Associated France Press (AFP) 25/5/2006
OECD welcomes new chief amid optimism on global economy
by Adam Plowright
PARIS (AFP) - Former Mexican finance minister Angel Gurria took the helm of the OECD as ministers concluded their talks at the organization’s annual conference with an upbeat assessment of the world economy.
Gurria, a 56-year-old with a reputation as a liberal, market-oriented economist, was invested as secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development flanked by his long-serving predecessor, Donald Johnston of Canada.
The new head, who will take office next week, already faces calls to oversee the enlargement the 30-strong membership of the organisation to include emerging giants Brazil, Russia, China and India.
In a speech on Wednesday, Gurria reiterated his belief that the influential OECD should expand its scope to remain "at the centre of the globalization process."
"In the pursuit of relevance, the question of non-members is key. How to engage them? How to expand the scope of the OECD so that it remains relevant in the years to come?" he said.
Its membership currently includes leading economies in Europe, Japan and South Korea, as well as the US, Mexico and Canada among others.
Gurria welcomed changes to the governance of the OECD, agreed during the conference, which he considers a vital step before invitations to join can be extended to new members.
A statement at the close of two-day conference said that ministers from member countries had agreed that it was "essential to expand the OECD’s global reach and policy impact through an enlarged membership and enhanced engagement with important non-OECD economies".
Ministers also said they expected "the buoyant pace of world growth witnessed over the past few years to be sustained in the near future", adding that inflation was likely to remain under control despite rises in energy and commodity prices.
The OECD gathering is an opportunity for policymakers from member countries to discuss developments in the global economy and share information on domestic economic reforms.
Trade talks, which traditionally represent one of the main events on the sidelines of the OECD meeting, proved unable to unblock stalled WTO negotiations, however.
A signal on Tuesday from the EU that it was prepared to improve its offer on farm products was the only hint of new momentum in the deadlocked talks, but it drew a cool response from Washington.
US Deputy Trade Representative Peter Allgeier also cast doubt on the likelihood of completing negotiations by the end of the year.
"There’s an awful lot of work that has to be done and frankly it’s going to be very difficult to conclude in the remaining six months of this year," Allgeier told reporters.
The latest round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, known as the Doha round, is aimed at increasing trade to boost poor countries, but disagreements between the US and EU as well as rich and poor countries have resulted in stalemate.
Gurria, who built his reputation rescuing Mexico from its debt crisis in 1994, also outlined his view of the challenges for the global economy, including rising global imbalances, high energy prices, ageing populations and the stalled trade talks.
"Although the outlook for this and next year is rather positive, there is no room for complacency," he said.
On Tuesday the OECD forecast that the economies of OECD countries would grow by 3.1 percent this year, but had stressed dangers from global imbalances, principally US trade and current deficits.