Bulent Gökay, Keele University elaborates on how Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning despite worsening coronavirus crisis. It, contrary to its neighbours, would not go down the same way. Read on to find out why.
Turkey confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus on March 11, but since then the speed of its infection rate has surpassed that of many other countries with cases doubling every two days. On April 2, Turkey had more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 277 deaths from complications related to the coronavirus, according to data collated by John Hopkins University.
The Turkish government has called for people to stay at home and self-isolate. Mass disinfection has been carried out in all public spaces in cities. To encourage residents to stay at home, all parks, picnic areas and shorelines are closed to pedestrians.
Some airports are closed and all international flights to and from Turkey were banned on March 27. All schools, universities, cafes, restaurants, and mass praying in mosques and other praying spaces has been suspended, and all sporting activities postponed indefinitely.
Manufacturing remains open
Many small businesses in the service sector are closed, and many companies in banking, insurance and R&D have switched to working from home. But in many industrial sectors, such as metal, textile, mining and construction, millions of workers are still forced to go to work or face losing their jobs. In Istanbul, where more than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP is produced, the public transport system still carries over a million people daily.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, has openly opposed a total lockdown, arguing a stay-at-home order would halt all economic activity. On March 30, he said continuing production and exports was the country’s top priority and that Turkey must keep its “wheels turning”.
But in the short term, many of Turkey’s export markets for minerals, textiles and food, such as Germany, China, Italy, Spain, Iran and Iraq, are already closed due to the virus. This has led to enormous surpluses piling up in warehouses. Even where there are overseas customers, getting the goods delivered has proven difficult. The process of sanitising and disinfecting the trucks and testing the drivers before they travel takes many extra hours, sometime days, after waiting in long lines.
Still, Erdogan’s statements give the impression that he sees this pandemic not only as a serious crisis, but also as an opportunity for Turkish manufacturers. The hope is that, after the Chinese shutdown, European producers which depend on Chinese companies for a range of semi-finished products may consider Turkey as an alternative supplier in the longer term. That’s why the government is still allowing millions of workers to go to factories, mines and construction sites despite the huge health risk.
A bruised economy
The Turkish government announced a 100 billion lira (£12 billion) stimulus package on March 18. It included tax postponement and subsidies directed at domestic consumption, such as reducing VAT on certain items and suspension of national insurance payments in many sectors for six months. But this is an insignificant sum for an economy as big as Turkey’s.
Most of the support will go to medium and large companies that were forced to close, and only a very tiny amount to individual workers. In order to benefit from the scheme, a person must have worked at least 600 days in the past three years (450 days for those in Ankara). Those with most need get the lowest level of help or no help from the state.
The tourism sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, has already been decimated. Some 2.5 million workers will not be able to work as they had been expecting to in the peak tourist months between April and September.
Limited room for manoeuvre
Even before the virus hit Turkey the economy was already weak, still trying to recover from the impacts of a 2016 coup attempt and a 2018 currency crisis, both of which caused severe stress to Turkey’s economic and financial systems.
In March, Turkey’s Central Bank reduced its benchmark interest rate by 1%, and several of the country’s largest private banks announced measures to support the economy, such as suspending loan repayments. As a result, the Turkish lira initially held up reasonably well, compared with other emerging market economies, but it fell to an 18-month low on April 1 as the coronavirus death rates accelerated. Official interest rates have fallen below 10%, providing some protection to those holding Turkish lira versus some foreign currencies.
Turkey’s financial options to limit the impact of the crisis are limited. Credit rating agency Moody’s revised its prediction for the country GDP from 3% growth in 2020 to a 1.4% contraction. Still, it may get a reprieve from the low oil price. Turkey imports almost all its energy needs, and with the recent fall in the price of oil and gas, this means Turkey could save about US$12 billion (£9.6 billion) in energy imports.
It is hard to see very far ahead. During the next few months, it’s expected that Turkey, alongside South Africa and Argentina, could be sliding toward insolvency and debt default. After that, everything depends on how this crisis progresses and how long it will take to end.
MENA sovereign wealth funds are set to yank billions from stock markets, with the cash needed back home reportedAlison Tahmizian Meuse in an article Gulf faces recession as oil deluge meets COVID-19 in an Asian Times article dated March 30, 2020. It is said elsewhere notably in the local media that these sovereign funds could shed something like $300 billion.
Middle East oil exporters are bracing for recession and the lowest growth rates since the 1990s, with economists warning that the “twin shocks” of Covid-19 and plummeting oil prices will have a knock-on effect across the region.
“Quarantines, disruption in supply chains, the crash in oil prices in light of the breakdown of OPEC+, travel restrictions, and business closings point to a recession in the MENA region, the first in three decades,” the Institute of International Finance warned this week.
