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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at OECD Opening and Keynote Address
October 6, 2021





OCTOBER 5, 2021

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, and thank you all so much. Mathias, I must start by saying that to be linked to George Marshall is humbling, reminds me a little bit about how Allen & Rossi must have felt. And for those of you who don’t remember Allen & Rossi, that’s just the point. Americans in this audience may appreciate that they were the act that followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show many years ago. (Laughter.) But I do thank you, nonetheless.

And to you, Secretary-General, to all of our colleagues and especially to my good friends, Minister Eui-Yong, to Chung, to Minister Gramegna, thank you for the great work that has brought us to today and to this ministerial.

And if I could also just start with one quick point of personal reflection. I have a particular attachment to the OECD. Many years ago, when I was doing research on what became my college thesis, I came here to the OECD to go to the library, to talk to some of the experts, and I was like a kid in a candy shop, because there was so much here that helped inform that work, both in the incredible studies that have been done and some of the experts that I was given access to. And that thesis then turned into a book some years later, which is apparently still available on Amazon. (Laughter.) It’s called Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis. Let me warn anyone who tries to find it that one reviewer said that it’s the kind of book that, once put down, is very hard to pick up again. (Laughter.) But having said that, I thank the OECD these many years later for having provided so much thought and insight.

But we are here on a momentous day and occasion, the sixtieth anniversary of the OECD. And it gives us a chance to reflect on what’s changed since the organization’s inception, but also what has not.

So obviously, some of the challenges that we face today in cyber space, the climate crisis, they would have been inconceivable to the architects of this institution and the post-World War II order. And yet, the shared values at the core of the OECD and the reasons the world still needs this organization – in fact, I would argue needs it more than ever – remain constant.

We believe that our economic health is rooted in democracy, the rule of law, human rights, a commitment to open and transparent market economies.

The OECD’s influence has always been rooted in its ability to apply these shared principles to the most urgent challenges of the time, and to bring others along with us. Today is no different.

So what I’d like to do is focus on four significant challenges that we face now, and how the OECD can help address them.

The first, no surprise, is the COVID-19 pandemic. All of our countries have experienced the devastating losses, starting with the deaths of 4.8 million children, women, men – every single one of whom left loved ones behind. And our people have suffered the secondary blow of an economic crisis.

The OECD has provided us with critical data forecasting the economic impact of this crisis and elevated evidence-based strategies to build back better.

The OECD was among the first organizations to push for groups of countries to make advance purchases of vaccines, which allowed companies to double down on production. This is the approach we’ve used to get safe, effective vaccines to lower and middle-income countries through COVAX. And it will help us meet the commitment we made at the recent summit convened by President Biden during the UN General Assembly to fully vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population in 2022 – in every country, in every income category.

The second challenge is the climate crisis.

Every member state is experiencing extreme weather events, with cascading effects on virtually every aspect of our economies and our lives, from agriculture to infrastructure to public health to food security.

To prevent cataclysmic consequences, we have to take immediate, bold action to build resilience and adapt to the unavoidable impacts, while also moving with greater urgency to achieve a net-zero world. This is our shared charge, and that’s what we’re focused on for the COP26, which is just weeks away.

Together, OECD countries produce more than 28 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. We account for over 60 percent of world GDP. What we do – what we do will have a massive impact on our ability to meet our target of limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Our member states must model the behavior that we expect from others. That means adopting ambitious, nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions and invest in climate adaptation, moving swiftly to stop unabated coal emissions, ending investments in coal at home and abroad, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

The OECD digital climate tracker will help hold us to our commitments by openly tracking our nations’ progress toward the goals that we set.

We’ve got to also embrace high standards around infrastructure investment, which elevate environmental and social sustainability alongside economic viability, transparency, inclusivity. That means designing and building ports, airports, roads, power grids, internet access, and other critical infrastructure in a way that significantly reduces carbon emissions, and ensures greater resilience in the face of climate change.

That’s the idea behind something we talked about a little earlier today, the Blue Dot Network – an initiative of the United States, Japan, and Australia to certify infrastructure projects based on existing standards developed by the OECD and multilateral development banks, along with others. The OECD’s Trust in Business team and the Executive Consultation Group of more than 160 representatives from business, from civil society, and academia that the OECD helped organize are already strengthening the methods that the Blue Dot Network will use.

With the OECD estimating that $6.9 trillion per year of infrastructure investment would be required to meet a 2 degrees Celsius scenario – a target we now know isn’t – not – is not ambitious enough – we see vast opportunities for greater collaboration with the OECD going forward.

Infrastructure investment is just one example of how the swift, bold actions our nations have to take to avert this crisis represent a once-in-generations opportunity to spur economic growth and create good paying jobs.

But even if the transition to a green economy produces an overall increase in jobs – which we believe it will – not all of those positions will be filled by workers who lost old jobs. We have an obligation to bring everyone along.

This brings me to the third challenge: inequity. The data are crystal clear: Both the pandemic and the climate crisis are hitting underserved populations in our society the hardest. We see this in the United States, where minority communities have suffered a much higher proportion of deaths from COVID-19, as well as greater harm from the accelerating impacts of climate change.

