macroeconomic stability and the effects of monetary policy. And to understand the challenges posed by population ageing, it is necessary to analyse labour markets, health care spending and pension systems in close connection with the macroeconomics of public finance sustainability and the economy’s growth potential.
Each Economic Survey starts with a one-page executive summary followed by the assessment and recommendations which contain the conclusions of the Survey. Thereafter each Economic Survey comprises a number of more detailed chapters. For Surveys published since autumn 2003, chapter 1 sets the scene by identifying the main economic challenges faced by the country. The subsequent chapters analyse each of these challenges in depth as a basis for the Survey’s assessment and recommendations for policy initiatives to improve economic performance.
The assessment and recommendations section is central to the peer review taking place in the Economic and Development Review Committee (EDRC). This committee has one member from each OECD country plus the European Commission, and indeed the final Survey reflects the OECD countries’ joint conclusions, being published under the responsibility of the whole committee. Two EDRC members lead each examination and often draw in experts from their governments at home. The examined country is represented by a delegation of high-level officials from across government departments. This is important, because the discussions during the examination aim at creating common ownership for the policy recommendations. However, the committee’s conclusions as summarised by the chairman at the end of the one-day meeting do not necessarily mirror the wishes of the country being reviewed. Indeed the value and integrity of Economic Surveys rests on the sharpness of the pen with which they are written, and their assessment and recommendations often introduce new perspectives to the national policy debates. You can read more about how peer reviews are used at the OECD in this Policy Brief.
The draft Economic Survey is prepared by the OECD secretariat starting about one year before the final Survey is published. The work is carried out by a team consisting of two economists, sometimes in co-operation with additional specialists, and supervised by a head of division. The desk is also responsible for preparing the semi-annual Economic Outlook for the country and interacts with the cross-country analysis undertaken by the Economics Department and other parts of the OECD. This ensures that the Economic Surveys present state-of-the-art policy analysis on a wide range of topics. At an early stage, the team from the OECD secretariat visits the country and meets with a wide range of government officials, academics, social partners and other experts to collect information. Later on, the same team but now headed by a director goes on the policy mission to discuss the secretariat’s tentative conclusions with top policy makers, such as the Minister of Finance, top government officials, the central bank and also labour unions and business confederations.
Economic Surveys are prepared for OECD member countries as well as for some countries that are not members of the OECD. The large non-member countries covered are China, Russia and Brazil. But other countries, such as Chile and Rumania, have been covered on an occasional or one-off basis. Surveys of non-member countries are prepared by the Economics Department and discussed by the EDRC but also connected with the work programme of the Centre for Co-operation with Non-Members (Global Relations).