Oil exporters in the Gulf and North Africa are projected to see growth levels drop to 0.8%, IIF said, based on an average price per barrel of $40. At the time of publication on Monday, crude was hovering at cents above $20 per barrel.
Petro-titans like Saudi Arabia, which have shifted major resources toward sovereign wealth funds in recent years, are expected to recall funds back home as their collective surplus of $65 billion is flipped inside out to a deficit of the same amount or more.
These sovereign wealth funds could shed up to $75 billion in stocks in the coming period, Reuters on Sunday quoted JPMorgan’s Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou as saying.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund currently holds significant shares in everything from ride-hailing app Uber to Japan’s SoftBank.
Such funds have likely already offloaded as much as $150 billion-worth of stock in the month of March, said Panigirtzoglou.
How did we get here?
Saudi Arabia earlier this month launched an oil price war, flooding the market with crude in a game of chicken against Russia after the latter refused to collaborate on production cuts.
Moscow, which desired lower prices to compete with US shale, did not blink.
The result has been, Bloomberg reports, a “cascade” of oil surplus, with some landlocked producers literally paying buyers to relieve them of supplies they cannot store.
From Saudi Arabia to Algeria, MENA exporters are expected to see hydrocarbon earnings fall by nearly $200 billion this year, according to the Institute of International Finance report, resulting in a loss of more than 10% of GDP in this sector alone.
As the price war was launched, the novel coronavirus began spreading through the Gulf, shattering hopes of diversifying toward tourism in the near future.
Saudi Arabia, with approximately 1,300 confirmed cases as of Monday, has shuttered the gates of Mecca over fears it could become the new virus epicenter after Iran.
The religious pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, mandatory for every Muslim, nets Saudi Arabia billions of dollars each year.
The financial troubles in the Gulf do not stop at the Persian Gulf, but are slated to have a painful knock-on effect across the Middle East region.
Young people from Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt – with its population of 100 million, have for decades turned to the Gulf Arab states for jobs after graduation, doing everything from running restaurants in Riyadh to working in banks in Dubai.
Such positions have become even more crucial in a time of heightened visa restrictions in the United States and Europe.
A recession in the Gulf, thus spells an even worse outlook for already struggling economies in the Levant, which often look to the oil producers for help during hard times.
“A global recession will lead to a reduction in trade, foreign direct investment, tourism flows, and remittances to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon,” IIF said.
Egypt, the report notes, is expected to see a “significant drop” in critical Suez Canal transit revenues, as global trade suffers.
The Egyptian government earlier this month revoked the press credentials of Guardian correspondent Ruth Michaelson after she reported on a researcher’s findings that Egypt was seeing a higher number of Covid-19 cases than reported.
Souha S. Kanj | Professor of medicine, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, chair of the Infection Control and Prevention Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center
The events related to the coronavirus outbreak are evolving quickly around the world. The situation in the Middle East is probably more complex than elsewhere. The countries of the region are a mix of rich and poor states, with variable GDPs and health infrastructures, and are frequently characterized by political instability and tension. War and violent conflicts have weakened health infrastructure in many countries. The influx of migrants through borders has contributed to healthcare related challenges. The region also has geopolitical and economic ties to both China and Iran, which recently appeared as the epicenters for the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.
There is a striking variation in the number of reported cases by country in the Middle East. Underreporting is thought to be prevalent, whether due to an unwillingness, and sometimes a lack of preparedness, to perform accurate testing. Syria, for example, has not reported any cases, despite its close ties to Iran. Its fragile health system is likely incapable of detecting and responding to the epidemic. The same applies to Yemen.
Some countries in the Middle East have raised the alert level during the past week by imposing school closures and other measures of social distancing. The Saudi authorities have cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and access to Mecca to nonresidents until further notice. Some Gulf countries are requiring visa applicants to produce a negative test for COVID-19. Other countries are still reporting few cases. In Iran, the response was slow, suggesting an unwillingness to report cases before the country’s elections. Mortality among infected patients in Iran seems to be among the highest after China.
There is little to suggest that Middle Eastern countries have joined efforts to address this global viral threat. The Arab League has remained silent. No meetings have been announced to discuss the evolving situation. Arab countries in the Middle East have so far missed an opportunity to overcome political divisions and closely collaborate to contain the spread of the virus in the region. It might not be too late to engage in coordination, especially from the wealthier states, to provide technical, material, and financial assistance to their neighbors.
Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Nothing illustrates this more than the series of baffling policy decisions by Iran’s leadership that have resulted in the largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. Despite advances in the biomedical sciences and infectious disease control in the past century, the Iranian government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been hobbled by ideological, religious, and economic concerns.
