October 19, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at OECD Opening and Keynote Address

28 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Paris, France

OECD

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, and thank you all so much. Mathias, I must start by saying that to be linked to George Marshall is humbling, reminds me a little bit about how Allen & Rossi must have felt. And for those of you who don’t remember Allen & Rossi, that’s just the point. Americans in this audience may appreciate that they were the act that followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show many years ago. (Laughter.) But I do thank you, nonetheless.

And to you, Secretary-General, to all of our colleagues and especially to my good friends, Minister Eui-Yong, to Chung, to Minister Gramegna, thank you for the great work that has brought us to today and to this ministerial.

And if I could also just start with one quick point of personal reflection. I have a particular attachment to the OECD. Many years ago, when I was doing research on what became my college thesis, I came here to the OECD to go to the library, to talk to some of the experts, and I was like a kid in a candy shop, because there was so much here that helped inform that work, both in the incredible studies that have been done and some of the experts that I was given access to. And that thesis then turned into a book some years later, which is apparently still available on Amazon. (Laughter.) It’s called Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis. Let me warn anyone who tries to find it that one reviewer said that it’s the kind of book that, once put down, is very hard to pick up again. (Laughter.) But having said that, I thank the OECD these many years later for having provided so much thought and insight.

But we are here on a momentous day and occasion, the sixtieth anniversary of the OECD. And it gives us a chance to reflect on what’s changed since the organization’s inception, but also what has not.

So obviously, some of the challenges that we face today in cyber space, the climate crisis, they would have been inconceivable to the architects of this institution and the post-World War II order. And yet, the shared values at the core of the OECD and the reasons the world still needs this organization – in fact, I would argue needs it more than ever – remain constant.

We believe that our economic health is rooted in democracy, the rule of law, human rights, a commitment to open and transparent market economies.

The OECD’s influence has always been rooted in its ability to apply these shared principles to the most urgent challenges of the time, and to bring others along with us. Today is no different.

So what I’d like to do is focus on four significant challenges that we face now, and how the OECD can help address them.

The first, no surprise, is the COVID-19 pandemic. All of our countries have experienced the devastating losses, starting with the deaths of 4.8 million children, women, men – every single one of whom left loved ones behind. And our people have suffered the secondary blow of an economic crisis.

The OECD has provided us with critical data forecasting the economic impact of this crisis and elevated evidence-based strategies to build back better.

The OECD was among the first organizations to push for groups of countries to make advance purchases of vaccines, which allowed companies to double down on production. This is the approach we’ve used to get safe, effective vaccines to lower and middle-income countries through COVAX. And it will help us meet the commitment we made at the recent summit convened by President Biden during the UN General Assembly to fully vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population in 2022 – in every country, in every income category.

The second challenge is the climate crisis.

Every member state is experiencing extreme weather events, with cascading effects on virtually every aspect of our economies and our lives, from agriculture to infrastructure to public health to food security.

To prevent cataclysmic consequences, we have to take immediate, bold action to build resilience and adapt to the unavoidable impacts, while also moving with greater urgency to achieve a net-zero world. This is our shared charge, and that’s what we’re focused on for the COP26, which is just weeks away.

Together, OECD countries produce more than 28 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. We account for over 60 percent of world GDP. What we do – what we do will have a massive impact on our ability to meet our target of limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Our member states must model the behavior that we expect from others. That means adopting ambitious, nationally determined contributions to reduce emissions and invest in climate adaptation, moving swiftly to stop unabated coal emissions, ending investments in coal at home and abroad, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

The OECD digital climate tracker will help hold us to our commitments by openly tracking our nations’ progress toward the goals that we set.

We’ve got to also embrace high standards around infrastructure investment, which elevate environmental and social sustainability alongside economic viability, transparency, inclusivity. That means designing and building ports, airports, roads, power grids, internet access, and other critical infrastructure in a way that significantly reduces carbon emissions, and ensures greater resilience in the face of climate change.

That’s the idea behind something we talked about a little earlier today, the Blue Dot Network – an initiative of the United States, Japan, and Australia to certify infrastructure projects based on existing standards developed by the OECD and multilateral development banks, along with others. The OECD’s Trust in Business team and the Executive Consultation Group of more than 160 representatives from business, from civil society, and academia that the OECD helped organize are already strengthening the methods that the Blue Dot Network will use.

With the OECD estimating that $6.9 trillion per year of infrastructure investment would be required to meet a 2 degrees Celsius scenario – a target we now know isn’t – not – is not ambitious enough – we see vast opportunities for greater collaboration with the OECD going forward.

Infrastructure investment is just one example of how the swift, bold actions our nations have to take to avert this crisis represent a once-in-generations opportunity to spur economic growth and create good paying jobs.

But even if the transition to a green economy produces an overall increase in jobs – which we believe it will – not all of those positions will be filled by workers who lost old jobs. We have an obligation to bring everyone along.

