apofeed with “What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the MENA?” attempts to elaborate on the current situation that is prevailing in certain MENA countries.
What Lies Beneath the Slow Economic Growth in the Middle East and North Africa?
A dynamic private sector is key for the economies of the region to grow out of their currently high debt levels; Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector requires reforms that facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital; Reforms to support these objectives must take account of sustainability and the global agenda to limit climate change
The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank have published a joint report, Unlocking Sustainable Private Sector Growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (https://bit.ly/3H73CdA). The report analyses constraints on productivity growth and limited accumulation of factors or production in the MENA private sector.
The report is based on the MENA Enterprise Survey conducted between late 2018 and 2020 on over 5 800 formal businesses across Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza. Historically, economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa has been weak since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the Arab Spring of the early 2010s. Since then, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has grown by only 0.3% a year in the MENA region. That compares unfavourably with rates of 1.7% on average in middle-income countries and 2.4% in the developing economies of Europe and Central Asia.
Achieving higher and sustainable growth is particularly important in view of other economic challenges facing the region. Public debt has increased considerably over the last decade, accompanied by declining investment. More recently, the coronavirus pandemic has battered the region, further straining public finances. In addition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine affects the MENA economies through higher hydrocarbon prices, risks to food security and declining tourism.
Against this background, it is important that policymakers exploit the potential of the private sector to propel the region towards greater prosperity.
“The spillovers from the war in Ukraine add to structural vulnerabilities in the region. The prospects for global financial tightening, persistently high energy and food prices and concerns for food security come on top of concerns related to weak economic growth and rising debt levels,” said EIB Chief Economist Debora Revoltella (https://bit.ly/2UYJi4s). “When responding to the new shock, MENA countries need to tackle the main structural bottlenecks affecting the region. Reforms that lower regulatory barriers, tackle informal business practices, promote competition, and facilitate innovation and digitalisation are crucial for achieving sustainable economic growth and improving resilience to future shocks.”
The business environment in the MENA region as reported in the survey has been held back by various factors. Political connection and informality are undermining fair competition, bringing economic benefits to a limited number of companies. Management practices lag behind benchmark countries, with a decline in average scores in all MENA countries since 2013.
Customs and trade regulations appear to be more severe barriers for firms in the MENA region than in other countries. Firms need more time to clear customs to import or export than in other countries. The MENA economies depend on high levels of imports compared to low export activities.
Although firms trading in the international market are more willing to develop and innovate processes, only 20% invest in innovation, which can affect the long-term economic prospects for the region.
The region needs to make better use of its human capital. Predominantly, only a few foreign-owned companies invest in training their human capital, and they tend to be digitally connected exporting firms. Additionally, a significant share of companies are not engaging in financial activities with other economic players, opting to self-finance voluntarily.
Incentives for companies to decarbonise are weak, and MENA firms are less likely than their counterparts in Europe and Central Asia to adopt measures that reduce their environmental footprint.
Unlocking sustainable growth in the region’s private sector, the report calls for MENA economies to lower regulatory barriers for businesses, promote competition and reduce disincentives emerging from political influence and informal business practices.
The region is also in need of reforms to facilitate innovation, the adoption of digital technologies and investments in human capital, while being in line with the global agenda to limit climate change, enhance sustainability and protect the natural environment.
Improving management practices can be instrumental to that. “Good management practices can account for as much as 30% of differences in efficiency across countries,” said Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank. “Management practices are lacklustre in firms in the region, particularly in those with some state ownership. Improving these practices can have substantial benefits, is not costly, but is not easy. It will require — among others — a change in mindsets.”
Companies should also be given incentives to exploit the benefits of participating in cross-border trade and global value chains more broadly, accompanied by better management practices.
At the same time, the state has a duty to ensure that this transition process is just, through measures that help workers to take advantage of opportunities to obtain new, higher-quality jobs linked to the green economy, while also protecting those at risk of losing their jobs. Such measures include labour market policies, skills training, social safety nets and action to support regional economic development.