Other countries in the Middle East have followed suit, often prioritizing their non-medical domestic and foreign policy interests in establishing travel bans, quarantines, and other forms of public health precautions. These religious, political, and economic determinants of infectious diseases hark back to the pre-World War I period in the region. Devotional visits to shrine cities and burials at holy sites played an important role in the dissemination of pandemic outbreaks in the Iranian and Ottoman Empires throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Similarly, political, economic, and religious interests often took precedence over public welfare in the way quarantines, travel bans, and disinfection policies were established within the empires and on their frontiers. This shows us that historic social and political forces continue to shape the impact of contagions on the peoples of the Middle East.
Basem al-Shabb | Former Lebanese parliamentarian, American Board in general and cardiothoracic surgery
The response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the Middle East has followed the usual script in the region for dealing with calamity. Whereas human suffering invites cooperation in other places, in the Middle East it seams to accentuate cultural and sectarian tensions. As reports of cases were trickling out of Iran, the authorities engaged in denial. Only recently did the Syrian Health Ministry confidently state that there were no known cases in Syria. In Lebanon, flights from Iran, the epicenter of the epidemic, continued unabated and screening at the airport was instituted rather late in the game. Throughout the region, there is an undercurrent of sectarianism. While Iran wrestles with a massive epidemic, Egypt has reported only a few cases and, interestingly, Turkey has reported none. There is hardly any cooperation or exchange of information on COVID-19 among the countries of the Levant.
The epidemic has also touched on religious sensitivities, with some churches in Lebanon insisting on pursuing communion using a single utensil. There is no doubt the coronavirus has brought out the usual regional reactions of denial, delayed responses, myth-mongering, sectarianism, as well as conspiracy theories.
Bader al-Saif | Nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focuses on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula
The coronavirus outbreak is a potent reminder that the Middle East is no different than the rest of the world. The outbreak has reinforced preexisting tendencies in the region, where it is no secret that systems are largely broken. It has further exposed governmental weakness, evidenced in ambiguous, inconsistent policies. Crisis management and transparency are largely lacking, and so is the faith of citizens in governments’ ability to protect them. Political considerations have triumphed over necessary health directives in various states, putting citizens at further risk, whether by allowing the continuation of flights from high risk areas, such as Iranians traveling to Lebanon, or deferring necessary testing, as in Egyptians traveling to Kuwait. There are notable exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia, where the state has managed the outbreak of the coronavirus and peoples’ reactions to it.
Responses have ranged from denial to fear. Some assume the virus is a conspiracy theory, while others are misinformed about its nature. The virus has also justified racist slurs. With most of the Middle East contracting the virus via Iran, the anti-Iran camp has condemned Iran’s irresponsibility and poor services (ignoring the impact of U.S. sanctions), with some even suggesting that the virus is a Shi‘a phenomenon aimed at infecting the Sunni-majority Middle East.
There has been a third, more measured response among less ideological people. These include business owners, who are concerned about the economic impact of the outbreak; expatriates barred from returning to their homes due to travel bans; families who do not want their children’s education affected by prolonged breaks; and sensible policymakers who have sought to jointly coordinate responses. The outbreak has reminded Middle Easterners of their shortcomings. They patiently are awaiting a breakthrough that would end the coronavirus outbreak, so they can redirect their efforts to addressing other problems long plaguing the region.
Posted on March 8, 2020, in The Arab Weekly, Six decades after independence, Middle East still looking for growth model by Rashmee Roshan Lall is an accurate survey of the region that faces, as we speak, prospects of harshest times. How is the Middle East still looking for a growth model? Investing in the human capital of children and young people as well as enhancing their prospects for productive employment and economic growth is little more complicated than relying on Crude Oil exports related revenues. These are the main if not the only source of earnings of the region now plummeting perhaps for good before even peaking. In effect, all petrodollar inspired and financed development that, put simply, was transposed from certain parts of the world, using not only imported materials but also management and all human resources can not result in anything different from that described in this article.
Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region.
It’s been 75 years since World War II ended and the idea of decolonising the Middle East and North Africa began to gain ground but, while formal colonisation ended about six decades ago, the region seems unable to find a clear path to growth.
Rather than an “Arab spring,” what may be needed is a temperate autumn, a season of mellow fruitfulness to tackle the region’s biggest problems. These include finding a way to use the demographic bulge to advantage, reducing inequality of opportunity and outcome and boosting local opportunity.
Here are some of the region’s key issues:
The MENA region’s population grew from around 100 million in 1950 to approximately 380 million in 2000, the Population Reference Bureau said. It is now about 420 million and half that population lives in four countries — Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.
