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Meeting with OECD secretary-general inaugurates the organization's partnership with USP

by Richard Meckien - published May 07, 2021 01:00 PM - - last modified Jun 02, 2021 08:45 AM
Rights: Original version in Portuguese by Mauro Bellesa.

Angel Gurría - 6/5/2021
Angel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, during his presentation at the meeting

Although not yet a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Brazil is like a "family member" and partnerships with Brazilian institutions allow the organization to work with and for the country in building a more inclusive and resilient society, said the secretary-general Angel Gurría during his participation in the online meeting "OECD and USP: Reconfiguring the World from Knowledge," on May 6.

Among the OECD partner countries, Brazil is the one that has made the most of this relationship and has invested in several areas of public policies to approach the organization's standards, according to Gurría. As an example, he cited a project launched in October that is helping to align Brazilian policies with OECD's environmental criteria.

The online meeting with Gurría, who will leave the OECD later this month after three consecutive five-year terms, celebrated the beginning of cooperation between the organization and USP. He will soon become an IEA researcher. In addition to the secretary-general, the Brazilian delegate with international economic organizations headquartered in Paris, ambassador Carlos Márcio Cozendey, and the president of USP, Vahan Agopyan, gave presentations. Mediation was provided by the general coordinator of the International Economic Analysis Group (GACINT) of USP's Institute of International Relations (IRI), Alberto Pfeifer.

Guilherme Ary Plonski, director of the IEA, opened the event by pointing out that the cooperation between USP and the OECD is based on the common concern of both institutions in promoting the production of knowledge "to move towards a prosperous human society in harmony with nature."

He highlighted the significance of OECD's slogan "Better Policies for Better Lives" and the organization's concern with formulating international evidence-based references in order to find solutions to economic, social, and environmental challenges.

"The IEA is available to collaborate in the production of knowledge based on this cooperation and to contribute to the initiatives for Brazil to become a member of the organization," he said.

Carlos Márcio Cozendey - 6/5/2021
Ambassador Carlos Márcio Cozendey

"Even though not being a member of the organization, Brazil participates in almost all committees and working groups, and has already adhered to 99 OECD recommendations, according to Cozendey. "The country is interested in becoming a member to participate in all dimensions of the OECD, exchange experiences, and present public policies."

The partnership is part of this exchange of policy formulations, said the ambassador: "Having the University to establish and follow the interaction between public policies in Brazil and the OECD recommendations is an input for the organization's recommendations to also reflect the Brazilian reality."

For Agopyan, the internationalization present in the cooperation is a tool for USP to improve its levels of quality, "an essential search for all research universities."

In this century, all research universities seek to have ever greater interaction with society, he said. "USP is also doing this and it is natural that, for this purpose, universities seek partnerships with governments, entities, and international groups."

In June, at a meeting in Switzerland, Agopyan will defend the idea that universities are reliable sources of public policy. "If the OECD is concerned about this, USP and other research universities are at the disposal of the organization and national governments to develop proposals for public policies to be used by governments," concluded the president.

Effects of the pandemic

In his brief presentation followed by answers to questions from guests, Gurría commented that the COVID-19 pandemic reversed all the economic recovery achieved after the crisis that started in 2008, "but the prospects are improving and we expect a global economic growth of 5.6 %, with economy returning to pre-pandemic levels by the middle of this year." However, he warned that this projection depends on the rate of vaccination and the eventual spread of variants of the virus.

"Brazil was recovering from a recession when the pandemic a second recession came. The economic measures adopted by the government, such as emergency aid, supported millions of vulnerable families. Without these measures, the economic contraction would be even greater and the recovery in 2021 much slower than the projected GDP growth of 3.7%."

However, he stressed that the recovery must be guided by more just and sustainable growth. To that end, Gurría defended three lines of action, the first of which is to increase the effectiveness of social benefits to strengthen the population's first line of defense against economic shocks. "If well oriented, Brazil's conditional cash transfer system could be converted into a real social safety network," he said.

