Serving a new world

Page 41 

Seiichiro Noboru ©Rights Reserved

Hearing that it is 50 years since Japan became a member of the OECD evokes deep emotions in me. During that time, I worked twice in the Permanent Delegation of Japan to the OECD, over a total of six and a half years, and the 50-year period following Japan’s accession was also a time of both development and stagnation for the Japanese economy. During the first 30 years, Japan learned a great deal from the OECD, and its economy developed considerably. During the last 20 years, with Japan drawing less from the OECD, the country stagnated. The OECD remains the most important international body associated with economic and social issues in general, and also the world’s biggest think tank, so both Japan and the wider world should be wise enough to make full use of it.

Until Japan became a member in 1964, there had only been 20 member countries in the OECD, namely Canada, the US and Europe’s developed economies. The number of members subsequently increased to the current 34, and almost all of the new members are relatively small countries from Europe and Latin America. I understand that this is also the case with two countries currently in accession discussions. But is this really the direction in which the OECD should develop? Not in my view, since this does not take into account the current dynamic of the global economy. In 1964, the GDP of Asian countries amounted to only 15% of global GDP, but this figure has now risen to almost 30%, and will soon grow to a level that rivals the US and the EU. The policies of an OECD that fails to incorporate more Asian nations into its fold will have only a limited impact.

Previously, the G7 and G8 summits played the leading role in setting out the direction of the global economy, and the OECD ministerial meetings played a part in the preparations for these summits. Now, however, the presence and role of the G20 is supplanting that of the G8. This is because the members of the G20 include the BRIICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa), among which are important Asian giants. Furthermore, the G20 does not have a permanent secretariat; instead, the host countries perform the function of secretariat on a rotating basis. But as topics become ever more complex, there are limits to their efficiency in this respect. The OECD would be ideally suited to the role of G20 secretariat. To achieve this, first the BRIICS and ASEAN countries would need to gain OECD membership. This is the direction in which the OECD should expand, and this is set out in “A Strategy for Enlargement and Outreach” (the so-called Noboru Report), which was approved at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting of 2004.

This year’s OECD Ministerial Council Meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This should be an excellent opportunity for Japan to demonstrate leadership in development of the global economy through the activities of the OECD. Since 2011, we have been observing an increasing presence of prime ministers and leaders in OECD ministerial meetings, which is fitting, given that nowadays many international conferences including the UN, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), the EU and the G20 involve meetings at the leadership level. Perhaps the OECD could also host a “summit” meeting, say, every second year in the future?

A little over 50 years since its inauguration, the OECD now stands at a crossroads. In order for it to develop further and truly serve the world, three things would in my view be desirable:

1) accession of the BRIICS and the leading Asian nations;
2) assumption of the G20 secretariat function; and
3) the hosting of regular summit meetings.

I am certain that this year’s Ministerial Council Meeting will present an important opportunity for Japan to make a contribution to the world through the OECD as it celebrates 50 years of membership.


Seiichiro Noboru was ambassador to the OECD from 2002 to 2005. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone.

©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014

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