I am delighted to open the 18th International Economic Forum on Africa. What we will be focusing on is precisely how we can design the policies which will lead to inclusion and ensure that everyone–families, farmers and businesses–reaps the benefits of Africa’s integration.

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The role played by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our economies and societies is very significant. In most cases crucial. In OECD countries, SMEs represent approximately 99% of all firms. They provide the main source of employment, accounting for about 60% of jobs in the manufacturing sector and 75% in services, and generating between 50% and 60% of value added on average. In emerging economies, SMEs contribute up to 45% of total employment and 33% of GDP.

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We live in challenging times for international co-operation. Against a background in which the voices of protectionism and nationalism seem to be gaining strength, at the OECD we are standing firm in our support for openness and collaboration as the surest means of building better policies for better lives. Otherwise we risk undoing many of the achievements we have accomplished together as an international community since the OECD was formed 55 years ago. Of course, there is much to fix in a system that for many people is not delivering and whose benefits need to be more equally shared. But the reality is that in a divided world, we all lose.

(from left) Nicolas Hulot, Minister of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, France; Stéphanie Antoine, compère from France 24; Rafael Pacchiano, Environment Secretary, Mexico; Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD ©Damien Valente/MTES/DICOM

Our response to the climate challenge will define our collective future for generations to come. We must act. We must act swiftly, collectively, and decisively. Some fear that decisive climate action may have a high price tag in economic and social terms. Strong climate action is not a threat to, but instead the very foundation of our economic well-being in the long run. At the OECD we are rolling up our sleeves to make this happen.

Wherever in the world they are emitted, greenhouse gases have a global impact. Narrow national agendas are inadequate to deal with global climate change disruption. Without vision and resolve, more countries may yet retreat further into their national bunkers. We would all suffer in such a bleak scenario.

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In Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)character Tancredi Falconeri famously says: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” The Sicilian aristocracy he represents has only one way to preserve its privileges against Garibaldi’s “Risorgimento”: change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.

Rarely in our lifetime has international co-operation been as important for the world as it is today. Global growth, though recovering slowly, is stumbling along at just over 3%. The scars of the crisis run long and deep, with rising inequality, fragile job markets and waning trust fuelling protectionism and populist backlashes in some OECD countries. Social and environmental problems, as well as several conflicts, add to the list of challenges we face. Can they be solved if there is division among us?

We have to begin by acknowledging that many people are unhappy. And rightly so. In the wake of the crisis, life has not been getting any better for a lot of them. They are worried that their children's lives will not be better than their own. They believe that the system is not working for them; they feel that it is unfair; and there is increasing evidence that many of them may actually be right. 

Looking back at what we have achieved over the past few decades in the health sector, in many ways the future is looking quite bright. People are living longer, healthier lives. Health data continues to grow exponentially. New health technologies, such as fitness trackers, wearables and remote monitoring systems, are breaking down the information walls of hospitals and clinics, empowering people to assess and monitor better their own health in real time. And new drug treatments tailored to the genetic profile of each individual–precision medicine–have the potential to revolutionise healthcare. 

In 2016, we celebrate Korea’s 20th anniversary of OECD membership. Throughout this time, Korea has achieved impressive convergence in living standards towards the Organisation’s top performers. In fact, as this special anniversary edition shows, from being one of the poorest countries in the world half a century ago, Korea is now the world’s 11th largest economy and 6th largest exporter. It is home, not only to some of the world’s most famous household brands, from cars to smartphones, but to the K-pop and fashion wave that has seduced young people everywhere. No wonder people refer to Korea’s transformation as “the Miracle on the Han River”.

The Internet is now an essential part of our lives and a critical element of the world economy. Internet penetration increased almost sevenfold in the past 15 years, from 6.5% of the world population in 2000 to 43% in 2015.

Despite nearly a decade of policy efforts, the global economy remains in the repair shop. The legacies of the crisis are still very much present: weak growth, persistently high unemployment in several countries, faltering trade and investment and a profound loss of public confidence and trust. Any prospect of a strong upturn in advanced or emerging economies has dimmed in the past year. But we may be getting closer to finding solutions by focusing on the roots of the problems.

