Texte en français
COMMUNIQUE OF THE MEETING OF THE OECD COUNCIL MEETING AT MINISTERIAL LEVEL
26-27 May 1999
EVALUATION By the TUAC Secretariat
1. The 1999 OECD Ministerial Council was chaired by the Mexican Finance
Minister (Vice-Chairs: Italy and Poland). The agenda covered six areas:-
economic perspectives and policy requirements; the multilateral system
and a new WTO round; governance issues; OECD relations with non-Members;
South East Europe; and Development. The meeting was dominated by discussions
on the economic outlook and the agenda (including labour standards and
investment) for the November 1999 WTO Ministerial meeting in Seattle.
2. Building on last years initiative Donald Johnston, OECD
organised more extensive consultations with the social partners than in
past years. This took the form of a working dinner with key Ministers and
certain Heads of OECD Directorates on the eve of the Ministerial meeting
in addition to joint TUAC/BIAC consultations with Ministers.
3. The Ministerial meeting was preceded by a half day Special Dialogue
meeting with selected non-Member countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, India,
Indonesia, Russia, Slovakia and South Africa). In co-operation with the ICFTU, TUAC included the General Secretary of National Council of Trade
Unions of South Africa in the trade union delegation. He intervened actively
in the consultations.
Outcome of the OECD Ministerial Council meeting
4. The Communiqué issued at the end of the meeting highlighted
the emerging agenda on the need for governance of global markets, even
if the policies themselves have yet to fully reflect the changed realities
stemming from the latest crises of globalisation. Compared to previous years, Ministers gave more emphasis to the need for stronger and more
balanced growth among the main OECD region, given the unsatisfactory
growth performance of both the OECD area and the world economy in general.
Though falling short of meeting the trade union demand for an International
Commission to develop new architecture governing global financial markets,
Ministers stated the need to maintain the momentum to strengthen the
international financial architecture to ensure a stable environment
for growth and recovery. With regard to the OECD Jobs Strategy
Ministers referred to the need for a comprehensive and sustained package
of reforms consistent with the Jobs Strategy. A number of interventions
indicated the need to adopt new strategies to upgrade skills against the
background of the acceleration of technological change.
5. Ministers were split on the agenda for the forthcoming WTO Seattle
Ministerial meeting, and fear that they are losing the public debate
on the effects of globalisation. On the one hand the Communiqué
endorsed the need for a new round of trade negotiations to be completed
preferably in three years on the basis that nothing is agreed until all
is agreed, and that the needs of developing countries had to be accounted
for. On the other hand, major disagreements emerged around the inclusion
of new issues in the round, that go much beyond the inbuilt agenda. There
was agreement on the need to expand government procurement, and importantly
that future trade negotiations have to take account of environmental issues.
However, as regards investment Ministers removed earlier references
to shifting investment discussions to the WTO. Agreed language simply referred
to the constructive work of the WTO Trade and Investment work programme,
and its use in building a consensus on appropriate recommendations for
the Seattle meeting. Because of this all references to future OECD work
on investment fell, including the statement that the Review of the OECD
Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises represents a high priority for
the Organisation. As concerns competition policy and the new round, the
outcome was the same as that for investment.
6. The fault line deepened across the OECD on questions relating to
how the Seattle agenda should deal with core labour rights. In the
debate on this issue a clear majority of Ministers supported the need for
the WTO to address core labour rights. However, a minority of governments
led by Mexico in the Chair succeeded in blocking this. TUACs objective
had been to achieve the treatment of labour standards in the same way as
environment in the communiqué, i.e. appropriate account being taken
of environmental issues in future trade negotiations. This was not achieved.
However, the final language does provide a platform for further work. It
repeats some elements of the conclusions of the 1996 Singapore Ministerial,
alongside Ministers welcoming the work of the ILO to promote the 1998
and supporting co-operation between the ILO, WTO and OECD Secretariats
in this area. They stressed the importance of facilitating a broader understanding
of the issues concerned in and among Member countries. The last point
is an oblique reference to the forthcoming work by the OECD to up-date
the 1996 Report on Trade, Employment and labour Standards. Ministers also
recognised that promoting respect for labour rights and trade and investment
liberalisation, together with good governance, each contribute to better
overall living standards.
7. The differences of view on Seattle, and not just on labour standards,
are significant. For example, with expressed opposition by a number of
developing countries for the inclusion of investment in the WTO, and no
consensus across the OECD, the chances that Seattle will see the launch
of negotiations on a new multilateral agreement on investment are receding.
The fact that a majority of OECD governments spoke in favour of the labour
standards linkage shows some progress. The rhetoric of some Ministers that
linking trade and labour standards is somehow protectionist was reported
as sounding increasingly hollow. Furthermore, the call by Ministers for
active and constructive communication and consultation with civil society
on the benefits and challenges of liberalisation, is a further recognition
that global markets have to be given a social dimension.
8. The governance theme was taken further as an essential element
in strengthening pluralistic democracy and promoting sustainable development.
On this, Ministers requested the OECD to elaborate an initiative around
good governance, including its work on public sector management, anti-bribery,
regulatory reform, corporate governance, ethical principles in public life,
local and regional administrations, and ongoing work on indicators of global
progress on governance. Ministers endorsed the OECD Principles on Corporate
Governance that include a chapter covering stakeholders. In a separate
development the OECD and World Bank agreed to set up a joint Corporate
Governance Forum, and enhanced structures for regional and national policy
dialogue and development, including a new Private Sector Advisory Group.
The TUAC Secretariat will seek to ensure that this work both includes a
social dimension, and an institutional input for trade unions within the
new structures on corporate governance.