When the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) was created half a century ago in 1961, its members accounted for
the lion’s share of the world economy and that remained the case for almost
three decades. Major international developments occurred from the late
1980s like the end of the Cold War; and the return of stability, open markets
and democracy to Latin America. But the OECD countries’ global economic
predominance was only really challenged by the rise of East Asia through its
export-oriented growth strategies.
The OECD responded to all these developments by inviting countries to
join the Organisation and participate in outreach activities. But what is striking
in this opening of the OECD membership is the lack of a visible presence of
Asia and a growing “eurocentricity”. The OECD’s membership has grown by 10
countries (to 34) over the past 17 years, but only one of these new members
(Korea) comes from Asia. Based on current trends, the OECD seems condemned
to represent an ever declining share of the world economy.
As the OECD enters its second half century, it is very much at a crossroads.
This paper argues that for the OECD to be a more effective and legitimate
player in global governance, it needs to make a major and immediate effort
to recruit large Asian countries as members, even if it means adopting a more
flexible approach to membership criteria and adapting the organisation. While
Asia’s leading economies would have much to gain from joining the OECD and
accepting and committing to the Organisation’s policy standards, the OECD
has to recognize that the global financial crisis has brought the “Western
brand” (which the OECD represents) into serious disrepute. This underlines the
argument for greater flexibility with respect to membership criteria.
As major beneficiaries of globalization, Asia’s leading economies arguably
have a responsibility to adopt more of the OECD’s values-based culture in
terms of good governance and transparency. Just as importantly Asia can
contribute to this organizational culture which has always evolved and needs
to evolve further. This would ultimately be beneficial to them and the global
economy, and they would thereby become more responsible stakeholders in the global system.
John West
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