EBRD Chief Economist Beata Javorcik said: “Climate change creates an opportunity the MENA region to build up its green credentials and use them as a source of competitive advantage. This will create the much-needed high-quality jobs linked to the green economy.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of European Investment Bank (EIB).
Energy investments in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are forecast to grow in 2022 from $805 billion and continue in the next five years on the strength of higher oil and gas prices and planned unconventional gas and upstream investments.
Energy investments in MENA will continue to grow: Apicorp
For petrochemicals, the drive for further integration and rationalisation will continue with reconfigurable petrochemical plants shifting to high-margin products such as plastic packaging films and healthcare and hygiene products, The Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp), a multilateral development financial institution, said in its annual Top Picks 2022 outlook on the key trends that are expected to shape the Mena energy markets landscape this year.
“The strong pipeline of investments we are seeing in the downstream projects reflects the region’s push to direct more funds to this sector, especially in brownfield petrochemicals projects versus greenfield ones. This makes sense in light of the current market conditions which favor improving cost and operating efficiencies in existing projects rather than sheer expansion,” said Nicolas Thevenot, Managing Director of Corporate Banking at Apicorp.
As for the energy markets, the report forecasts that they will remain comparatively stable during 2022 due to higher oil production by Opec+ and non-Opec countries and increased gas production and LNG supply. Brent is expected to average between $65/bbl. and $75/bbl. As for gas, the JKM and TTF/NBP hub prices in Asia and Europe are expected to cool down considerably from their all-time highs of 2021, especially after the winter season.
Meanwhile, the uptick in regional energy investments, which registered a modest $13 billion increase in Apicorp’s latest five-year outlook, will continue over the mid-term on the strength of higher oil and gas prices throughout 2022.
Among the trends the report examines is the impact of oil and gas prices on energy investments in the region and the main factors weighing down on broader economic recovery.
“Despite the volatility in commodity prices which is expected to persist throughout 2022, the good news in the short-term is that oil and gas prices will likely remain elevated throughout the year, providing support for energy investments including renewable energy and ESG-related projects. Power sector investments in Mena are also expected to continue to thrive, with an accelerating shift towards renewables. Collectively, the region is expected to add nearly 20 GW of solar power over the next five years,” noted Dr Ahmed Ali Attiga, CEO of Apicorp.
The Mena region will take centre stage in the ongoing global energy transition as all eyes shift to Egypt, which will host COP27 in November — and UAE for COP28 in 2023. Yet while the transition continues to steadily gain momentum, the report notes that it may be marred by mixed policy signals from governments as they attempt to balance imperatives which are oftentimes very difficult to align: emissions reduction, energy affordability and energy security.
Thus, a sustainable and comprehensive policy is needed in order to avoid tilting the policy scale too far towards in favor of one of these factors, as this may lead to unintended consequences such as market distortions, heightened volatility, and energy shortfalls.
The already substantial pressure on policymakers is expected to be further exacerbated by continued volatility in commodity markets in 2022 due to the pandemic, uncertainty over macroeconomic policy, and supply chain disruptions. Despite the modest –-albeit uneven—recovery in 2021, it will take time for this improvement to migrate downstream and ease cost pressures this year.
The report’s analysis of energy investment trends suggests that the expected robust oil and gas prices in 2022 have triggered an opportunity to return to pre-pandemic activity.
The uncertainty around Covid recovery will continue to influence how market dynamics will ultimately play out. Given the global vaccine inequity and a constantly evolving virus, governments are still grappling with the dilemma of public health versus economic recovery.
In addition to global trade, supply chains and services, the current surge in cases globally will also adversely affect international travel and tourism. This will dent economic growth during 2022, which has already prompted a slight downward revision of the 2022 GDP growth forecasts in some regions and a likely asymmetric global recovery that is not necessarily sustainable for all countries.
Another uncertainty stems from the need for governments to introduce fiscal austerity measures to rein in spending and curb soaring inflation. Although markets ended 2021 with high returns (27% in the case of the S&P 500 index), high jobs growth and soaring commodity prices pushed inflation rates higher.