The 2016 Arab Human Development Report, which focused on youth, said most of the region’s population is under the age of 25.
The youth bulge is the result of declining mortality rates in the past 40 years as well as an average annual population growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The absolute number of young people is predicted to increase from 46 million in 2010 to 58 million in 2025.
Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region. The demographic trend suggests the region needs to create more than 300 million jobs by 2050, the World Bank said.
Jihad Azour, International Monetary Fund (IMF) director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said MENA countries’ growth rate “is lower that what is required to tackle unemployment. Youth unemployment in the region exceeds 25%-30%.” The average unemployment rate across the region is 11%, compared to 7% in other emerging and developing economies.
Unsurprisingly, said Harvard economist Ishac Diwan, a senior fellow at the Middle East Initiative, young Arabs are unhappier than their elders as well as their peers in countries at similar stages of development.
Last year’s Arab Youth Survey stated that 45% of young Arab respondents said they regard joblessness as one of the region’s main challenges, well ahead of the Syrian war (28%) and the threat of terrorism (26%).
The region’s population is expected to nearly double by 2030 and the IMF estimated that 27 million young Arabs will enter the labour market the next five years.
Poverty and inequality
Most Arab people do not live in oil-rich countries. Data from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) stated that 116 million people across ten Arab countries (41% of the total population), are poor and another 25% were vulnerable to poverty. This translates to an estimated 250 million people who may be poor or vulnerable out of a population of 400 million.
The MENA region is also regarded as the most unequal in the world, with the top 10% of its people accounting for 64% of wealth, although the average masks enormous differences from one country to another.
The middle class in non-oil producing Arab countries has shrunk from 45% to 33% of the population, ESCWA economists said. In a report for the Carnegie Corporation last year, Palestinian-American author Rami G. Khouri described what he called “poverty’s new agony,” the fact that a poor family in the Middle East will remain poor for several generations.
Egypt is a case in point. In 2018, Cairo vowed to halve poverty by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. However, Egypt’s national statistics agency released a report on household finances last year that said that 33% of Egypt’s 99 million people were classified as poor, up from 28% in 2015. The World Bank subsequently nearly doubled that figure, saying 60% of Egyptians were “either poor or vulnerable.”
Wealth gaps between countries are greater in the region than in others because it has some of the world’s richest economies as well as some of the poorest, such as Yemen.
Inequality is not the only problem in the region. Former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic said the uneven picture means that last year’s protests in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq cannot be explained by “a blanket story of inequality.”
Indeed, Algeria, a relatively egalitarian country, was roiled by protests, first against a long-serving president and then against the wider political system.
French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote the bestselling book on income inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” said Arab countries must come up with a way to share the region’s vast and unequally distributed wealth.
Lost decades of growth
In the decade from 2009, the region’s average economic growth was one-third slower than in the previous decade. The IMF said per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly.”
The state is the largest employer in many Arab countries and over-regulation of the private sector left it underdeveloped and unable to overcome the significant barriers to trade and economic cooperation across regional borders. Meanwhile, inflexible labour laws stifled job creation and cronyism allowed inefficiency to stay unchallenged. In 2018, the average rank of Arab countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business survey was 115th out of 190 countries.
Along with structural factors, conflict has had a debilitating effect on economic growth. Three years ago, the World Bank noted that the Syrian war had killed approximately 500,000 people, displaced half the population — more than 10 million people — and reduced more than two-thirds of Syrians to poverty.
By 2017, conflict in Yemen and Libya had displaced more than 15% and 10% of their respective populations of 4 million and 6 million. Taken together, the Syrian, Yemen and Libyan civil wars have affected more than 60 million people, about one-fifth of the MENA population.
Infrastructural damage runs into the billions of dollars but it is the loss — or outright collapse, as in Yemen — of economic activity that has affected real GDP growth.
Countries in the region affected by conflict lost $614 billion cumulatively in GDP from 2010-15 — 6% of the regional GDP, ESCWA’s 2018 report on institutional development in post-conflict settings stated.
New thinking needed
This is the year when, for the first time, an Arab country holds the chairmanship of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies. It could be an opportunity to consider existing trends within the region, what needs to be changed and how.
In the words of Oxford development macroeconomist Adeel Malik, “the Arab developmental model… seems to have passed its expiration date.” In a 2014 paper for the Journal of International Affairs, Malik said “failure of the Arab state to deliver social justice is ultimately rooted in the failure of a development model based on heavy state intervention in the economy and increasingly unsustainable buyouts of local populations through generous welfare entitlements.”
