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Israel's fast-track membership to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development cannot be taken for granted, a senior representative of the OECD said Thursday, expressing "cautious optimism" about the country's progress of accession.
"In spite of the remarkable progress of Israel's economy there are still economic challenges ahead," Angel GurrÃa, Secretary General of the OECD, said at the Prime Minister's Conference for Export and International Cooperation. "There is a roadmap for accession and there are no short-cuts. There is no rush and there are no deadlines."
GurrÃa referred to a number of economic challenges, Israel was facing in meeting accession standards.
"Israel should work to improve its attractiveness to foreign investors and address growing poverty and inequalities as it seeks admission to the OECD," said GurrÃa.
Other challenges included the privatization process, which was still "work in progress," the independence of the central bank, competition in the banking sector, red tape in key areas and the falling level of productivity in the traditional industry.
"I think that GurrÃa was very optimistic about Israel's accession to the OECD but that he wanted to make clear that it cannot be taken for granted and that not everything was over," Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the conference.
At the same time, GurrÃa praised Israel as a role model for other countries in the way it prepared for accession, being the only country to have published a book it called Israel is ready for the OECD.
"We view Israel's membership to the OECD as a triple-win partnership. Israel wins, the OECD wins and the world economy wins," said GurrÃa. "Having Israel on board will broaden and enrich our organization with different cultural perspectives and social and economic issues to make the world economy work better."
Also speaking at the conference, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, emphasized the importance of Israel joining the OECD and said everything was being done for fast accession.
GurrÃa acknowledged Israel as a successful emerging economy and its position as a powerhouse of technology and software that had much to offer such as providing solutions for the global issue of water scarcity.
"Israel has already been making major contributions in its status as observer on OECD committees in the fields of taxes, science and technology," GurrÃa noted.
Speaking in front of the international business and diplomatic delegations at the conference, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reassured the audience that the country's economy was doing "pretty well" and that GDP growth was expected to continue to grow at around 5% over the next few years.
"We have a positive balance of payments, work participation is going up and unemployment is going down," said Olmert. "Over the next two years the rate of unemployment is expected to come down to 6.5%, coming in line with OECD standards."