A fear of stagflation looms as public fiscal stimulus packages are withdrawn, asset purchasing programs are tapered and interest rates rise. While these measures will very likely cause economic recovery to slow down, the lagging unemployment rates are expected to remain relatively high amid a simmering inflationary cycle that may turn out not to be transitory after all. — TradeArabia News Service
The above-featured image is for illustration and is credit to Oil Price.
The increase in entrepreneurship and start-ups in the region has been happening over the past decade as revealed by Arabian Business in the latest trends shaping the region’s start-up ecosystem
Financial technologies and e-commerce businesses dominated the market in the Web 2.0 wave, while blockchain and cryptocurrencies are slowly growing in the region
In the post-pandemic economy, it feels like start-ups are launching almost daily in unprecedented numbers, but the Middle East entrepreneurial ecosystem has been steadily growing for almost a decade now, explained Walid Hanna, CEO and founder of MEVP, a venture capitalist firm.
Talking exclusively to Arabian Business, Hanna looked back at the evolution of start-ups in the region and the major trends that dominated each phase until today.
What can you tell us about the regional landscape for start-ups in the post-pandemic economy?
The increase in entrepreneurship and start-ups in the region has been happening over the past decade.
We [at MEVP] began our journey back in 2010 and, at that time, we used to see one or two start-ups a week, while now we receive three or four business plans a day, so the multiplier has been enormous in terms of the number of start-ups.
This has been the case post-Covid as well. When the whole ecosystem realised how important technology is during the pandemic, it gave a boost to our portfolio of companies and they grew faster and it also gave a boost to potential entrepreneurs who left their jobs to start their own businesses.
Why do you think fuelled this growth in the pre-coronavirus days?
It’s a natural progression that happened across the US, Europe and China over the past two decades and since there’s always a lag with the Middle East, it’s finally happening here now.
If you look at the penetration rates in internet usage or mobile phone usage, the Middle East has typically been lagging, the exception being countries like the UAE. But, now they’re all catching up.
What are some of the trends you’ve seen among regional start-ups, in fintech and tech in general?
Trends have been evolving over the past decade as well.
Originally there was the Web 1.0 wave, which was only content-based such as browsing the internet for cooking recipes, for example.[Start-ups] were making money, but it was based on reading, there were no interactions or transactions involved.
Then it evolved into Web 2.0, where we saw a lot of financial technologies, e-commerce sites and software-as-a-service for enterprises. We’ve invested in 60-plus companies across those verticals.
We’ve also seen a lot of mobility plays, such as Uber, and we’ve seen that model [replicated] across tuk-tuks, motorcycles, electric scooters and trucks which, in a way, is good for the environment.
Within fintech, we’ve seen a lot of sub-verticals, such as the Buy Now, Pay Later model, which is a big trend at the moment – there are around ten [such start-ups] in the region and we’ve invested in an Egypt-based one. But there are so many other trends within fintech, including micro-lending, SME-lending or treasury solutions; payment solutions in general.
The hype over non-fungible tokens and cryptocurrencies, the whole blockchain business model, has evolved tremendously over the past couple of years and is just starting to pick up in the Middle East. We’ve seen two NFT marketplaces and a couple of blockchain business models. It is still quite limited, although I expect it to grow much faster in the next three years.
How do you identify the companies you will invest in?
Just as they say “location, location, location” for real estate, it is “people, people, people” for start-ups.
If a start-up is at the earlier stages, the best thing you can look at is how investment-ready the business is and how qualified the founders are with relevant experience. We look at how dynamic, hardworking and motivated they are.
We look at the total addressable market and try to understand if it’s big enough and if they are really answering a pain point that is large enough to make serious money. This is because we are not interested in a small niche in a tiny country. For example, if a start-up is trying to solve a small issue in a country like Lebanon and the issue is not the same in Saudi Arabia and the GCC, then we are not interested.
We also look at the business model and the unit economics to see if it is viable, meaning we try to find out if the cost of producing, marketing and selling whatever product is worthwhile. If you look at the cost of acquiring a user and realise that the margin you are making out of this one product is inferior to that, then it is not worth it.
We also look at how robust and scalable the technology itself is and the stack they use. We invest in tech start-ups only.
