OECD to discuss challenges

Paris, May 21 :

Ministers from 30 countries and key economic policymakers meet in Paris this week for the annual conference of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with the incoming secretary general, Mexico’s Angel Gurria, set to take the reins.

The two-day long OECD forum tackles the challenges to the global economy, with ministers expected to discuss high oil prices, evidence of growing inflation, the outlook for interest rat-es, as well as stalled negotiations on a global trade deal.

On Wednesday, the current secretary general of the OECD, Donald Johnston of Canada, is to preside over a ceremony to hand power to his successor, Gurria, who was named after an international contest for the job in November. The OECD, is an international economic think-tank that undertakes research and issues advice to its 30 member states, which are all industrialised.

The organisation is to pu-blish its spring world economic outlook on Tuesday, an influential document ou-tlining the prospects for the global economy, including detailed analysis of the economic situation in the US, Japan, the eurozone and other major economies.

Of key interest for observers will be comments on the possibility of further increases in global interest rates following data in the US and eurozone that indicated that the near doubling of oil prices in the last 12 months is beginning to create inflationary pressure.

Global stock markets were rattled in the last week, with a broad sell off in the US, Europe and Asia sparked by fears that further rises in interest rates could dampen economic growth.

Nevertheless, the forecasts from the OECD are likely to indicate that robust growth will continue in 2006 for the fourth successive year owing to expansion in the US, evidence of a recovery in Japan and ongoing demand form Asian powerhouses China and India. Other talks are to focus on the subject of imbalances in the global economy and economic reforms, with ministers and policymakers given the opportunity to discuss progress made in other member countries.

Introducing flexibility into the labour market remains a challenging reform to implement in many developed economies where opposition from trade unions and fear about job insecurity are major hurdles, not least in host country France where the centre-right government had to abandon a labour market reform in April because of widespread protests.

The conference is to be chaired by the Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, and the secretary general of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, is also expected to attend. The latest round of WTO negotiations aimed at agreeing a global deal to lower barriers to commerce and increase international trade to the benefit of poor nations are currently deadlocked beca-use of differences between the EU and US as well as conflict between developed and developing countries.

Negotiations, which traditionally form part of the OECD conference, are likely to be handicapped by the absence of the foreign minister of Brazil, Celso Amorim, whose country along with India is one of the main representatives of emerging countries. EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, who negotiates on behalf of the European Union, and US trade chief Rob Portman will be at the event however and are expected to tackle their differences.

Representatives from 14 non-OECD members will also be at the conference.

Gurria new executive

PARIS: Angel Gurria, the incoming head of the OECD, is a former Mexican finance minister who steered his country out of an economic crisis and now wants to help other governments with needed reforms. Gurria will be invested in his post as secretary general of the OECD in Paris on Wednesday, and will officially take the reins on June 1. The goal of OECD is to share experiences and not give advice, and what it has to offer is a wealth of knowledge from the best expe-rts on whatever topic: Taxes, genetically modified seeds, environment. — AFP