The 50th anniversary of the OECD

Speech by Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State and Chair of the 2011 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting, at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the OECD, 25 May 2011.

This is such an auspicious occasion as we mark the 50th anniversary of the important work that the OECD has done. But before the OECD, there was General George C. Marshall. He realised that a peaceful, stable Europe would need more than rebuilt town squares, railroad tracks and factories. He knew that Europe needed a community of shared economic values. And therefore he, along with President Truman, decided to convene such a community. And what we saw was this remarkable commitment to the rebuilding of former adversaries at the end of a devastating world war because there was a recognition that we needed, as the slogan goes, better policies for better lives, and that through those better policies that would create better lives, there would be a greater chance for peaceful co-operation and real human security.

When President Kennedy ratified the OECD convention 50 years ago, he too hoped to help widen the circle of economic co-operation. What followed for the OECD, and indeed for the world, surpassed even his ambitious vision. Because we did not seek economic growth just for ourselves, but we understood that we would all benefit from growing the pie, and we welcomed partners into a system designed to help all nations begin to create better lives for their own people. And as a result, together we helped usher in the greatest era of growth the world has seen.

A group of European nations, along with the United States, became a transatlantic community, and then the global network that we celebrate today with 34 countries, a secretary-general from Mexico, a prime minister from France, a prime minister from Japan, and the president of the European Commission, and partners from all over the world. But for all of its changes, the OECD remains as it was in those earliest days, a community of shared values, open and effective markets, human rights, freedoms, and the rule of law, accountable governments and leaders, free, fair and transparent competition, President Kennedy’s belief that a rising tide can and must lift all boats.

So for five decades this has been a laboratory and a launching pad for smart economic policies to bring those values to life. Member states have improved labour conditions, exposed tax havens, worked in ways large and small to hold ourselves and others to even higher standards. Now, I’m aware that these efforts rarely win a great deal of publicity. This is the hard, sometimes frustrating, difficult work of forging consensus and creating new and hopefully more effective ways of reaching toward our common goals. Because this is a place where leaders and technocrats, business, labour and civil society can find common ground and produce tangible benefits for our fellow citizens.

But let me quickly add that success was never a foregone conclusion. That’s why these 50 years are especially worth celebrating today. And yet even as we stop and mark this anniversary, we recognise that the work now being done is occurring during a time of dramatic economic changes. Many nations in this room, including my own, are still recovering from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Rising economic powers are gaining a larger share of the world’s wealth and influence. And one of the underlying convictions of the OECD is that when one gains in wealth and influence, one also must accept greater responsibilities.

Two decades ago, when the Berlin Wall came down, the nations of Eastern Europe turned to the OECD for help not only to build democracies, but also market economies. And today we need to work with a new generation of emerging economies and emerging democracies as they chart their own futures. The values, standards and hard-won knowledge of the OECD are as essential as ever. And it falls to us to promote them in this tumultuous time. I applaud the OECD for its bold vision statement which we are unveiling today for endorsement by this ministerial. I believe if this vision statement is followed and implemented through specific, concrete actions, it will help the OECD to have its next 50 years be as successful as its past.

I want briefly to touch on three of the most important ideas. To start, many of our nations are seeking a stronger economic recovery. All of us want more opportunities and more jobs for our own citizens. So the OECD must continue to deliver forwardleaning policies that help unlock the potential for inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Sometimes that means raising standards for how our companies operate and compete. Other times, it means making markets more effective and lowering economic barriers.

For example, we must continue to use this venue to stimulate new jobs from sources like clean energy and more energy efficiency. We need to be serious about eliminating barriers to trade, investment and fair competition both at our borders and behind them. Through its work on such complex challenges such as export subsidies, the OECD is critical. And if we want to unleash the full potential of entire societies, we must do more to support women and girls who want to learn, work and start their own businesses, which is why I’m very proud to support the OECD’s Gender Initiative.

In a few minutes, we will also endorse the OECD’s updated Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These guidelines, developed in close consultation with both business and labour, set a new higher standard for how our companies should operate, including an important new chapter on human rights. Second, development was at the heart of the OECD’s founding mission–in fact, the “D” at the end of the title. And it belongs at the centre of our agenda today and in years to come.

Each year, the chair chooses a theme to highlight. And since the United States has sought to elevate development within our own foreign policy, we wanted to focus on what the OECD can do to foster more effective development practices. We start by recognising that aid, while it remains essential, is not enough to deliver sustainable growth. Countries must be the authors of their own development. And we need to make it a priority to help nations mobilise their own resources to create those greater opportunities.

But what do we expect of such countries? Well, we expect that they need to fight corruption. They need to be transparent about budgets and revenues. And they need to collect taxes in an equitable manner, especially from their own elites. They need to put in place regulations designed to attract and protect investment. And the OECD is here to help when they ask for it. This is, after all, a body of knowledge that the OECD has been uniquely building for decades. And today, a new set of nations is looking to learn these same lessons. From Latin America, to Africa, to Southeast Asia, and now to the Middle East and North Africa, this is the moment to leverage the strengths of this organisation to deliver transformative growth. And the OECD’s new framework for development marks an important step in that direction. I will return to these issues at greater length tomorrow, but I wanted to use this 50th anniversary celebration to emphasize their importance.

And third, we cannot simply raise our own standards or level the economic playing field among OECD nations. A global economy depends on a global network, and therefore, the OECD must continue to build varied, flexible partnerships in service of the standards we have worked to achieve. We have already seen how deeper engagement helps all of us to share lessons and best practices.

Chile formed an environmental protection agency as part of its accession talks. Russia is about to join the working group on bribery, and we hope that Russia will soon accede to the Anti-Bribery Convention. And we look forward to working closely with all working group members on robust enforcement of the convention.

The OECD is also deepening engagement with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa. And we welcome Brazil’s contributions at the Export Credit Working Group, and South Africa’s leadership on African public debt. We should continue and, in fact, we should deepen our outreach to emerging powers in the spirit of these shared lessons and mutually beneficial co-operation. We have the flexibility, both to reach out and raise standards at the same time.

As the OECD enhances its engagement with emerging economies, it must also continue its groundbreaking work to develop multidisciplinary guidelines for the treatment of state-owned and statecontrolled enterprises.

Now, we recognise that countries will make different choices about how much of their economies to keep in the hands of government. Still, whether they are owned by shareholders or states, all companies should operate on a level playing field consistent with the principles of competitive neutrality. And these companies should be solely commercial, not political actors. Now, I’m well aware that this will not happen overnight. But the great lessons that we have learned from 50 years of incremental progress is that we can raise the standards of fair competition. And when we raise those standards, we help maintain them everywhere.

Half a century ago there was no guarantee that the world’s great economies would coalesce around a common vision, but that is exactly what happened. And there were no guarantees that nations from Mexico to Chile to Korea would grow into dynamic developed partners, but they have. The same values and vision needs to continue to guide us, and that’s why the new vision for the future is so critical.

See www.oecd.org/oecdweek

You can watch the speech, as well as others made during OECD week by clicking here

©OECD Observer No 285 Q2 2011

Economic data

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