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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has been called a think tank, monitoring agency, rich man's club, an unacademic university. It has elements of all, but none of these characterisations captures the essence of the OECD.

The OECD groups 29 member countries in an organisation that, most importantly, provides governments a setting in which to discuss, develop and perfect economic and social policy. They compare experiences, seek answers to common problems and work to co-ordinate domestic and international policies that increasingly in today's globalised world must form a web of even practice across nations. Their exchanges may lead to agreements to act in a formal way - for example, by establishing legally-binding codes for free flow of capital and services, agreements to crack down on bribery or to end subsidies for shipbuilding. But more often, their discussion makes for better informed work within their own governments on the spectrum of public policy and clarifies the impact of national policies on the international community. And it offers a chance to reflect and exchange perspectives with other countries similar to their own.

The OECD is a club of like-minded countries. It is rich, in that OECD countries produce two thirds of the world's goods and services, but it is not an exclusive club. Essentially, membership is limited only by a country's commitment to a market economy and a pluralistic democracy. The core of original members has expanded from Europe and North America to include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Korea. And there are many more contacts with the rest of the world through programmes with countries in the former Soviet bloc, Asia, Latin America - contacts which, in some cases, may lead to membership.

Exchanges between OECD governments flow from information and analysis provided by a Secretariat in Paris. Parts of the OECD Secretariat collect data, monitor trends, analyse and forecast economic developments, while others research social changes or evolving patterns in trade, environment, agriculture, technology, taxation and more. This work, in areas that mirror the policy-making structures in ministries of governments, is done in close consultation with policy-makers who will use the analysis, and it underpins discussion by member countries when they meet in specialised committees of the OECD. Much of the research and analysis is published.

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