Growth is key to our assessment of technology companies. We don’t do seed capital so when we invest in Series A, we can already witness a traction behind the start-up. If the traction is interesting, we get interested but if it is not already interesting, we don’t invest.
What are the challenges that remain for entrepreneurs in the region?
It depends on the country. In the GCC, there are no currency risks because they are pegged to the dollar, but if you look at currency in Egypt, they got really hit by the devaluation about three years ago.
There is also a political risk because of the region’s instability and relationship with its neighbouring countries.
Enablers are becoming better and better, but we still have some issues with the banks, for example. Opening up a bank account for start-ups is very challenging across the region. It takes ages and a lot of KYCs.
Five years ago, the logistics were very poor. Even the online payment systems were very poor so it was difficult for start-ups to thrive within that environment. This has been enhanced over the past couple of years but, for some reason, many customers here still want to pay cash-on-delivery and not use credit cards online. Penetration is increasing in terms of card usage but it is still lower than the global average.
Other than that, the ecosystem has evolved well and the enablers have followed. I would say the only challenge that remains is for fintech companies in terms of licence and regulations. Government regulations are making it easier by offering sandbox licences, but other than that, the regulatory framework is quite limited. The process is very slow but will happen one day I am sure.
Exits are happening, but still at a low rate where selling the start-up is difficult. There are more investors from outside the region looking at the region, which is positive, and the big regional conglomerates have also started to acquire start-ups so the trend is good but the numbers are still behind.
We have good start-ups and we want to sell them, but buyers are scarce. We should expand our horizon of buyers towards the global market, such as China or the US.
Mohamed A. El-Erian writes that ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery is required for a better and more satisfactory tomorrow. The two ginormous economies of the World would lead it that way. Here is what he says about that.
Ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery
2 April 2021
Although tough trade-offs are sometimes unavoidable, there is a way for policymakers to maintain a robust global economic recovery in 2021 and beyond while simultaneously pulling up disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. But it will require both national and international policy adaptations.
CAMBRIDGE – An old joke about tricky trade-offs asks you to imagine your worst enemy driving over a cliff in your brand-new car. Would you be happy about the demise of your enemy or sad about the destruction of your car?
For many, the shape of this year’s hoped-for and much-needed global economic recovery poses a similar dilemma. Absent a revamp of both national policies and international coordination, the significant pickup in growth expected in 2021 will be very uneven, both across and within countries. With that comes a host of risks that could make growth in subsequent years less robust than it can and should be.
Based on current information, I expect rapid growth in China and the United States to drive a global expansion of 6% or more this year, compared to a 3.5% contraction in 2020. But while Europe should exit its double-dip recession, the recovery there will likely be more subdued. Parts of the emerging world are in an even tougher position.
Much of this divergence, both actual and anticipated, stems from variations in one or more of five factors. Controlling COVID-19 infections, including the spread of new coronavirus variants, is clearly crucial. So is distributing and administering vaccines (which includes securing supplies, overcoming institutional obstacles, and ensuring public uptake). A third factor is financial resilience, which in some developing countries involves preemptively managing difficulties from the recent debt surge. Then come the quality and flexibility of policymaking, and finally whatever is left in the reservoirs of social capital and human resilience.
The bigger the differences between and within countries, the greater the challenges to the sustainability of this year’s recovery. This reflects a broad range of health, economic, financial, and socio-political factors.
In a recent commentary, I explained why more uniform global progress on COVID-19 vaccination is important even for countries whose national immunization programs are far ahead of the pack. Without universal progress, leading vaccinators face a difficult choice between risking the importation of new variants from abroad and running a fortress economy with governments, households, and firms adopting a bunker-like mindset.
Uneven economic recoveries deprive individual countries of the tailwind of synchronized expansion, in which simultaneous output and income growth fuels a virtuous cycle of generalized economic well-being. They also increase the risks of trade and investment protectionism, as well as disruptions to supply chains.
Then there is the financial angle. Buoyant US growth, together with higher inflation expectations, has pushed market interest rates higher, with spillovers for the rest of the world. And there is more to come.
