International Monetary Fund warned Arab states against complacency over debt

Vastavam web: The International Monetary Fund today warned Arab states against complacency over a looming debt crisis, urging continued economic reforms despite a rise in oil prices.Crude prices have rebounded in the region thanks to a deal by producers to trim production, but the IMF said such a change in fortunes should not get in the way of overhauling state spending.

“Required reforms include further steps toward full elimination of energy subsidies, and changes to pension and social security systems — including revisions to retirement age and benefits,” the IMF said in its Regional Economic Outlook for May.Overall growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which includes all Arab countries and Iran, was forecast by the IMF to reach 3.2 percent this year compared to just 2.2 percent in 2017.

The partial recovery in oil prices will be a boost for the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates — which supply almost a fifth of global crude oil.After the GCC saw their economic growth shrink by 0.2 percent last year, impacted by a 0.7 percent contraction by the Saudi economy, their economy is expected to return to growth in 2018.Azour said that Saudi Arabia’s economic consolidation measures to cut a persistent budget deficit and diversify the economy away from oil remains the correct policy.

“The current strategy that is based on reaching a balanced budget by 2023 is the right one,” he said.Despite the improved economic forecast, the IMF estimated cumulative overall fiscal deficits in the region to be 294 billion in 2018-22.An impending increase in interest rates, making borrowing more expensive, will complicate the problem, it added.

According to the IMF, the economy of oil-importers should grow by 6.2 percent annually to maintain unemployment at the current rate of 10 percent.MENA countries need to create 25 million new jobs over the next five years, Azour said, while warning of the negative consequences of unemployment coupled with rising debt levels.