It’s a good point, for the region’s richest countries just as much as its poorest. Oil-rich states are affected by dramatic changes in oil prices and the increasingly urgent suggestion that the world is at “peak oil.” An IMF report warned that, by 2034, declining oil demand could erode the $2 trillion in financial wealth amassed by Gulf Cooperation Council members. The IMF said “faster progress with economic diversification and private sector development will be critical to ensure sustainable growth.”
Creativity and courage will be needed if the Arab world is to meet the expectations of its youthful population and the challenges posed by its increasing inequality.
HOTEL BUSINESS on February 17, 2020, informs that MENA to see $23B in Hotel Building by 2023, mostly in the Gulf region. A region that still knows a significant construction boom despite inevitable volatility in its primary revenue would be hosting crowds of visitors soon to two major international events. These are the International Exhibition of 2020 and the Football World Cup 2022 in Qatar. The other regions of the MENA, whether North African or of the Levant that mostly preoccupied with their respective geostrategic concerns, have smaller demand for hotels buildings.
INTERNATIONAL REPORT—The Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) 2020 has released the third annual AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast, which reveals that more than $23 billion worth of hotel construction contracts are scheduled to be awarded in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) between now and 2023.
According to research conducted by regional project tracking service MEED Projects in Q4 2019, the hotel development sector will be most active in Oman, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia, making these the markets to watch in 2020.
“On the back of the more than 700 new hotels worth in excess of $53 billion having been built over the past seven years, the Middle East is rightly viewed as a high-growth region for tourism,” said Ed James, director of content and analysis, MEED Projects. “Growing economies, enhanced infrastructure and the opening up of the sector have acted as catalysts for development.”
He continued, “In terms of the hotel pipeline, Saudi Arabia is the leading future market with just under $9 billion worth of projects planned to be awarded over the next four years. This includes a minimum of 21,500 rooms, across 36 individual hotel, resorts and master-planned tourist destinations. The Kingdom has made tourism and the opening up of its cultural heritage and pristine Red Sea coastline key components of its 2030 Vision. Self-styled ‘gigaprojects’ like The Red Sea Project, Amaala, Neom and the Qiddiya entertainment hub are set to transform Saudi Arabia and the region over the next few years.”
The UAE is in second place, with $7.6 billion worth of hotel construction contracts on the four-year horizon. Oman has hotel developments worth more than $2 billion in the pipeline, while Egypt has some $1.9 billion worth of projects set to be awarded by 2023.
The levels of investment revealed by the AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast over the next four years are testament to an incredibly buoyant market, according to forecasters. “New hotel resorts like Jebel Sifah and the St. Regis Muscat in Oman, the Ritz-Carlton in Sharm el-Sheikh and the MGM Resort and Bellagio Hotel in Dubai are set to continue to make the Middle East one of the most vibrant and diverse tourism destinations in the world,” said James.
The regional hotel pipeline and the future outlook for hotel investment in the Middle East will be discussed in depth at the 16th edition of AHIC, which returns to Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai from April 14-16.
“The AHIC Hotel Investment Forecast is an incredibly valuable piece of research that clearly demonstrates that the Middle East still has so much to offer when it comes to future hotel expansion and investment,” said Jonathan Worsley, chairman, Bench Events, and founder, AHIC. “We’re especially excited to see markets such as Oman and Egypt, which offer incredibly rich and diverse tourism landscapes, return to the forefront of development in the region.”
“A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” points out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking.
The outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region for the new decade is a “fascinating” one, full of continued economic reforms, transformation and market liberalisation, according to HSBC. “With these developments, opportunities are expected to be widespread, across multiple industries and across the region. The combination of supportive monetary policy and responsive central banks are a few of the additional supportive variables for the region,” it said in a release yesterday.
The new decade will not be as kind to investors as the last and this will mean a new path for investments, said HSBC Private Banking in its first quarter’s investment outlook. “We will most likely see a US recession at some point in the next ten years, and while central banks’ policies should remain accommodative, it is clear that the new decade will mean a new path for investments,” says HSBC Private Banking in its investment outlook for the first quarter of 2020. “A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” pointed out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking. In a low growth and low interest rate environment, returns are unlikely to be as high as they were in the past decade, and in an environment where broad-based market upside is lower than in the past, and political risks remain high, HSBC Private Banking believes diversifying risk exposures will be especially important. HSBC Private Banking says portfolios should avoid excessive cash balances as well as the lowest rated end of high yield. It favours dollar investment grade, emerging markets’ local and hard currency debt, complemented with dividend stocks, real estate and private debt instruments to generate further income. It also sees opportunities to boost the return potential of portfolios by focusing on quality companies with sustained earnings growth and, where appropriate, it believes some leverage can help boost the net income of portfolios. It can also make sense selectively to look to hedge funds and private equity to capture growth opportunities and private equity to look through short-term market volatility. “It’s a new path for investments, but sometimes, new paths lead you to the most interesting sights” Sels noted. In 2020-21, HSBC Private Banking says investors can expect interesting opportunities for long term growth in sectors, geographies or themes related to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘sustainability’. It is also optimistic that the ageing, urban, digital, mobile, sharing-based, knowledge-based, circular, fast-paced and increasingly Asian global economy provides companies and investors with plenty of opportunities.