This brings me to the third challenge: inequity. The data are crystal clear: Both the pandemic and the climate crisis are hitting underserved populations in our society the hardest. We see this in the United States, where minority communities have suffered a much higher proportion of deaths from COVID-19, as well as greater harm from the accelerating impacts of climate change.

Now, we all bear some responsibility for this. For decades, our member countries measured economic success chiefly in terms of rising GDP and stock markets – which don’t reflect the reality of millions of working families. Instead, our unprecedented growth has frequently come with rising inequity. People in all our countries and around the world want greater growth and greater equity. The OEC – OECD, excuse me, can help deliver on that.

One way is by advancing efforts on a global corporate minimum tax rate, as Mathias discussed. This will allow us to avoid a self-defeating race to the bottom in which all of our countries have lowered our corporate tax rates, only to see others lower theirs in response. This race has gone on for decades – and no country has won it. Instead, lower tax rates have failed to attract new business and deprived workers and companies of a fair playing field in which to compete. What’s more, this approach has made it easier for companies to avoid paying their fair share. The OECD estimates that corporate tax avoidance costs anywhere from $100 billion to $240 billion every single year. These are resources that could be invested back into our communities on education, on health care, on green infrastructure.

A shared approach on taxation will end this race, level the playing field, stabilize the international tax system. And it will advance greater equity between nations, making it easier for developing countries to collect tax revenues and fund development priorities. We’ve got to get this done; we’ve got to get this done together.

The OECD can also show us how rising inequity actually hurts all of us. The United States is investing in a series of initiatives to expand the organization’s capacity to collect and analyze data that actually measures the cost of discrimination.

For example, we’re helping fund the OECD’s research on the likely net economic and social benefits of our countries enhancing the inclusion of LGBTI people. And we’re investing in expanding the OECD’s capacity to collect and analyze data that’s disaggregated by race and by gender. This will build on the OECD’s important research demonstrating the widespread economic benefits of economically empowering women. In Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, for example, increases in women’s employment accounted for 10 to 20 percent of average annual GDP per capita growth over the past 40 to 50 years.

At the heart of all these efforts is the recognition that, more than ever, the true wealth of our nations is found not only in our natural resources, the strength of our militaries, the expanse of our geography, our abundance in natural resources, but in our people, and in our capacity to fully unleash their potential.

Finally, we face the challenge of shaping the rules for new and emerging technologies. We must ensure that advances in technology are used to lift people up and advance human freedom – not suppress dissent, further entrench inequities, or target minority communities. For example, we’ve seen the way predictive algorithms from policing to prison sentencing to parole can reinforce bias against black people in the United States.

Together, we can help ensure our values and interests help shape the new digital rules of the road.

Consider just the field of artificial intelligence. Our joint support for the OECD’s Principles on AI back in 2019 – the first set of intergovernmental principles on the topic – and the launch of the Global Partnership on AI in 2020, laid a foundation for the world to build on.

Just last week, I joined the secretary-general of – excuse me, the United States Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimundo; our U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who is here in Paris as well; and European Union representatives in Pittsburgh for the first-ever meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council.

We adopted a joint statement on AI principles that’s firmly rooted in the OECD’s 2019 recommendation, underscoring the importance of trustworthy AI that respects human rights and democratic values. Just days before that, the United States, Australia, Japan, India – the so-called Quad – committed to integrating human rights and democratic values into the way technology is designed, developed, governed, and used.

Our ongoing conversations with members have highlighted other crucial technology issues that we have to address in a similar way – including those around cyber security, digital assets, supply chain security. We’re looking forward to consulting with our fellow democracies on how the OECD can play a leading role in shaping these spheres as well.

Sixty years since the founding of the OECD, we find ourselves at an inflection point.

The principles at the heart of this organization and our democracies are being challenged by authoritarian governments that argue that their model is better at meeting people’s basic needs. Some of these same governments are actively seeking to undermine the rules-based order that’s been fundamental to security and prosperity for our countries for generations.

The stakes simply could not be higher.

And so the work of the OECD has never been so important. We’ve got to prove that our approach can make life better for people – in our countries and in all countries. And in a way that’s more equitable than it’s been in the past.

Let’s remember the fundamental advantage of our democratic model: openness. It lets us – and our citizens – see where we’re succeeding and where we’re coming up short. To learn from each other. To hold ourselves accountable. To do better.

And the OECD in particular – through its rigorous, objective research – helps point out how we can do better, identifying better policies for better lives.

In 1947, when President Truman went before the United States Congress to make the case for the Marshall Plan, he held up the recently created OEEC – the forerunner of the OECD – as an example of why forging tighter bonds with fellow democracies was in America’s interest. He said, and I quote:

“When the representatives of 16 sovereign nations – with diverse peoples, histories, and institutions – jointly determine to achieve closer economic ties among themselves and to break away from the self-defeating actions of narrow nationalism, the obstacles in the way of recovery appear less formidable.”

