For decades, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have relied heavily on food and fuel price subsidies as a form of social protection. And, understandably, governments have recently raised subsidies in response to hikes in global commodity prices and regional political developments. Like many things, there may be a time and a place for using subsidies. But, they need to be better targeted. And, often, there will be better alternatives. Alternatives that do a better job of protecting the poor. Subsidies enjoyed by all are typically poorly targeted, so they are not the most cost-effective way to provide social protection. They really should be regarded as stop-gap measures. But, better targeting subsidies or replacing them with more effective social safety nets is a complex process, so buy-in from the public is crucial to success.
Medium-term economic growth prospects in the Caucasus and Central Asia region are strong. But, to secure ongoing prosperity, the eight countries of the region—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—will need to look beyond traditional sources of growth. The challenge for policymakers will be to foster new and more diverse growth drivers, outside mining, oil, and gas. There are seven policy pillars that can help them do that, including strengthening economic and financial ties within the region.
Sluggish credit growth in the post-crisis period was hardly a unique development, as indicated in our latest Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia region. But while there are clearer signs of recovery in some countries, credit to the private sector is still barely growing in the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, notwithstanding policy efforts to revive it. It might seem easy to ring the alarm bells. But there are a number of reasons why we are not as concerned about the slowdown in credit growth—among them that the adjustment reflects a much needed correction from very high—perhaps unsustainable—rates of credit growth witnessed during the boom years.
With the global economy on the mend, countries in the Middle East and North Africa are witnessing a pickup in trade and economic growth. But, within the region, the picture is mixed. Indeed, for the region’s oil-importing countries, we are likely to see growth nudge up from 4½ percent in 2009 to around 5 percent this year. However, that is well below the growth rate required to create the 18 million jobs needed over the next decade. For these countries, greater competitiveness will be the crucial ingredient to boosting economic growth and employment. In this blog post, Masood Ahmed explores what we mean by ‘competitiveness’ and what are the policy actions governments need to take to raise it.
Countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia region that import, rather than export, oil were hit hard by the Great Recession of 2008/09. The good news is that, today, the outlook for those countries is broadly positive. But, as often seems to be the case in today’s world, this good news is tempered with a word of caution. According to our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia, there are a number of downside risks. And the key challenge for these four countries—Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan—will be to take actions now to address these risks.