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New OECD Head Says Expansion Not Top Priority

Lisa Bryant

The incoming head of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the group needs to focus on internal priorities, before debating the possible membership of new economic giants like China and India.

The OECD's next secretary-general, former Mexican Finance Minister Angel Gurria, acknowledged that emerging heavyweights like China, Brazil, and India could not be ignored.

But in an interview in Paris, Gurria said the organization first needed to figure out matters like how it makes decisions and where to spend its money before considering the controversial issue of expansion.

"It is not feasible, possible, realistic or efficient that we discuss enlargement before we discuss governance," he said. "You cannot invite new members if you cannot tell them how you're going to take decisions. What are they going to get for their money? How much is it going to cost them? And how much are they going to participate?"

The issue of admitting new members to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is sensitive. The organization was founded in 1961, as the successor to the body that administered the Marshall Plan to Europe after World War II.

But today, the OECD does not fit its former reputation as a rich man's club. Its 30 members comprise only 60 percent of the words economic output - a figure that will likely drop to 40 percent in 2020.

But current OECD members are divided on which countries to admit. The United States, for example, would like countries like Israel, Chile, and some southeast Asian nations to be tapped. Europe favors the Baltic states and other neighboring countries.

Gurria - who becomes the new OECD chief in June - said even if emerging countries like China do not win full membership, they can remain active in the organization.

"The reality is very simple - whether it is full membership of whether it is active, vigorous engagement, the OECD cannot afford not to incorporate the likes of China in its work," he said.

In previous interviews, he also said he wanted to raise the OECD profile, which critics suggest is an outdated relic of the Cold War.

Gurria is known as an energetic politician. As Mexico's former finance minister, he helped usher his country out of a financial crisis in the 1990s.

He predicts a mediocre 2006 for the world economy, warning about risks presented by high oil prices, stalled world trade talks, and worrying deficits run up by the United States and some other, big economies.

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