What to Do About Unemployment in the Caucasus and Central Asia


By Masood Ahmed

Judging by growth levels alone, the economies of the Caucasus and Central Asia are doing well. The region’s recovery from the global financial crisis is gaining momentum, with the oil and gas exporters profiting from the high price of oil and the oil and gas importers benefiting from rising export demand and the continued recovery in Russia, which is translating into a steady increase in workers’ remittances.

 As elsewhere, uncertainties over the robustness of the global recovery could cloud the region’s growth outlook. Assuming, however, that these external risks do not materialize, we foresee good prospects for the region, with fairly robust growth over the coming year. We are projecting growth in both groups of countries in the range of about 5½ and 6½ percent in 2011 and 2012—as detailed in our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia.  

 Looking beyond growth rates, however, one challenge that stands out for the region as a whole is to create jobs. Continue reading

Africa’s New Janus-Like Trade Posture


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

It wasn’t all that long ago when virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports were destined for Europe and North America.

But the winds of Africa’s trade have shifted over the past decade. There has been a massive reorientation towards other developing countries, in particular China and India.

Like Janus, the Roman god, Africa’s trade is now, as it were, facing both east and west.

Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa looks closely at these developments and its policy implications.

In addition to the well-known gains from international trade, Africa’s trade reorientation is also beneficial because it has broadened the region’s export base and linked Africa more strongly to rapidly growing parts of the global economy. These changes will help reduce the volatility of exports and improve prospects for robust economic growth in Africa.

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Mideast Braces Itself for a Multi-Year Transition


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

This week I’ve been traveling extensively across the region, both listening and learning. I am writing this from Dubai, where we have just launched our Regional Economic Outlook. And earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the GCC Ministerial Meeting in Abu Dhabi and the World Economic Forum’s special meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World in Jordan.

My core takeaway from all these events is that the underlying sense of optimism in the promise of the Arab Spring is very much there, but there is also a growing recognition that managing the short-term transition will be even more difficult with the persistence of economic pressures and rising social expectations.

Not an easy year

2011 has not been an easy year for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The combination of domestic unrest and external uncertainty has resulted in a marked downturn in economic activity, and this is expected to pick up only gradually over the coming year. Continue reading

How Iceland Recovered from its Near-Death Experience


 By Poul M. Thomsen

(Versions in Español and Français)

When I traveled to Reykjavik in October 2008 to offer the IMF’s assistance, the situation there was critical. The country’s three main banks—which made up almost the entire financial system—had just collapsed within a week of each other. The sense of fear and shock were palpable—few, if any, countries had ever experienced such a catastrophic economic crash.

There was a lot of concern that a disorderly depreciation of the exchange rate would be ruinous for households and companies if nothing was done or that deposit runs would cripple what was left of the financial system. The scale of the uncertainty was staggering―the three banks had assets worth more than 1,000 percent of GDP, and no one knew at that point how large the losses would turn out to be and how they would be divided between Icelanders and foreigners.

Today, three years later, it is worth reflecting on how far Iceland―a country of just 320,000 people―has come since those dark days back in 2008. Continue reading

India: Linked or De-linked from the Global Economy?


By Anoop Singh

With economic growth expected to continue at a reasonably good clip this year and next, it’s all too easy to think there’s not much to worry about. Even as Diwali celebrations begin across India, the outlook for the world economy is fairly uneven and uncertain. More worrisome than the subdued global growth outlook, risks are building up especially in Europe—and these include an extreme scenario with financial disruption.

Although India’s economy has generally been less prone to external forces than many others, we still need to contend with the larger than typical risks in the global economy. These risks harken the need for a new wave of reforms.

What does the more somber darker global outlook mean for India? And exactly what policies are needed? Continue reading

Lively Debate on the Dead Sea Shores


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

 I’ve been in Jordan this weekend, attending a vibrant meeting of the World Economic Forum on jobs and growth in the Middle East. I participated in a panel on employment with Queen Rania, and I’d like to share some of the ideas generated during that discussion and at the meeting more generally.

The atmosphere was both cautious and optimistic—cautious because of the growing risk of the downturn in advanced economies (particularly Europe) spreading to the region, and optimistic because of the recent political gains in both Libya and Tunisia in particular.

 One of my biggest (and heartening) takeaways was that there were more young people bubbling with ideas and entrepreneurial spirit (ready to take risk) than ever before at this regional forum—which reflects a growing recognition of their current role in the Arab Spring and the role they will have to play in the future as drivers of economic change.

 Creating jobs for the young and growing population in the Middle East and North Africa remains the dominant topic. Here on the Dead Sea, it’s jobs, jobs, jobs that are still on everybody’s mind. And it’s clear that there’s a tension between the high hopes for a better future in the long term and the impatience and frustration with difficulties and challenges in the short term. Continue reading

Growing Pains: Europe’s Dilemma


By Bas Bakker

(Versions in Español and Français )

As the crisis in Europe deepens, it is worth asking how it all went wrong in the first place. In the past decade there have been stark differences in per capita GDP growth in Europe. Growth rates have ranged from close to zero in Italy and Portugal to more than 4 percent in the best performers. Why do some countries in Europe grow much faster than others? And how can those falling behind catch up before it is too late?

In part, these differences reflect “convergence”. It is much easier for poor countries to grow faster than it is for rich countries because they can import technology they do not already have. It is much more difficult to grow fast if you are already rich and at the technology frontier—now you can only get richer by innovation.

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