European Central Bank officials have already complained about “undue tightening” of financial conditions in the eurozone. Rising interest rates could also undermine the dominant paradigm in financial markets – namely, investors’ high confidence in ample, predictable, and effective liquidity injections by systemically important central banks, which has encouraged many to venture well beyond their natural habitat, taking considerable if not excessive and irresponsible risks. In the short term, high liquidity has pushed cheap funding to many countries and companies. But sudden reversals in fund flows, as well as the growing risk of cumulative market accidents and policy mistakes, could cause severe disruptions.
Finally, uneven economic recovery risks aggravating the income, wealth, and opportunity gaps that the COVID-19 crisis has already widened enormously. The greater the inequality, particularly with respect to opportunity, the sharper the sense of alienation and marginalization, and the more likely political polarization will impede good and timely policymaking.
But, whereas the old joke hinges on the unavoidability of tough trade-offs, there is a middle way for the global economy in 2021 and beyond – one that maintains a robust recovery and simultaneously lifts disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. This requires both national and international policy adaptations.
National policies need to accelerate reforms that combine economic relief with measures to foster much more inclusive growth. This is not just about improving human productivity (through labor reskilling, education reforms, and better childcare) and the productivity of capital and technology (through major upgrades to infrastructure and coverage). To build back better and fairer, policymakers must now also consider climate resilience as a critical input for more comprehensive decision-making.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday
Global policy alignment also is vital. The world is fortunate to have benefited initially from correlated (as opposed to coordinated) national policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with the vast majority of countries opting upfront for an all-in, whatever-it-takes, whole-of-government approach. But without coordination, policy stances will increasingly diverge, as less robust economies confront additional external headwinds at a time of declining aid flows, incomplete debt relief, and hesitant foreign direct investment.
With the US and China leading a significant pickup in growth, the global economy has an opportunity to spring out of a pandemic shock that has harmed many people and, in some cases, erased a decade of progress on poverty reduction and other important socio-economic objectives. But without policy adaptations at home and internationally, this rebound could be so uneven that it prematurely exhausts the prolonged period of faster and much more inclusive and sustainable growth that the global economy so desperately needs.
Saudi Arabia unveils THE LINE a linear development of smart cities connected without cars as reported by DesignBoom seems to be a significant step out of the fossil fuels grip on any mode of transport but only in this corner of the country.
Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans for THE LINE, a 170 kilometer (106 mile) belt of communities connected without the need for cars or roads. described as ‘a revolution in urban living’, the project has been put forward as a blueprint for how people can co-exist in harmony with the planet. THE LINE will be completely free of cars and streets, with residents given access to nature and all of their daily needs within a walking distance of five minutes. furthermore, the team behind the project says that the linear development of hyper-connected AI-enabled communities will be powered by 100% clean energy.
all images and video courtesy of NEOM
Located in NEOM, linking the coast of the red sea with the mountains and upper valleys of the north-west of Saudi Arabia, THE LINE was announced by his royal highness Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and chairman of the NEOM company board of directors.‘By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels,’ says his royal highness. ‘90% of people breathe polluted air. why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution? why should we lose one million people every year due to traffic accidents? and why should we accept wasting years of our lives commuting? therefore, we need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one.’
Although walkability will define life on THE LINE, with all essential daily services within a short walk, ultra-high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions will make travel easier and give residents the opportunity to reclaim time to spend on health and well-being. It is expected that no journey will take longer than 20 minutes. the communities themselves will be powered by artificial intelligence and will continuously learn in order to ‘make life easier’ for both residents and businesses. It is estimated that 90% of available data will be harnessed to enhance infrastructure capabilities. from an environmental perspective, THE LINE will comprise carbon-positive urban developments powered by 100% clean energy.
NEOM is a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea being built from the ground up as a ‘living laboratory’. Eventually the location, comprising towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations, will be the home and workplace to more than a million residents from around the world. It is hoped that THE LINE will create 380,000 new jobs, spur economic diversification, and contribute SAR 180bn ($48bn USD) to domestic GDP by 2030. construction of THE LINE will get underway in early 2021.
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