Now, we all bear some responsibility for this. For decades, our member countries measured economic success chiefly in terms of rising GDP and stock markets – which don’t reflect the reality of millions of working families. Instead, our unprecedented growth has frequently come with rising inequity. People in all our countries and around the world want greater growth and greater equity. The OEC – OECD, excuse me, can help deliver on that.

One way is by advancing efforts on a global corporate minimum tax rate, as Mathias discussed. This will allow us to avoid a self-defeating race to the bottom in which all of our countries have lowered our corporate tax rates, only to see others lower theirs in response. This race has gone on for decades – and no country has won it. Instead, lower tax rates have failed to attract new business and deprived workers and companies of a fair playing field in which to compete. What’s more, this approach has made it easier for companies to avoid paying their fair share. The OECD estimates that corporate tax avoidance costs anywhere from $100 billion to $240 billion every single year. These are resources that could be invested back into our communities on education, on health care, on green infrastructure.

A shared approach on taxation will end this race, level the playing field, stabilize the international tax system. And it will advance greater equity between nations, making it easier for developing countries to collect tax revenues and fund development priorities. We’ve got to get this done; we’ve got to get this done together.

The OECD can also show us how rising inequity actually hurts all of us. The United States is investing in a series of initiatives to expand the organization’s capacity to collect and analyze data that actually measures the cost of discrimination.

For example, we’re helping fund the OECD’s research on the likely net economic and social benefits of our countries enhancing the inclusion of LGBTI people. And we’re investing in expanding the OECD’s capacity to collect and analyze data that’s disaggregated by race and by gender. This will build on the OECD’s important research demonstrating the widespread economic benefits of economically empowering women. In Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, for example, increases in women’s employment accounted for 10 to 20 percent of average annual GDP per capita growth over the past 40 to 50 years.

At the heart of all these efforts is the recognition that, more than ever, the true wealth of our nations is found not only in our natural resources, the strength of our militaries, the expanse of our geography, our abundance in natural resources, but in our people, and in our capacity to fully unleash their potential.

Finally, we face the challenge of shaping the rules for new and emerging technologies. We must ensure that advances in technology are used to lift people up and advance human freedom – not suppress dissent, further entrench inequities, or target minority communities. For example, we’ve seen the way predictive algorithms from policing to prison sentencing to parole can reinforce bias against black people in the United States.

Together, we can help ensure our values and interests help shape the new digital rules of the road.

Consider just the field of artificial intelligence. Our joint support for the OECD’s Principles on AI back in 2019 – the first set of intergovernmental principles on the topic – and the launch of the Global Partnership on AI in 2020, laid a foundation for the world to build on.

Just last week, I joined the secretary-general of – excuse me, the United States Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimundo; our U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who is here in Paris as well; and European Union representatives in Pittsburgh for the first-ever meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council.

We adopted a joint statement on AI principles that’s firmly rooted in the OECD’s 2019 recommendation, underscoring the importance of trustworthy AI that respects human rights and democratic values. Just days before that, the United States, Australia, Japan, India – the so-called Quad – committed to integrating human rights and democratic values into the way technology is designed, developed, governed, and used.

Our ongoing conversations with members have highlighted other crucial technology issues that we have to address in a similar way – including those around cyber security, digital assets, supply chain security. We’re looking forward to consulting with our fellow democracies on how the OECD can play a leading role in shaping these spheres as well.

Sixty years since the founding of the OECD, we find ourselves at an inflection point.

The principles at the heart of this organization and our democracies are being challenged by authoritarian governments that argue that their model is better at meeting people’s basic needs. Some of these same governments are actively seeking to undermine the rules-based order that’s been fundamental to security and prosperity for our countries for generations.

The stakes simply could not be higher.

And so the work of the OECD has never been so important. We’ve got to prove that our approach can make life better for people – in our countries and in all countries. And in a way that’s more equitable than it’s been in the past.

Let’s remember the fundamental advantage of our democratic model: openness. It lets us – and our citizens – see where we’re succeeding and where we’re coming up short. To learn from each other. To hold ourselves accountable. To do better.

And the OECD in particular – through its rigorous, objective research – helps point out how we can do better, identifying better policies for better lives.

In 1947, when President Truman went before the United States Congress to make the case for the Marshall Plan, he held up the recently created OEEC – the forerunner of the OECD – as an example of why forging tighter bonds with fellow democracies was in America’s interest. He said, and I quote:

“When the representatives of 16 sovereign nations – with diverse peoples, histories, and institutions – jointly determine to achieve closer economic ties among themselves and to break away from the self-defeating actions of narrow nationalism, the obstacles in the way of recovery appear less formidable.”

We now number 38 member nations, which means our collective ability to surmount these obstacles is even greater. And the United States is committed to seeing the organization continue to grow stronger. We’re ready to work with fellow members to build consensus on a way forward, so applicant countries that share our values and meet the OECD’s high standards can pursue a path to membership.

No matter how significant the challenges we face, they are less formidable when we face them together. And every one of these challenges offers an opportunity to deliver for our people: to strengthen our interconnected public health; to sustain our majestic planet while creating new and good-paying jobs; to expand our economies in a way that lifts up all of our people; to harness new technologies in ways that advance human progress and human rights. If we continue to work together to find the best policies – while staying rooted in the shared values that have guided us for the last 60 years – there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)