The second recommendation is to support professional qualification in order to allow workers to switch their jobs to better ones and for entrepreneurs to end unproductive and polluting activities. "In the long run, improving the quality and equity of vocational training reduces inequalities and poverty," according to the secretary-general.

His third suggestion is to link economic recovery measures to the sustainability agenda. "The most urgent task now is to vaccinate people quickly and protect us from further outbreaks of COVID-19, but the intergenerational commitment is to protect the planet," she said. For Gurría, the fact that the Amazon rainforest is the largest reserve of biodiversity in the world and 60% of it is in Brazil, makes the country a leader for the reshaping and reconstruction of the global economy in a more resilient way.

Continuity and relations

The questions from the guests to Gurría addressed the continuity of programs implemented in his management, mainly those related to environment and education, the organization's relationship with sub and supranational organizations, and prospects for Brazil's entry into the OECD.

Vahan Agopyan - 6/5/2021
Vahan Agopyan, president of USP

Jacques Marcovitch, former president of USP and former director of the IEA, asked whether OECD's emphasis on environmental issues will continue and what the weight of the environmental issue will be for Brazil's intentions to become one of the organization's members.

"Gurría said that the future secretary-general, a former finance minister in Australia, assured member countries that the OECD will continue its environmental policies. As for joining the organization, he said that Brazil has a huge advantage over the other five current candidates (Argentina, Peru, Romania, Croatia, and Bulgaria): "Brazil is already in the family, like a cousin who is already in the kitchen of the organization, because instead of waiting to be accepted, the work with the OECD has already started."

Cláudia Costin, a member of IEA's Board and director of the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), expressed concern about the continuity in the new management of education programs, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). There is no risk of interruption, according to Gurría: "The PISA is a brand of the organization and will constantly evolve. It is becoming not only a reference, but also an instrument for comparison and ranking, not to indicate who is better or worse, but to measure the fundamental issues, and indicate what is good or bad and what can be improved."

"Still in the field of education, Roseli de Deus Lopes, deputy director of the IEA, wanted to know what the OECD recommendations for Brazil are, since recent evaluations indicate a drop in school performance and greater inequality in education. The secretary-general argued that something very important is the acquisition of digital skills by young people. "We know that the future will be much more digital because we had to act almost entirely digitally due to the pandemic. To be able to reintegrate into the labour market, it is necessary to have digital competence, but only 50% of the countries' workforce has ability to act in a technological environment."

Vinicius Mota, editor in chief of the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, asked if threats to democracy in Brazil could weigh on OECD's decision to accept the country as a member. Gurría said that problems with the quality of democracy are not on the agenda in relation to Brazil's entry. "I do not know anyone who says that Brazil is not a democracy. That is the great advantage of the country: to be recognized as a democracy". Problems with democracy "are no one's monopoly," he emphasized, recalling recent changes in electoral legislation in Georgia, USA, which make it difficult for some publics to participate in the local elections.

"The director of IRI, Janina Onuki, wanted to know what benefits can be expected from OECD partnerships with subnational governments, as in the case of the government of the state of São Paulo. These partnerships are increasingly important, said Gurría, "because everything is happening at the local level and it is necessary to go where the action takes place." He added that the OECD works with many states, provinces, and cities in many countries. "The world today is urbanized. Countries like Mexico and Brazil have become urban without becoming rich and all the problems arising from the growth of cities have arisen."

The relationship between the OECD and the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the subject of the question by USP professor emeritus Celso Lafer, another member of IEA's Board and former Minister of Foreign Affairs. For the secretary-general, the organizations complement each other: "Although the WTO has a lot of technical capacity to deal with problems of jurisdictional systems and conflicts of interest, it does not have the technical capacity to carry out analyzes and comparisons, leading to the extraction of information for public policies."

"For him, there is a methodological problem, as the OECD has 37 members (soon 38 with the entry of Costa Rica) and the WTO has 200 countries. "We work with almost every UN body. They know that we have 37 members, but they do not come to us for the sake of universality, yet rather because of the globalizing impact of the OECD recommendations."

Photos: IEA-USP