As world leaders head to New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, there is still no end to the heart-breaking images of war-torn cities in the Middle East and North Africa, and of a massive exodus of people looking for sanctuary and opportunities to sustain a livelihood.
By Pritha Mitra
Aspirations for greater fairness were at the core of the protests that triggered the Arab Spring almost five years ago—and remain largely unfulfilled today. In our new paper, we show that tax reform can go a long way towards meeting those aspirations.
Taxation is a critical interface between the state and citizens. How much revenue is raised, how the tax burden is distributed, and how taxation is implemented can all powerfully affect both the reality and the perception of economic opportunities—and the degree of trust in government.
By Masood Ahmed
(version in عربي)
The International Monetary Fund released today a new paper entitled “Toward New Horizons—Arab Economic Transformation amid Political Transitions.”
The paper makes the case for the urgency of launching economic policy reforms, beyond short-term macroeconomic management, to support economic stability and stronger, job-creating economic growth in the Arab Countries in Transition—Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.
These countries face the risk of stagnation if reforms are delayed further.Economic conditions have deteriorated from transition-related disruptions, regional conflict, an unclear political outlook, eroding competitiveness, and a challenging external economic environment.
As economic realities fall behind peoples’ expectations, there is a risk of increased discontent. This could further complicate the political transitions, impairing governments’ mandates and planning horizons and, consequently, their ability to implement the policies necessary to catalyze the much-needed economic improvements.
If there is one fact I think sums up the problems of the Middle East and North Africa, it is that the non-oil exports of the whole region, are $365 billion, about the same as the exports of Belgium, a country of 11 million people, compared with the 400 million people who make up the Arab world. This is a crucial indicator of the nature and size of the structural adjustment problem the Arab countries in transition face.
The IMF’s assistance varies across the region, given that each country faces its own economic challenges, and the instruments to tackle those challenges must be tailored to address those unique circumstances. I am pleased to say that a few days ago, in response to the authorities’ request, the IMF Board approved two loans in support of the economic reform agendas of Arab countries in transition: one for Jordan under a Standby Arrangement in the amount of $2.05 billion, and another for Morocco in the amount of $6.2 billion under our Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL). This follows on our earlier concessional loan to Yemen under the Rapid Credit Facility.
Historic transitions in several Arab countries are coming under increasing strain. Domestic uncertainty over the countries’ future course, compounded by the global slowdown and rising oil prices, took a toll on growth in 2011, and the current year will be equally challenging. A joint and sustained effort is needed to help these countries navigate through this challenging period and set out an economic vision that is fair and inclusive.
It is a period when hard choices must be made, when post-revolutionary euphoria must give some way to practical concerns. It also does not help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy. But I remain hopeful. The final destination is clear: the Arab Spring is still poised to unleash the potential of the Arab people.
By Masood Ahmed Middle East oil exporters are squarely facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression head on. Despite the sharp drop in oil prices last year, the oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing upon reserves amassed during the boom years. High public spending and exceptional anticrisis financial measures have not only cushioned oil exporters’ own economies but are also contributing to sustaining global demand. They have also helped the interlinked economies of neighboring oil importers. Facing this boom-bust cycle Between 2004 and 2008, Middle East oil-exporting countries grew by about 6 percent a year and accumulated $1.3 trillion in foreign assets. With the striking drop in oil prices—from a peak of $147 per barrel in mid-2008 to around $30 per barrel at the beginning of 2009—the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been hardest hit. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are expected to see the most pronounced drops in oil GDP growth—8 and 15 percentage points, respectively—this year.
During the precrisis boom years, banks had lent substantial amounts for real estate and equity purchases and made large profits. With the onset of the crisis, asset values fell sharply and the global deleveraging led to a severe tightening of credit conditions, especially in the GCC. Banks’ balance sheets have come under pressure credit growth has slowed sharply—up to 40 percentage points in Qatar.