Australia’s longest-serving finance minister Mathias Cormann has been appointed Secretary General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Australian Adrian Blundell-Wignall is a former senior official of the OECD, serving for nine years as deputy director and then director in the OECD Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs.
He talked to Economics Editor Peter Martin about Cormann’s new role.
Peter Martin: Is the OECD Secretary General thought of as a policy change agent or more as an administrator in your view?
Adrian Blundell-Wignall: That will depend in part on the skills, energy and character of the particular Secretary General of course.
Recent examples include bank secrecy and the automatic exchange of information, tax reform, bribery and corruption, responsible business conduct and the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges in 79 countries.
And behind the scenes, the OECD has played important roles in the G20 and the Paris climate talks.
PM: Does Mathias Cormann have the skills and character needed to carry on where his predecessor of 15 years Ángel Gurría left off?
ABW: Gurría will always be a hard act to follow. I do not know Cormann personally, but his background should serve him well.
Take global tax as an example. Work on base erosion and profit shifting and taxing internet-based firms is well under way at the OECD. But it remains a challenge because countries are always tempted to serve their perceived national interests rather than the collective interest.
Legal frameworks remain problematic. Franchise-based companies (such as coffee shops and fast food outlets) have hundreds of perfectly-legal affiliates including entities based in the Cayman Islands. They still pay little tax.
There is general acceptance of the need for a framework to tax digital businesses with no tangible presence in the countries in which they make money, but we are a long way from implementation.
Major member countries are motivated to complete reforms in these areas. Garnering their support to promote workable solutions would be a huge feather in Cormann’s cap.LUKAS COCH/AAP
As finance minister Cormann was a key member of the Australian government economic team and its leader in the Senate.
In those roles he demonstrated strong leadership on corporate tax issues (despite his department not running tax administration in Australia) and impressive negotiating skills. They will serve him well in completing Gurria’s agenda.
PM: Can the OECD assist with global economic coordination following the pandemic?
ABW: The OECD does not have executive functions such as lending for crisis management or regulating financial institutions. As always, this will always limit its role. On the other hand, it can play a key supportive role developing ideas with governments using its expertise in international linkage effects and forecasting
These roles become particularly important during global crises, as was so after 2008, when the G20 really did try to work for better collective outcomes.
PM: Will Mathias Cormann play a leadership role in climate decisions?
ABW: The answer is a solid “yes”.
- ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (www.oecd.org)
- ^ Adrian Blundell-Wignall (www.oecd.org)
- ^ huge impact (www.afr.com)
- ^ PISA (www.oecd.org)
- ^ base erosion and profit shifting (www.oecd.org)
- ^ Mathias Cormann wants to lead the OECD. The choice will be pivotal (theconversation.com)
- ^ executive functions (theconversation.com)
- ^ Climate change is important for the OECD (www.oecd.org)
- ^ International Energy Agency (www.iea.org)
Authors: Adrian Blundell-Wignall, Adjunct Professor, School of Economics, University of Sydney