We now number 38 member nations, which means our collective ability to surmount these obstacles is even greater. And the United States is committed to seeing the organization continue to grow stronger. We’re ready to work with fellow members to build consensus on a way forward, so applicant countries that share our values and meet the OECD’s high standards can pursue a path to membership.

No matter how significant the challenges we face, they are less formidable when we face them together. And every one of these challenges offers an opportunity to deliver for our people: to strengthen our interconnected public health; to sustain our majestic planet while creating new and good-paying jobs; to expand our economies in a way that lifts up all of our people; to harness new technologies in ways that advance human progress and human rights. If we continue to work together to find the best policies – while staying rooted in the shared values that have guided us for the last 60 years – there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Thank you so much. (Applause.)

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    As of August 20, 2020, the U.S. had over 5.5 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19, and 158,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted between March and July 2020 to provide appropriations for the response to COVID-19. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to COVID-19. This second report examines federal spending on the COVID-19 response; indicators for monitoring public health and the economy; and the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations from GAO’s June 2020 report (GAO-20-625). GAO reviewed data through June 30, 2020 (the latest available) from USAspending.gov, a government website with data from government agencies. GAO also obtained, directly from the agencies, spending data, as of July 31, 2020, for the six largest spending areas, to the extent available. To develop the public health indicators, GAO reviewed research and federal guidance. To understand economic developments, GAO reviewed data from federal statistical agencies, the Federal Reserve, and Bloomberg Terminal, as well as economic research. To update the status of matters for congressional consideration and recommendations, GAO reviewed agency and congressional actions. In response to the national public health and economic threats caused by COVID-19, four relief laws making appropriations of about $2.6 trillion had been enacted as of July 31, 2020. Overall, federal obligations and expenditures government-wide of these COVID-19 relief funds totaled $1.5 trillion and $1.3 trillion, respectively, as of June 30, 2020. GAO also obtained preliminary data for six major spending areas as of July 31, 2020 (see table). COVID-19 Relief Appropriations, Obligations, and Expenditures for Six Major Spending Areas, as of July 2020 Spending area Appropriationsa ($ billions) Preliminary obligationsb ($ billions) Preliminary expendituresb ($ billions) Business Loan Programs 687.3 538.1 522.2c Economic Stabilization and Assistance to Distressed Sectors 500.0 30.4 19.2c Unemployment Insurance 376.4 301.1 296.8 Economic Impact Payments 282.0 273.5 273.5 Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund 231.7 129.6 95.9 Coronavirus Relief Fund 150.0 149.5 149.5 Total for six spending areas 2,227.4 1,422.2 1,357.0 Source: GAO analysis of data from the Department of the Treasury, USAspending.gov, and applicable agencies. | GAO-20-708 aCOVID-19 relief appropriations reflect amounts appropriated under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-123, 134 Stat. 146; Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Pub. L. No. 116-127, 134 Stat. 178 (2020); CARES Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020); and Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Pub. L. No. 116-139, 134 Stat. 620 (2020). These data are based on appropriations warrant information provided by the Department of the Treasury as of July 31, 2020. These amounts could increase in the future for programs with indefinite appropriations, which are appropriations that, at the time of enactment, are for an unspecified amount. In addition, this table does not represent transfers of funds that federal agencies may make between appropriation accounts or transfers of funds they may make to other agencies. bObligations and expenditures data for July 2020 are based on preliminary data reported by applicable agencies. cThese expenditures relate to the loan subsidy costs (the loan’s estimated long-term costs to the United States government). The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to assess the impact of the federal response on public health and the economy. The following are examples of health care and economic indicators that GAO is monitoring. Health care. GAO’s indicators are intended to assess the nation’s immediate response to COVID-19 as it first took hold, gauge its recovery from the effects of the pandemic over the longer term, and determine the nation’s level of preparedness for future pandemics, involving subsequent waves of either COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. For example, to assess the sufficiency of testing—a potential indicator of the system’s response and recovery—GAO suggests monitoring the proportion of tests in a given population that are positive for infection. A higher positivity rate can indicate that testing is not sufficiently widespread to find all cases. That is higher positivity rates can indicate that testing has focused on those most likely to be infected and seeking testing because they have symptoms, and may not be detecting COVID-19 cases among individuals with no symptoms. Although there is no agreed-upon threshold for the test positivity rate, governments should target low positivity rates. The World Health Organization recommends a test positivity rate threshold of less than 5 percent over a 14-day period. As of August 12, 2020, 12 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (38 states had not). Resolve to Save Lives, another organization, recommends a threshold of less than 3 percent over a 7-day period, and 11 states and the District of Columbia had met this threshold (39 states had not) as of August 12, 2020. GAO also suggests monitoring mortality from all causes compared to historical norms as an indicator of the pandemic’s broad effect on health care outcomes. Mortality rates have tended to be consistent from year to year. This allows an estimation of how much mortality rose with the onset of the pandemic, and provides a baseline by which to judge a return to pre-COVID levels. