Japan: Half a century of OECD membership


Article by Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan*

Japan’s expectations and commitment

Japan gained OECD membership in 1964, the same year it hosted the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Its entry into the organisation is significant in three main ways. The first is historical: Japan’s joining the OECD, which followed the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1954 and entering GATT in 1955, signalled its successful transformation into a fully industrialised economy. Second, membership has helped Japan promote various domestic reforms facilitated by OECD recommendations, analysis and data, such as the liberalisation of capital movements. Third, the OECD has provided greater opportunity for Japan to engage with the international community in resolving global issues through the organisation. Japan has continued to take an active role in international rule-making in areas ranging from macroeconomic policies and economic development to trade and investment, as well as tax.

Building a resilient economy

In the 50 years since Japan joined the OECD, the international community has experienced dramatic change. The end of the Cold War, the rise of emerging economies, the global economic crisis, not to mention the burgeoning growth of mobile phones, the internet, and social media, are all having a profound impact on government policies throughout the world. While uncertainties abound, there is heightened recognition of the importance for governments, communities and individuals to build “resilience”. Resilience can be defined as the ability to minimise damage and avert the worst outcome as well as the capacity to bounce back quickly in the face of adversity. 

Japanese bamboo is a perfect embodiment of this quality. In winter months, it bends under the weight of the snow but refuses to break, and when spring comes, new shoots burst forth, strong and straight.

Japan has demonstrated this resilience time and time again. Its recovery from the 1970s oil crises and its ongoing struggle to overcome the devastating effects of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake are just two examples of the country’s ability to face up to hardship. 

>> © OECD Observer

The 2014 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting, under the theme “Resilient Economies and Inclusive Societies”, will be chaired by Japan, marking its 50th year of membership. Noting its failure to effectively predict the 2008 global financial crisis, the OECD is in the process of a full review of its policy proposals and analysis procedures under the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) project led by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. The uncertainty of the current economic climate underscores the grave need for individuals, countries and the international community to focus on building greater resilience.

Partnering with Asia

Adding Japan to the OECD roster as the 21st member in 1964–the first new member since the organisation’s inception–also marked the OECD’s first steps to transform itself from a European institution to a global organisation. Fifty years later, its membership has expanded to include a wider geographic region from Central and Eastern Europe to Central and South America, yet only two member countries represent Asia today: Japan and Korea. The 21st century has been hailed as the Asian Century. In addition to promoting greater engagement with China, India, and Indonesia, identified as key partners of strategic importance, the OECD is poised to deepen relations with Southeast Asian countries with the launch of the Southeast Asia Regional Programme at the Ministerial Council Meeting in May 2014. Japan is looking forward to playing a role in bridging the interests of the OECD and Southeast Asia.

The OECD’s role

What can the OECD do, going forward, to maximise its role as a global organisation and the world’s most influential economic think tank? The OECD’s strengths can be found in its consensus building approach that encourages active dialogue and exchange of good practices among member countries that share common values and goals, coupled with a comprehensive, multilayered and multidimensional analysis on a broad range of economic and social challenges. It can be said that the OECD guidelines formulated through this process reflect the highest global standard industrialised economies provide.

In our increasingly globalised world economy, we look to the OECD to encourage and facilitate adherence of the rising emerging economies to its guidelines, while playing a greater role in framing and inspiring debates at G20 and other international economic forums by drawing on its reservoir of expertise. On the occasion of Japan’s 50th year of membership, the government of Japan, which is the OECD’s second largest contributor, reiterates its firm commitment to continue making positive contributions to the OECD.

*Japan chairs the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 6-7 May 2014

© OECD Observer No 298 Q1 2014


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