DUBAI (Reuters) – Economic growth in the Gulf will pick up this year and next, helped by Saudi Arabia’s investment program and Expo 2020 in Dubai, although the region will continue to feel the impact of oil output cuts, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
The above picture is a FILE PHOTO: A car drives past a construction site of Riyadh Metro and the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
OPEC and non-OPEC allies agreed in December to deepen output cuts, coming in addition to previously agreed curbs of 1.2 million bpd, and will represent about 1.7% of global oil output.
Saudi Arabia’s economy grew 0.3% in 2019, and is expected to grow 2.0% in 2020 and 2.2% in 2021, the poll of 26 economists, conducted Jan. 7-21, projected. A similar poll three months ago gave the same forecasts for 2020 and 2021 but estimated 0.7% growth in 2019.
“Saudi Arabia’s third-quarter GDP data, showing a fall of 0.5% year-on-year, was broadly as expected, with OPEC+ cuts constraining the contribution of the oil sector to economic growth,” Oxford Economics wrote in a research note. But diversification efforts “show signs of feedthrough”, it said.
Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said a stronger non-oil sector would help Saudi Arabia.
“Real GDP growth in Saudi should benefit from stronger non-oil activity as the investment program gains momentum. The drag from the oil sector should moderate in 2020 following a sharp reduction in oil output in 2019,” she said.
Median forecasts for growth in Oman, a relatively small Gulf crude producer, were significantly slashed. Analysts saw 1.0% growth in 2019, 1.7% in 2020 and 2.3% in 2021. Three months ago, Oman’s GDP was seen growing 1.3% in 2019, 3.2% in 2020 and 3.0% in 2021.
Oman’s ruler of 50 years, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, died earlier this month.
Maya Senussi, senior economist at Oxford Economics, said deeper oil production cuts agreed by OPEC and allies in December, and prospects for non-oil activity remaining weak, have weighed on Oman’s outlook.
Analysts forecast growth of 1.7% in 2019 for the United Arab Emirates, down from 2.2% in the poll three months ago. Its 2020 and 2021 estimates were unchanged.
The governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the country’s two main emirates, have boosted spending to provide stimulus to their economies.
Dubai, which will host Expo 2020 this year, announced a record budget of around $18 billion this year, a 17% increase year on year, while Abu Dhabi announced in 2018 a three-year package of $13.6 billion.
Kuwait, which said last week it expects a budget deficit of 9.2 billion dinars ($30.3 billion) in the fiscal year starting on April 1, was forecast to see 0.5% economic growth in 2019, down from the 1% expected three months ago.
Kuwait’s GDP growth was revised down to 1.9% in 2020 from 2.2% three months earlier. Expectations for its 2021 growth, however, have risen to 2.6% from 2.3%.
GDP growth for Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, was revised down to 0.9% in 2019 from 2.0% three months ago. Its 2020 forecast was cut to 2.1% from 2.4%, while its 2021 estimate was lifted to 2.5% from 2.3%.
Polling by Md Manzer Hussain; Writing by Yousef Saba and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Susan FentonOur Standards:
Despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
Despite 2020 looking to be a year of volatility, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council expressed his optimism at the “remarkable” human potential of the MENA region.
In statements ahead of the fourth annual Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, Frederick Kempe noted that despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
“One of them is to reduce conflict, to wind down the tensions of the region. But at the same time, you have to unlock the remarkable human potential of the Middle East and the GCC,” he said.
He told the Emirates News Agency (WAM), his predictions for 2020, noting that it would be a volatile year, particularly in the energy industry.
“Geopolitical uncertainty will play a larger role on energy prices this year,” Kempe added.
Reflecting on 2019 events, he noted, “It’s remarkable that energy prices have remained so low through everything we’ve gone through – Iranian sanctions, Libyan turmoil, Iraqi uncertainty.”
However, he added, “despite all that and partly because of the glut of oil we’ve had on the market, and the US oil and gas production, we’ve kept prices remarkably stable for a long period of time.”
“I think the big question is can that hold out in 2020,” he continued.
“You see prices rise by four percent when you get into a crisis, suddenly it seems as we’re in a de-escalatory phase if prices drop by five percent, and I think that’s what we’re going to see.”