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 125,000 more people died from all causes January 1–June 13 than would normally be expected (see figure). CDC Data on Higher-Than-Expected Weekly Mortality, January 1 through June 13, 2020 Note: The figure shows the number of deaths from all causes in a given week that exceeded the upper bound threshold of expected deaths calculated by CDC on the basis of variation in mortality experienced in prior years. Changes in the observed numbers of deaths in recent weeks should be interpreted cautiously as this figure relies on provisional data that are generally less complete in recent weeks. Data were accessed on July 16, 2020. Economy. GAO updated information on a number of indicators to facilitate ongoing and consistent monitoring of areas of the economy supported by the federal pandemic response, in particular the COVID-19 relief laws. These indicators suggest that economic conditions—including for workers, small businesses, and corporations—have improved modestly in recent months but remain much weaker than prior to the pandemic. In June and July initial regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims filed weekly averaged roughly 1.4 million (see figure), which was six and a half times higher than average weekly claims in 2019, but claims have decreased substantially since mid-March, falling to 971,000 in the week ending August 8, 2020. Increasing infections in some states and orders to once again close or limit certain businesses are likely to pose additional challenges for potentially fragile economic improvements, especially in affected sectors, such as the leisure and hospitality sector. National Weekly Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims, January 2019–July 2020 Note: See figure 5 in the report. As GAO reported in June, consistent with the urgency of responding to serious and widespread health issues and economic disruptions, federal agencies gave priority to moving swiftly where possible to distribute funds and implement new programs designed to help small businesses and the newly unemployed, for example. However, such urgency required certain tradeoffs in achieving transparency and accountability goals. To make mid-course corrections, GAO made three recommendations to federal agencies: To reduce the potential for duplicate payments from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—a program that provides guaranteed loans through lenders to small businesses—and unemployment insurance, GAO recommended that the Department of Labor (DOL), in consultation with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), immediately provide information to state unemployment agencies that specifically addresses PPP loans, and the risk of improper unemployment insurance payments. DOL issued guidance on August 12, 2020, that, among other things, clarified that individuals working full-time and being paid through PPP are not eligible for UI. To recoup economic impact payments totaling more than $1.6 billion sent to decedents, GAO recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider cost-effective options for notifying ineligible recipients of economic impact payments how to return payments. IRS has taken steps to address this recommendation. According to a Treasury official, nearly 70 percent of the payments sent to decedents have been recovered. However, GAO was unable to verify that amount before finalizing work on this report. GAO is working with Treasury to determine the number of payments sent to decedents that have been recovered. Treasury was considering sending letters to request the return of remaining outstanding payments but has not moved forward with this effort because, according to Treasury, Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or change payment eligibility requirements. To reduce the potential for fraud and ensure program integrity, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA has begun developing oversight plans for PPP but has not yet finalized or implemented them. In addition, to improve the government’s response efforts, GAO suggested three matters for congressional consideration: GAO urged Congress to take legislative action to require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and international organizations, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to ensure safeguards are in place to limit the spread of communicable disease threats from abroad, while also minimizing any unnecessary interference with travel and trade. In early July 2020, DOT collaborated with HHS and DHS to issue guidance to airports and airlines for implementing measures to mitigate the public health risks associated with COVID-19, but it has not developed a preparedness plan for future communicable disease threats. DOT has maintained that HHS and DHS should lead such planning efforts as they are responsible for communicable disease response and preparedness planning, respectively. In June 2020, HHS stated that it is not in a position to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan as it does not have primary jurisdiction over the entire aviation sector or the relevant transportation expertise. In May 2020, DHS stated that it had reviewed its existing plans for pandemic preparedness and response activities and determined it is not best situated to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan. Without such a plan, the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to future communicable disease events. GAO also urged Congress to amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to help prevent payments to ineligible individuals. In June 2020, the Senate passed S.4104, referred to as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If enacted, the bill would allow SSA to share these data with Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service to avoid paying deceased individuals. Finally, GAO urged Congress to use GAO's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula for any future changes to the FMAP—the statutory formula according to which the federal government matches states' spending for Medicaid services—during the current or any future economic downturn. Congress has taken no action thus far on this issue. GAO incorporated technical comments received the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury; the Federal Reserve; Office of Management and Budget; and Internal Revenue Service. The Small Business Administration commented that GAO did not include information on actions taken and controls related to its loan forgiveness program or its plans for loan reviews. GAO plans to provide more information on these topics in its next CARES Act report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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