A Pitch for Multilaterism with Cecilia Malmström, Candidate for Secretary-General of the OECD

On December 16, two days after the 60th anniversary of establishing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Meridian International Center’s Corporate Council hosted OECD Candidate for Secretary-General Cecilia Malmström for a candid discussion of her vision for the OECD in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic and growing climate concerns. The Former European Union Trade Commissioner Ms. Malmström argued the need for a multilateral and a joint effort on other pressing issues such as trade, the digital economy and dealing with non-member states such as China. Moderated by the Former U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski, the conversation examined the role of the OECD in dealing with these global issues and how the organization and others like it remain relevant.

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation:

  1. MODERNIZING THE OECD. The OECD can present credible and concrete policy options on how to manage modern global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Green and sustainable policy models should be at the heart of the OECD’s agenda where the organization can provide solid policy advice to countries on their transition into a green economy. Furthermore, the OECD is equipped to address the growing inequities between countries and citizens such as women, low-skilled workers, and migrants. The OECD can provide policy frameworks and best practices for member states on how they can create a more inclusive labor market and work together on building a safe and fair digital economy.
  2. CLIMATE IS FRONT AND CENTER. Malmström pledges that climate will be the OECD’s focus should she receive the position as Secretary-General. The OECD will work towards the long-term development of climate friendly and sustainable economies, and recently released a report on the effectiveness of green investments made after the 2009 financial crisis. This report highlights both the successes and failures of these investments, but could go even further by providing countries with a guideline on how to adjust their policymaking to receive the best climate outcomes. Furthermore, the OECD can help translate the commitments set forth in the Paris Agreement into policies that work. For example, the EU’s carbon border adjustment tax could potentially move towards a global carbon tax. She indicates that this needs to be looked at carefully before making any sort of recommendations and the OECD is well placed to do that.
  3. DEVELOPING A DIGITAL AGENDA. Malmström understands that there is more that the OECD can do in building a comprehensive digital framework for member states. The digital economy and marketplace have grown exponentially since the global pandemic and it is incumbent on multilateral organizations to establish a viable digital strategy that allows member states to maintain their sovereignty while seeking guidance on how to navigate new developments in technology. With regards to digital services taxes, Malmström remains optimistic that a conclusion to the new global tax framework will proceed as scheduled, and notes that without a global structure, individual countries’ tax regimes would lead to unpredictability and instability for businesses.
  4. ENGAGING WITH CHINA. The OECD will continue to constructively engage with non-member states, including China, on issues such as global trade and climate change. For example, Malmström asserts that the OECD will dictate the terms of engagement with China on climate so that China remains transparent and compliant with OECD values. Additionally, the OECD has also worked extensively on subsidy issues with China and will continue to hold them accountable to global rules. She noted the OECD’s growing need to work with other multilateral organizations such as the WTO, WHO and UN on China for issues like anti-bribery and steel reform. Malmström acknowledges that countries are becoming increasingly more interdependent and productive engagement with non-democratic countries is necessary.
  5. CATALYST FOR DEMOCRACY. The OECD is a community of member states that upholds democratic values and market based economic principals. While some countries cannot become members as they do not meet the criteria, the OECD can still encourage them to align with international conventions in the hopes that they will be able to join. Malmström encourages countries in ASEAN and Africa to work towards reform so that they can be an active participant in the OECD.

Project summary

A Pitch for Multilaterism with Cecilia Malmström, Candidate for Secretary-General of the OECD | December 2020
Number of Attendees: 50
Regions: Western Hemisphere, Europe and Eurasia
Impact Areas: Business and Trade
Program Areas: Diplomacy
Partners: Private Sector