Commenting on recent US-Iran tensions, and their impact on clean energy transitions, Kempe said, “A lot of people are focusing on the wrong lessons from the last few days. No doubt, there’s been a lot of tension.
“No doubt there was, for a period of time, increased risk of violent conflict. On the other hand, both parties stood back from that,” he added.
“No one in the region wants an escalation of the current tensions,” he stressed, adding, “Everyone that participated in de-escalating came to that. I think that’s promising.”
“I think all parties see no gain in war. The US doesn’t see any gain, Iran doesn’t see any gain; certainly, the Arab and GCC countries don’t see any gain,” the Atlantic Council President emphasised.
When asked to comment on how GCC countries, like the UAE, can play a role in the 2020 energy agenda, Kempe said, “If you look at the GDP of this region, and if you took the size of the Middle East population and put it anywhere in the world, you would have three times the GDP.”
World Bank figures indicate the GDP figures for the Middle East and North Africa reached $3.611 trillion in 2018.
“So imagine how much low-hanging fruit there is here and how much opportunity there is,” he said.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, figures, the adoption of renewable energy technologies created 11 million new jobs at the end of 2018.
When asked to comment on how countries and international bodies can partner further to see effective climate action, Kempe revealed that through the Council’s Adrienne Arsht Centre for Resilience, the MidEast Centre, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a new initiative will see one billion individuals become resilient to climate change, tensions and crises.
More details on the announcement will be made as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2020 next week.
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum is an international gathering of government, industry, and thought leaders to set the energy agenda for the year.
Taking place in the UAE capital from January 10-12, the 2020 iteration of the forum will focus on three key themes: the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition, financing the future of energy and interconnections in a new era of geopolitics.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.
MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.
More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.
Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.
The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.
This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.
North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.
All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).
At its December 2019 12th edition in Dubai, the Arab Strategy Forum affirmed that a Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report. This gathering run under the theme of ‘Forecasting the Next Decade 2020-2030’ concluded that after all, it’s business as usual with no ad-hoc surprises at all.
DUBAI — The global economy is not likely to witness another Great Recession-style collapse, despite several indicators to the contrary in recent months, according to a newly-published report by the Arab Strategy Forum in partnership with Good Judgement Inc., the world’s leading geopolitical and economic forecasting institution.
Titled ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’, the wide-ranging and far-reaching findings and themes of the report, will be discussed in depth by former ministers, decision-makers and politico-economic thought leaders, including former US Vice President Dick Cheney, at the 12th edition of the annual Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Dec. 9 at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre.
The ‘state of the world’ style report– tackles 11 vital mega-trends and questions that will define the global social, political and economic landscape in the 10 years ahead. Unlike previous editions, this year’s report looks to predict the future leading up to 2030 – a crucial time for many Middle Eastern economies whose visions are set to come to fruition by that year.
‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ analyses 11 major political and macro-economic situations – or ‘mega-trends’ as the report terms them – and their likely consequences to determine where the world is headed, come 2030. Topics covered range from the global recession to the fragmentation of superpowers and Brexit to the Iranian regime and America’s anticipated fall from dominance, to the emerging US-China tech war and the prospective ‘splinternet’, water scarcity in the region and the growing crop of gas fields in the East Mediterranean region.
Qualitative and quantitative feedback and data was garnered for the report’s 11 sections following rounds of discussions on Good Judgement’s online platform, with a series of ‘ignition questions’ posed to ‘Superforecasters’ – 150 experts from diverse backgrounds, such as political scientists, economics researchers, scholars, and subject-matter experts in professions ranging from finance to intelligence, to management and medicine. The ignition questions for each topic seek answers to the issues at the heart of major economic change in the years ahead. The Superforecasters’ answers serve as indicators and monitors of predicted change based on the outlined global mega-trends.
Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, said: “The report provides answers to the most pressing questions today, these outcomes will have a significant impact on regional and global policies. It explores a range of scenarios that will support the decision-makers of today and tomorrow to guide progress and prosperity for generations to come.
“Unlike previous years, this year’s reports predict the future of the region and the world over the next decade in the context of the current events that will have a major impact. They provide an up-to-date analysis of the increasing need for decision-makers to understand future scenarios on which to base their plans.”
As the world’s first platform for forecasting geopolitical and economic events, both regionally and globally, and targeting the most influential leaders and decision-makers in the Arab world and beyond, the Arab Strategy Forum will provide invaluable insights from the world’s foremost thought leaders on the crucial topics addressed in the report and elsewhere. Below is a list of the mega-trends, their related ignition questions, and a brief summary of the findings from the ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ report.