Food is a basic requirement of life and fundamental to our well-being. Nevertheless, as humanity becomes more urbanised, agriculture and farming tend to be neglected. This is dangerous. The OECD Agriculture Ministerial meeting taking place on 7-8 April aims precisely at preventing this by helping define a new policy paradigm for a more productive, competitive and sustainable food system for all.

If hard-won agreement was the headline of 2015, implementation will be the feature for 2016. Agreements make the news; their implementation improves people’s lives.

©OECD

When I launched the OECD’s 2011 Economic Survey of Ireland, the Irish economy was in the depths of a deep recession. Two years ago, the clouds were beginning to clear. Today, I am delighted to see how far and how quickly the country has bounced back.

The UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris 30 November-11 December is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach a new international agreement to combat climate change and accelerate our transition to a low-carbon economy. World leaders attending the summit are aware of the urgency we face. However, to judge by their national contributions pledged so far, more ambition will be needed to keep global temperatures from rising above the agreed limit of 2ºC. The “carbon entanglement” of our economies is keeping us on a collision course with nature.

We are facing an historic moment. By the end of this year, the number of people applying for asylum in the European Union will exceed 1 million. The human cost of this refugee crisis is appalling. Yet, in all but a handful of cases, the response of Europe’s governments has been tentative, at best: acknowledging the need to do more, while fearing the implications.

International trade is a key driver of development. But high trade costs prevent a large number of developing countries from fully exploiting the opportunities that the global market offers: increased development, stronger growth and more jobs.

Nearly seven years have passed since Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, marking the start of the worst financial and economic crisis in living memory. Although the worst is behind us and the global economy is gradually recovering, it is doing so at a much slower pace than in past cycles. Plenty of work and concerted effort will be needed to set us on a robust, inclusive growth path. 

Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD ©OECD

Water, like air and food, is our life support. It covers about 70% of the surface of our planet. But only 2.5% of it is fresh water, the rest being ocean, with a small fraction of that being available as drinking water. As a fragile resource, water must be nurtured with investment, management and care. From oceans and vast rivers to the spring in the garden, we must safeguard our water as a source of well-being, prosperity and progress.

©AHMED MUHAMMED ALI / ANADOLU AGENCY / AFP

"We feel the loss of Kenji particularly closely as his wife had worked at the OECD from 2008 to 2012. Our thoughts, sympathy and prayers are with her and their daughters in this difficult moment."

The terrorist murders of 17 people in Paris on 7, 8 and 9 January were not only a human tragedy. They were a direct attack on the values of living together in the free, law-abiding, pluralistic societies we hold dear. 

Australia's Joe Hockey listens to OECD Secretary-General Gurría © OECD Flickr

“Life is full of alternatives but no choice.” G20 leaders at the summit in Brisbane, Australia, in November should reflect on these words by Australian writer Patrick White, a Nobel Laureate, as they prepare their economic strategies for the years to come.

The clouds are lifting, but we must work harder together for the crisis to clear

©OECD

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Japan’s membership of the OECD. Japan joined our organisation on 28 April 1964, marking a significant milestone as the first Asian country to do so. 

Could the recovery from the worst crisis in half a century finally take hold in 2014? There are several encouraging signs, not least in the US, where growth is expected to accelerate towards 3% in 2014. Activity is also picking up in Europe, Japan and China. Ireland has successfully exited the IMF/EU/ECB-supported programme.

Can Africa sustain its recent strong economic performances and benefit more from its abundant resources?

A welcome sense of cautious optimism is building around the preparations for the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg in September, setting the tone for policymakers to take a renewed interest in coordinating their national action agendas to address pressing global challenges.

The current crisis has continued to affect people’s lives across the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in the deteriorating labour market in many countries. Young people have been hit particularly hard and risk being permanently scarred from joblessness and even exclusion.

To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary edition of the OECD Observer, we take a brief look at how the information world and the global economy have transformed since the OECD’s first secretary-general, Thorkil Kristensen, launched the magazine in November 1962.  

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q2 2018 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.9% Sept 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.3% Aug 2018
Last update: 06 Nov 2018

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  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Watch the webcast of the final press conference of the OECD annual ministerial meeting 2018.
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Rousseau
  • Do you trust your government? The OECD’s How's life 2017 report finds that only 38% of people in OECD countries trust their government. How can we improve our old "Social contract?" Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

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