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With its accession to the OECD in 1996, Korea joined the prestigious club of advanced economies. The accession itself did not guarantee stable economic growth, however, as Korea learned soon after joining the OECD. In 1997, Korea experienced the most brutal financial and economic crisis in its modern history, the so-called “IMF Crisis”. The exchange rate soared to over KRW 2,000 per dollar at one point, and the Korean people experienced unprecedented financial hardship.
I joined the OECD Secretariat as a Korean government secondee in the midst of the IMF crisis in December of 1997. In a normal situation, I would have been delighted to become a member of the Secretariat, but the economic situation in Korea did not allow me to relish the situation. Instead, walking across the Pont de Grenelle (a bridge over the Seine River in Paris) on my first day to work, I had a very heavy heart and the cold windy December weather in Paris only added to my melancholy. My colleagues at the OECD were concerned about the circumstances of Korea and about what would happen to its economy in the future.
Unlike the current pandemic, which affects all OECD member countries, at the time of the Asian Financial Crisis, Korea was the only OECD member suffering economic and financial difficulties. The prospect of recovering from the IMF Crisis was not too promising owing to the old, legacy regulatory structure in Korea, which was criticised as a main cause of the crisis. Yet Korea not only overcame the IMF Crisis but also turned it into an opportunity to strengthen its economic system through holistic, government-wide regulatory reform. In the process of this reform, the OECD played an important role by conducting a regulatory-reform country review of Korea in 2000 and providing a set of recommendations. The Korean government adopted most of the OECD recommendations, and these laid the foundation for Korea’s social and economic developments in the 21st century.
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Since I was responsible for the telecommunications sector in the OECD regulatory-reform project, I joined the regulatory-reform review on Korea and, ironically, provided a set of recommendations to my colleagues working at the government. While that was the first time I used OECD work to formulate Korea’s government policies, it was certainly not the last. Since my initial work as an OECD as Project Manager between 1998 and 2000, I became the first Korean to take a working-party chair position as Chair of the Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Services Policy (TISP) in 2003. Later, I also became the first Korean to chair an OECD standing committee as Chair of the Committee on Digital Economy Policy (CDEP) in 2016. In addition, I took the chair role for the steering committee on the Going Digital Project in 2017 and the OECD AI Expert Group (AIGO) in 2018. My continuing engagement in the OECD has provided me with opportunities to translate OECD work into Korea’s policymaking, as well as a chance to contribute to formulating OECD policy guidelines and recommendations.
Being involved in the work of the OECD as a member of the Secretariat and Chair of TISP and CDEP have also allowed me to meet wonderful colleagues at the Secretariat and admirable peers from the OECD member delegations. Andy Wyckoff, Anne Carblanc, Dimitri Ypsilanti and Sam Paltridge, who were my colleagues at the time of my secondment to the OECD, became good friends and working partners throughout my career. I also had a chance to build a friendship with the former OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría, who once told me, “You are too young as Committee Chair” but later asked what cosmetics I was using after acknowledging my true age. I was also lucky to build more than a working relationship with the CDEP delegations of the OECD member countries, and the stakeholder groups such as Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD and The Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD. I must admit that without the encouragement and support of Dimitri and Anne, I might not have taken the chair positions at TISP and CDEP and would not have enjoyed the wonderful opportunities to contribute to OECD work.
The highlight of my engagement in OECD work was the “OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence”, which was approved at the Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) in May 2019. I was privileged to attend the 2019 MCM as a member of the Korean Delegation, and was able to share the moment that CDEP and AIGO’s year-long, intensive work on the OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence officially became the “OECD Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence” at the event. The OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence was the first AI recommendation announced at the level of an intergovernmental organization, and was endorsed by the G20 and quite a few non-OECD member countries.
Now, after retiring from the government, I am no longer able to attend OECD meetings, but I do not want to end my close relationship with the OECD, which has continued for a quarter-century. I have never had such a long-lasting relationship, other than with my family and some of my friends of younger days. At the final CDEP meeting, I said, “I must be one of the very few people who read all the CDEP documents for the last two decades. And I will read them for another two decades”. Certainly, the OECD documents are widely followed by the private sector and academia thanks to their high-quality analysis of important policy issues on the global economy. I am indeed still reading all the declassified CDEP documents and will do so for the next quarter-century.
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