Global Productivity Forum, Day 1, 8 July 2021


Remarks by Mathias Cormann,

Secretary-General, OECD

Venice, Italy, 8 July 2021

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

I am delighted to welcome you to the 2021 Conference of the OECD Global Forum on Productivity.

Let me start by thanking Italy for hosting and co-organising this event, with particular thanks to the Ministry of Economy and Finance for its continued support to this Forum since its creation, in 2015.

I would also like to express my appreciation to the Italian G20 Presidency for bringing the issue of productivity to the forefront of this year’s G20 discussions.

My thanks also go to the members of the Global Forum Steering Group for their continued support and their active collaboration in the OECD’s productivity research.

As many of you know, despite rapid technological change and rising education levels, productivity growth has been slowing across advanced economies over several decades, while globally, it has slowed since the Global Financial Crisis.

Across OECD countries, average annual growth in output per hour has fallen from 2% in the early 2000s to a mere 1% in the years leading up to the pandemic. Productivity growth has also slowed in emerging and developing economies: thus, for example, the rate of increase of GDP per person employed in the G20, a mix of advanced and emerging economies, also roughly halved between the early 2000s and the period 2015-19, to just over 1%.

This is worrying, as productivity growth is not only key to sustainable increases in living standards, but also enables the public expenditures needed to address long-term challenges such as climate change and population ageing, or to build resilient health and education systems.

The Global Forum is particularly well placed to help with these issues, aiming to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers on the key drivers for productivity through its research as well as through tailored events.

Actually, thanks to solid research constituted through the Forum, we have learned that the slowdown in aggregate productivity hides a large and growing gap between the most productive firms – the “frontier” – and other businesses, even within the same industry.

This means that finding ways to allow lagging firms to catch up to the frontier has the potential to deliver a double dividend, reducing inequalities and increasing aggregate productivity at the same time.

The key themes of this year’s conference – skills, diversity, the role of workers, managers and work organisation, and digitalisation and intangibles – are as timely as they could ever be.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the ongoing digital transformation with an extraordinary leap in the adoption of e-commerce and remote working.

This is challenging firms, managers and workers to adapt, but also offering opportunities and potential benefits for an optimised recovery driven by robust productivity growth.

The longer-term challenge of decarbonisation is likewise creating challenges for firms but at the same time spurring innovation and driving large-scale investment, creating the potential for generating many new high-productivity jobs.

As countries implement their plans to build back better, they can benefit from the insights and recommendations of our discussions.

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

I am confident that today’s line-up of eminent academic speakers and high-level policy makers will help us reveal more of the underlying mechanisms behind productivity growth, and shed light on policies that can unlock it.

Thank you all for attending, either in-person, here in Venice, or virtually, and my very best wishes for a successful conference!


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