With the active support of my vice-chairs, Kimmo Sasi of Finland and Pierre Pettigrew of Canada, I believe the 2000 Ministerial Council was very successful and took a number of positive steps towards addressing what the Chair of the 1999 Ministerial Council, José Ángel Gurría, posed as one of the greatest challenges facing the OECD: the need to respond to the demands of increasing global interdependence.
Advances in communication, transport and information have created international markets for goods and services. National boundaries are becoming less effective as we face the demands of global markets and increasing trade and capital flows. In an ever more integrated world, where poor national policies are penalised and good policies rewarded, the OECD is uniquely poised to help economies respond to the resulting challenges. Co-operation, consensus, dialogue and shared responsibility: these were the attributes which came to the forefront at the 2000 Ministerial and are the hallmarks of the OECD.
I was particularly pleased with the progress made in involving “civil society” by running the inaugural OECD Forum 2000, “Partnerships in the New Economy”, in parallel with the Ministerial Council meeting.
Governments must increase their dialogue with civil society in addressing policy challenges, and the Forum 2000 venture was a major step by the OECD in this process. In similar vein, a further welcome development at this year’s meeting was that the first plenary session and the session adopting the Multinational Enterprises Guidelines were open to the media. We continue to emphasize the importance of transparency with respect to policy decisions by governments, hence it is only fitting that the OECD should increase its own transparency.
A tangible outcome of the increasing dialogue between governments, non-governmental organisations, representatives of employees and businesses has been the opportunity to build consensus, or at least understanding, on what can be divisive topics, such as trade liberalisation and food-safety standards. These are areas where strong and differing views are held and we must continue to work towards a greater understanding of all viewpoints so that consensus can be reached.
A particularly significant outcome from the ministerial meetings was the completion of the review of the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. This was a positive step towards addressing some of the challenges of globalisation, providing a robust set of recommendations that will improve the international investment climate and encourage the positive contributions multinational enterprises can make to economic, social and environmental issues. The Guidelines were the subject of some negotiation at the meeting, and all parties approached them in a constructive and co-operative fashion.
A significant theme in our discussions was the sources of growth, and in particular whether there was a “new economy” taking shape. One of the important conclusions from the meeting was that the “new economy” is not just about technology, but about a boom in productivity that flows from learning how to use technology to transform “old economy” production processes at the grass-roots level. This is important because we know that not all countries will be large producers of information and communications technology. But by harnessing advances in information and technology, all countries can participate in the new economy dynamic of strong productivity and higher economic and employment growth. The OECD’s “growth” project is to be completed in 2001, but already I think we can draw some conclusions about the policy framework needed to take best advantage of the positive effects of advances in information and communications technology.
Such a framework includes stable macroeconomic policies and broad and deep structural reform in product, labour and capital markets. Open markets and increased competition help make an economy more adaptable and innovative, more able to take advantage of the productivity benefits flowing from information and communications technology.
Another notable outcome from the meeting was the endorsement of the idea that a rules-based multilateral trading system should provide the best framework for global growth and prosperity. To ensure that the lessons of the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle were clearly taken into account, ministers signaled their determination to work quickly towards the launch of an “ambitious, balanced and broad-based WTO round of negotiations which addresses the needs and aspirations of all WTO members”.
Overall, I was very pleased with the outcome of the 2000 Ministerial Council. It made a significant contribution towards addressing the challenge that globalisation poses for all policymakers. The key to the success of the meeting, and my lasting impression, was the co-operative and constructive participation of my ministerial colleagues. Such gatherings give me renewed confidence in the ability of the OECD to achieve its core goals of enhancing the growth and welfare of its members. This would not be achieved, of course, without the ongoing hard work of the secretary-general and the Secretariat. I would like to thank all concerned who made the 2000 Ministerial Council such a success.
©OECD Observer No 223, October 2000