Remarks by Angel Gurría
Washington, USA, 21 April 2017
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Mr. Matera, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for your warm welcome. It’s a great honour to be at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an organisation that shares history, values and objectives with the OECD. I’d like to thank the Centre’s President and CEO, Dr. John Hamré, for his invitation.
Today, I will share with you some insights on how the OECD came to be, our role, how we have tried to become more relevant, and how we are helping countries improve their policies and create a better global economy ─ and better globalisation ─ for better lives.
We emerged from the ashes of World War Two, in 1948, in the context of George Marshall’s plan to reconstruct Europe through co operation ─ to overcome political differences, to plant the seeds of long-term geopolitical stability, and to secure sustained growth and development. Originally, we were the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC). In 1961, we were renamed the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In the following decades, the OECD enlarged its membership and evolved to become a laboratory of best practices. Co operation has remained a central pillar of our work, framed around an adherence to market economy principles and the pursuit of openness ─ free trade in goods, services, and capital, and strong and fair international competition. This commitment positioned us to assist many of the former communist countries’ transition to market economies after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has also helped us to inspire transformational reforms in many other countries.
From my first day as Secretary-General in June 2006, I focused the OECD’s energy and efforts on a very clear objective: to make the OECD more relevant, more inclusive and more global. And, soon thereafter, we found ourselves doing this while helping our member countries deal with the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes.
We reacted immediately, adapting our priorities and operating procedures to the urgent needs of our members. In particular, we renewed our efforts to ‘go national’, becoming a ‘do tank’ and providing the benchmarks, evidence and analysis to help countries design and implement ambitious, meaningful and long term reform agendas.
Our efforts catalysed significant breakthroughs, including education reform in the US; a dozen historic reforms in Mexico, including game-changing telecommunications reforms that have significantly lowered the price of telecommunications services and increased firms’ broadband connectivity; labour reforms in Spain and Italy; tax reform in Japan; banking sector reforms in the UK and in Australia; and competiveness, innovation, and regional and regulatory reforms in France. We also developed horizontal strategies and projects ─ covering innovation, green growth, gender, development, trade and digitalization ─ to help countries break down policy silos and deliver more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable growth.
We also took the opportunity to analyse what had gone wrong, why we had missed the signals of the imminent crisis. We needed a radical rethinking of our work, of our economic models and assumptions.
So, in 2012, we launched the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) Initiative, to reflect on the lessons from the crisis, challenge our assumptions, identify the shortcomings of analytical models, and develop new policy tools and data.
At the same time we embarked on a deep change to refocus the Organisation to make our work more inclusive, more sensitive to the needs of the bottom 60-70%. We gave priority to one supreme target: human well-being. We explained how the benefits of growth were not trickling down; we measured the increase of inequalities in our member countries and produced evidence to show that they were hurting growth; we launched an Inclusive Growth Initiative and introduced new analysis on the nexus between productivity and inclusiveness; and we proposed actions to help countries promote green growth and significantly cut emissions.
And we also stepped up our work to address major global challenges. And we have delivered! Our work on taxes (BEPS and AEOI), education (PISA), anti corruption (our ‘gold standard’ Anti-Bribery Convention), RBC, export subsidies, and steel excess capacity, among others, have been transformational, innovative and are bringing real improvements to people's lives and levelling the playing field for companies.
We also took important decisions to increase our global reach. We started new accession processes and welcomed 5 new members: Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia in 2010, and Latvia in 2016. We also launched an Enhanced Engagement initiative to strengthen our co operation with 5 key emerging economies, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa. This initiative has brought all five countries closer to the OECD. For example, we worked very closely with China in the context of their 2016 G20 Presidency and welcomed Premier Li Keqiang for a historic visit to OECD Headquarters in July 2015 to join our Development Centre.
And we strengthened the OECD’s presence in the G20, G7, APEC, the Pacific Alliance, and the Ibero-American Summits. Our contributions to the G20 are particularly noteworthy. Since our initial contributions to support fossil fuel subsidy reform at the 2009 Leaders’ Summit in Pittsburgh, we have helped the G20 reach meaningful achievements on tax (BEPS), structural reforms, gender, trade and investment, and, more recently, the establishment of the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity. In parallel, we have worked to shape landmark global agreements ─ for example, in 2015, we delivered a report, Climate Finance in 2013-14 and the USD 100 Billion Goal, which helped to unlock the Paris Agreement.
We are also working with emerging and developing countries and regions through our Country and Regional Programmes, like the Southeast Asia Regional Programme (SEARP), the MENA-OECD Project, or the one we launched for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) at last year’s OECD MCM in Paris. Let me conclude with a few words on our work with this important region.
After many years of remarkable regional growth and important progress in reducing extreme poverty, LAC today is facing significant challenges in terms of growth, poverty and inequalities, good governance, anti-corruption, rule of law, informality, productivity, education, and skills.
Mexico and Chile are two of the most active countries in the OECD, and they both benefited from the rigorous Accession process. And now we are strengthening our relations with other key Latin American economies:
These countries would bring great value to the OECD. But what would membership mean for them? In a recent editorial for Clarín, Dr. Hamré rightly observed that membership is not about joining a club. Membership is a lever that brings countries closer to OECD standards, helping them achieve international best practices in diverse policy areas.
The Council is currently engaged in a strategic reflection on membership, and will report on its findings at our next MCM in June.
Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very honoured to be part of this remarkable success story of multilateral co-operation. I am conscious of the enormous value of this Organisation, of its strategic contribution to a better world, to better lives.
All this dedication and all these efforts are worth it, because international co operation is the only way to the future, and because international organisations are more essential than ever, but need to keep up with change. Count on the OECD!