A return to multilateralism under Joe Biden is ‘extremely promising,’ OECD says

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees to serve on his health and coronavirus response teams during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, December 8, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The multilateral approach to global affairs came under attack during President Donald Trump’s administration with the “America First” agenda sweeping aside more cooperative and communal strategies to world trade, diplomacy and politics.

But the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) told CNBC on Monday that a Biden presidency is likely to redress the balance in favor of multilateralism.

“I think the fact that the future president of the U.S. is putting multilateralism front and center and is saying that the question of climate is going to be a priority, that the question of biodiversity is going to be a priority, is extremely encouraging, extremely promising, and I would say that we all have to contribute to make it work,” Angel Gurria told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Monday.

Multilateralism — an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal — was the only way to “build back better” following the coronavirus pandemic, Gurria said.

“All multilateral organizations are facing very big challenges and ours is not an exception,” Gurria said, but it still represented the best way to tackle the world’s problems, he added.

“Multilateral, multilateral, multilateral: That is the only way to deal with trade, that is the way to deal with investment, that is the way to deal with climate change, biodiversity and migration and it is certainly the way to deal with the pandemic.”

Although he refused to be drawn on Trump’s attacks on multilateralism, Gurria said it was positive that President-elect Joe Biden signaled a return to a more multilateral approach on global issues, such as the environment. “The multilateral way has proven to be not only the only way, but the better way,” Gurria said.

The OECD has 36 member countries and aims to stimulate economic progress and world trade. On Monday, it is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signature of the OECD Convention. French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Gurria are all due to make keynote speeches at a virtual event.

Earlier this month, the OECD raised its 2021 outlook for global growth. In its latest Economic Outlook report, the organization said that the prospect of coronavirus vaccines becoming widely available next year had “lifted hopes for a faster recovery” although it warned that policymakers would “need to retain both public health and fiscal support while acting decisively for the momentum to pick up.”

“Activity will continue to be restricted with social distancing and partly-closed borders most likely remaining through the first half of 2021,” the OECD said. It predicted that global gross domestic product will rise by 4.2% in 2021 (after contracting 4.2% this year), with China expected to account for over one-third of that growth.

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