Opening session

OECD Observer

How to build a new architecture in a new world; this was the key point raised by Shirley Williams, House of Lords, who opened Forum 2000.

The world fifty years ago when the Bretton Woods architecture was being built was more deferential and less democratic than today’s. Now as we create the new architecture, the warning has to be what happened at Seattle: that we have to conduct and create policy in a more open, transparent and accountable way than in the past. We live in a world where civil society demands to be heard from. More and more NGOs want to contribute to policymaking. Trust in government, business and even in non-government organisations has to be won, held on to and maintained. Voters are no longer passive, consumers are no longer simply consumers: we live in an interactive world. That is why. She congratulated the OECD for having the courage and determination to bring about the event.

Quoting Lincoln’s line that you cannot live in a Union that is half slave and half free, the key challenge today is to deal with a world that is half rich and half poor, and becoming more rich and more poor simultaneously.

The speeches by Donald Johnston, Peter Costello and François Huward are available in separate copy.

Summary of questions from the floor

Hélène Connor, from Helio International, asked how the OECD planned to formalise its consultations with NGOs rather in the way it already did successfully with trade unions through TUAC and business through BIAC.

Mr Johnston replied that OECD was looking at that question. Consultations had taken place, notably over biotechnology and e-commerce. Moving to a less ad hoc approach was work in progress, so to speak.

Helene Ballande, from Les Amis de la Terre, called for rapid reform of export credit agencies and delivered a note on behalf of 350 NGOs from 45 different countries calling on the OECD and its members to reform credit export agencies. Ms Ballande spoke of the NGOs’ disappointment at the lack of progress and the transparency in recent talks held by the Export Credit Division at OECD, from whose work on harmonising procedures, several developing countries felt excluded.

Mr Johnston said that examining the work of export credit, which was the responsibility of the Trade Committee, was also work in progress. He received a lot of correspondence on this issue and he intended to answer them all.

Rashid Amjad from the International Labour Office wondered about the wisdom of international organisations concentrating on specific tasks and called for a harmonised, global, approach to world issues, rather than each organisation going its own way.

Mr Costello stated that every international organisation had multiple objectives, acknowledged that there was overlap and duplication. The logic of all organisations having multiple objectives would mean we only needed one organisation. Dedicated organisations should be clearer about their objectives, even if it was not possible to clinically separate particular issues. The IMF and World Bank were in the midst of trying to organise themselves in a way that reduced duplication.

Sergio Trindade of SET International argued that there was a gap between international agreements and internal action on education. There was need for change in attitudes about the future, but what was being done in real educational reform so that new generations would develop new attitudes towards the future and towards cooperation, transparency, and other new values?

Shirley Williams cited two initiatives in the UK: education in citizenship, which was now part of the curriculum, meaning not just citizenship of the UK, but of Europe and the world too. Youth parliaments were also being emphasised as tools for teaching about democracy. Baroness Williams saw the Internet as a powerful educational and civic tool.

François Huward spoke of French policies to prevent a two-speed society from developing, based around training in information technology.

Mr Costello said that human capital was the valuable capital of the future. He observerd that there was a mass democratisation taking place in the world, thanks to the Internet, which spread facts, if not values. Governments can’t lock up debate anymore.

Mr Johnston said it was important that our youth never forget the lessons of history and that they understand what intolerance has brought. A question that bothered him was whether young people were conscious of the importance of maintaining democratic institutions. A broader based education was clearly needed, emphasising the importance of participatory democracy. OECD was aware of this thanks to some of its newer members, which emerged from non-democratic regimes and were enthusiastic about the new opportunities which participatory democracy offered to them.

The final question came from Jean Zwahlen (a former ambassador to OECD who is now in banking) who was concerned by OECD’s work on harmful tax practices, as it seemed to be approached solely from a fiscal perspective. The speaker was equally concerned about the absence in the work of FATF of a precise definition of offshore centre. This gave the questioner the impression that the G7 was at work, imposing its views on the work programme of multilateral organisations and it raised questions about the objectivity of these organisations which should be above all suspicion.

Donald Johnston answered in both the FATF’s work and in the OECD’s work on harmful tax practices, criteria were presented and applied to the different jurisdictions. The Fiscal Affairs Committee was not in his view overly influenced by the G8, but was not committed to fight against all tax competition, but simply the harmful tax competition. As to the work of the FATF, which was associated with OECD, money laundering was a vital issue for the global economy and one should not exaggerate the role of the G7 in driving the issue forward.

Based on a speech at Forum 2000, Paris, June 2000

©OECD Observer July 2000 

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