• Will the world avoid another Great Recession through 2030?
Based on current global economic performance records and data from the last 100 years of economic cycles, the report sought to find out whether the next recession will be a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis / Great Recession (2007-2009) or whether we are likely to see a return to an earlier pattern of a brief economic downturn followed by resurgent and steady growth.
The report’s Superforecasters said there is a 76 per cent chance that the world will not undergo another global financial crisis similar to the one in 2007 in the next decade, citing central banks’ improved technological ability to adapt and steer skidding economies out of difficulty. In their analysis of the last 100 years’ of business cycles, the Superforecasters concluded that the Great Recession was an outlier rather than the expected norm.
• Will China, Russia, or a G7 country leave the World Trade Organization by 2030?
Considering the emerging tendency of two, or a group of countries, setting out to establish new regional trading systems, such as the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Russian-backed European-Asian Economic Union, the report noted that such new trading entities pose a populist threat to long-established global trading systems.
It goes on to rule out the possibility of China, Russia or one of the G7 countries withdrawing from the World Trade Organization by 2030, as doing so would cost more than the gains are likely to be worth in the long run. However, considering the relentless pressure on the WTO in the face of populism, the post-World War II trading body faces a big challenge in maintaining its status and platform in the next 10 years.
• Will China, Russia, the US, or the EU lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030?
After the fall of empires in the 20th century, the question lingers over whether countries and blocs will fragment in the 21st century. The Superforecasters anticipate a 5% likelihood that the EU will lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030, a 2% likelihood that Russia or China will, and 1% likelihood that the United States will. Though the uncertainties and problems hanging over the United Kingdom are mainly considered ‘peaceful’, market volatility and decreased consumer confidence could have an impact on the EU’s territory and population in the next decade. The Superforecasters also said that a split or fragmentation in China or Russia, will only occur through a violent disruption.
• Will the US economy be ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 2030?
Despite being the largest economy in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, the US’s position as the world’s number one is under threat from the formation of a multipolar system and the emergence of several countries and regions that contribute today to the international community.
The report claims that there is a 65 per cent chance that the US will still be the world’s largest economy a decade from now, and a 33 per cent likelihood it will be second, after China.
The most prominent countries competing with the United States, in terms of nominal GDP, the report adds, are China, the European Union bloc, and India. And, as the US economy shrinks to the size of other countries, it will be less able to influence other nations of the world.
• Will OPEC’s share of global crude oil production remain above 33% in 2030?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) currently holds a share of about 40 per cent of the world’s crude oil production. But the future of the organization and its domination is likely to be called into question, with the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and new oil discoveries outside the Middle East and North Africa.
There is a 90 per cent chance that OPEC will supply more than a third of the world’s crude oil supply in 2030. However, its fiscal revenue is likely to result in a decline in its production. Given its resilience and adaptation to multiple challenges in past decades, including wars, revolutions and global recessions, the organization is viable in a carbon-free world, but new and innovative adaptation measures are needed later, the report pointed out.
• Will a cyberattack shut down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for 1+ days before 2030?
The Superforecasters see a 66 per cent likelihood of a cyberattack shutting down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for at least one day before 2030. Outside of the G7, there are countries perhaps more vulnerable. “It will be worth monitoring these situations as harbingers of larger-scale attacks elsewhere. For instance, in the Philippines, government hearings recently raised concerns that China could remotely ‘turn off power’ in the country,” the report noted.
• Will Lebanon be involved in a major military conflict by 2030?
After the discovery of the East Mediterranean gas fields off the coast of Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, questions have arisen over whether the East Mediterranean gas fields will enhance the stability of the region or pose a security risk. The report said there’s a risk that offshore gas fields could escalate tensions between nations over disputed drilling rights, but potential energy revenues are worthwhile, and will lead to a strengthening of the region’s economic stability, as well as the internal stability of the concerned countries and reduce risks of war.
• Will water scarcity cause a deadly conflict between Jordan & Israel, Egypt & Ethiopia, or Turkey & Iraq before 2030?
Water scarcity is unlikely to drive any regional conflict in the MENA region over the next decade, the report stated. There is a small, 1 per cent chance of a conflict on the flow of water between Jordan and Israel, according to the Superforecasters. Meanwhile, the chance of a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia or Turkey and Iraq during the next decade will reach 3per cent.
• China-US tech war and peace
Will a ‘splinternet’ – with one Internet led by the US and one led by China – be avoided as of 2030?
The Superforecasters offer an 80 per cent chance that a ‘splinternet’ – one Internet led by the United States and one led by China — will not be in place by 2030. “Information will continue to flow across global networks, even as other types of political or ideological information will be blocked,” the report pointed out.
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