Facing forward together

Lessons from the 1999 Ministerial Council
Few of us could have foreseen, back in 1994 when Mexico joined the OECD, that only five years later we would have the opportunity to chair the Organisation's most important annual event. Mexico welcomed this opportunity, which we regard as an acknowledgement of our firm commitment to the OECD and of our country's progress in promoting economic and structural reform over the past few years. It was my privilege as Mexico's minister of finance to chair the OECD ministerial council, the summit in the OECD calendar, held on May 26 and 27 in Paris, alongside Giuliano Amato of Italy and Poland's vice-prime minister, Leszek Balcerowicz.
The dialogue and the consultations that take place at these yearly gatherings are crucial for the definition of the Organisation's agenda. They also provided an opportunity for busy governments to exchange views about current developments in the world economy and, in particular, to discuss issues of economic co-operation and development that enhance the policy making process of member countries and foster greater co-ordination among them.I do not wish to elaborate on the conclusions and policy recommendations that emerged from our meeting – they are by now widely known and are summarised elsewhere. Rather, I should like to focus on two points which seem to me to pose particular challenges to the work of the OECD.In my view, one of the greatest challenges faced by our Organisation stems from ever increasing global interdependence. The time when OECD member countries could seek to influence world economic affairs in relative isolation has gone for good. In recent years the Organisation has sought to meet that challenge in a number of ways, which include an enhanced dialogue with non-members and the addition of new members, such as Mexico, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Korea. The OECD is evolving, as it must do, in order to keep up with ongoing developments in the global economy. Economic and financial developments over the past years have proven that economic interdependence reaches well beyond the OECD's present membership.In other words, we are all in the same boat and we need to work together if we wish to ensure that our sailing goes smoothly. Thus, one feature that made this Ministerial meeting particularly significant was the special dialogue held with ministers from seven non-member countries, an initiative that Mexico was proud to launch. The non-members attending the summit were Argentina, Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, Russia and the Slovak Republic. They are all key players in the world economic stage and their role in the global economy is likely to increase over the coming years. The special dialogue allowed all participants to share their views on the world economic outlook and on global policy challenges related to the promotion of growth, sustainable development and social cohesion.This innovative tool of communication is in itself an acknowledgement that globalisation is irreversible and that the work of the Organisation must take greater account of the views of non-member countries. The second point that I believe has particular relevance to our work is the need to view social cohesion as a central goal of economic policy. Despite the economic and social progress achieved by most OECD countries, it is still necessary to extend those benefits to millions of our citizens. This involves the need to reduce the high levels of unemployment that prevail in some member countries while providing adequate safety nets. But it also involves the need to ensure that all members of society have a stake and receive a fair share of the fruits of growth and development. It is important to remind ourselves that the ultimate goal of our policies is to promote not just economic growth but, above all, social well-being. In the words of Donald Johnston, secretary-general of the OECD, we are "building momentum for global growth and social progress into the new millennium" where economic growth, good governance and social cohesion will be essential to reach a virtuous circle. Dialogue, co-operation and shared responsibility will be the main elements of this circle.I look back on this ministerial with great satisfaction. I feel proud for the contribution that Mexico was able to make. We have confirmed once again the value of this common house, the OECD, where we can learn from each other and through a better understanding of our needs and concerns, continue to face the challenges ahead together. Only then will we be able to strengthen the capacity of our economies to adjust under a changing international environment.José Ángel Gurría is Mexico's minister of finance and public credit. Mr Gurría chaired the 1999 OECD ministerial conference.NB: On 30 November 2005, Ángel Gurría was appointed as secretary-general of the OECD to succeed Donald Johnston from June 2006. For more detail, please click press release.(Note added to this page on 30 November 2005.)

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