Europe’s Choice: Risk Stagnation or Pursue Integration


Shafik 3By Nemat Shafik

Europe faces a stark choice: risk stagnation or pursue integration. It can continue to muddle through, and hope that growth in the world economy will eventually pick up enough steam to pull its economy out of the doldrums. Or it can make a decisive push to revitalize its economy and complete the reforms needed to achieve a fully integrated economic and monetary union

Five years into the crisis, recovery in the euro area remains fragile. Important actions at both the national and euro-wide levels have tackled the immediate threats to the single currency. These include the European Central Bank’s announcement in 2012 that it stands ready to undertake outright monetary transactions in secondary sovereign bond markets, the completion of the European Stability Mechanism, which created a financial firewall around the euro area, and efforts to restore the health of public finances and implement structural reforms.

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Convergence, Crisis, and Capacity Building in Emerging Europe


by Nemat Shafik

Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe has been through a lot. In two short decades, the region moved from a communist planned system to a market economy, and living standards have converged towards those in the West.

It has also weathered major crises: first the break-up of the old Soviet system in the early 1990s, then the Russian financial crisis in 1998, and finally the recent global economic crisis. How did these countries do it?

From the Baltic to the Balkans, the region’s resilience and flexibility are the result of hard work and adaptability. But more than anything, it is the strong institutions built over the last two decades that have enhanced the region’s ability to deal with the momentous challenges of the past, the present—and those to come.

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Without Better Data, Middle East Policymakers Risk Getting Lost


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

Recently I went orienteering with my children as part of a school trip.  Orienteering is a sport whereby you have to find your way to various checkpoints through unknown terrain with only a compass and a topographical map.

Wandering through the woods with six 9-year-olds was a good lesson in the value of good directions and data to find your way when you are in unchartered territory.

Likewise, making policy decisions without adequate and timely data would also result in getting lost, wasting time and money, and making policy mistakes with obvious negative consequences for growth and development.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region suffers significant shortcoming in data, which are particularly problematic at a time economic transition (see table below).  There are important data gaps, poor data quality and in many cases, internationally agreed standards of statistical methodologies, compilation periodicity and timeliness, and data dissemination practices are not followed.  I emphasized these issues during my participation at the ArabStat Conference in Morocco this month.

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Why the Arab World Needs an Economic Spring


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

What strikes you on a trip to the Middle East is that everyone is talking politics—all of the time. That had been the case in countries like Lebanon where it is a national pastime, but it is a new phenomenon in countries across North Africa and the Gulf.

Constitutions are being rewritten, political parties and youth groups are vibrant, and everyone has an opinion on current events. The older generation seems worried by the uncertainty associated with change. The young generation continues to be energized.

Need for an economic rethink

But, what I noticed during a week of travel through the region is that almost no one is talking economics, and that is a worry. Because while 2011 was a year of major transitions in the political domain, almost every economic indicator in the non-oil countries went in the wrong direction. Growth halved, unemployment rose, reserves came under pressure and deficits ballooned as governments responded to social pressures by increasing spending on wages and generalized subsidies.

New governments across the region are keen to respond to the demand for jobs and justice that brought them to power but are quickly faced with the hard reality of limited resources and powerful vested interests.

So, just as the “Arab Spring” opened a debate about politics in the Middle East, we now need an “Economic Spring” on how to rethink the region’s economic future.

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Making Sure Middle East Growth Is Inclusive


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

The uprisings that spread across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 taught us that even rapid economic growth cannot be maintained unless it is inclusive, creates enough jobs for the growing labor force, and is accompanied by policies that protect the most vulnerable. And the absence of transparent and fair rules of the game will inevitably undermine the development process.

Hopes after the revolutions are high and so are people’s expectations. Hence, there is a need to pay more attention to socioeconomic issues in making policy decisions. In my speech today at the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut, I argued that we need an “Economic Spring” to complement what has become known as the “Arab Spring.”

Gloomy picture needs attention

At over 25 percent, the youth unemployment rate in the region’s oil-importing countries exceeds that of any other region in the world—a rate that reaches up to 30 percent in Tunisia and 32 percent in Morocco. Ironically, education in the region is not a guarantee against unemployment. In fact, unemployment tends to increase with schooling, exceeding 15 percent for those with tertiary education in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.

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Arab Countries in Transition Under the Spotlight


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

Historic transitions in several Arab countries are coming under increasing strain. Domestic uncertainty over the countries’ future course, compounded by the global slowdown and rising oil prices, took a toll on growth in 2011, and the current year will be equally challenging.

A joint and sustained effort is needed to help these countries navigate through this challenging period and set out an economic vision that is fair and inclusive.

Clear risks require strong resolve

The difficulties and challenges facing these countries were very much a focus of discussion during the recent 2012 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington. The meetings brought together ministers and top officials from all over the world, with Middle East issues high on the agenda.

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Avoiding a Lost Generation


By Nemat Shafik (Version in  عربي)

Young people were innocent bystanders in the global financial crisis, but they may well end up paying the heaviest price for the policy mistakes that have led us to where we are today.

Young people will have to pay the taxes to service the debts accumulated in recent years.

Moreover, the global economy is threatened by continued strains in the euro area, and unemployment is still climbing in several countries, in particular in Europe. Young people (those aged 15 to 24) are the most affected, and youth unemployment has reached record levels in a number of countries.

If the right policies are not put into place, there is a risk not only of a lost decade in terms of growth but also of a lost generation.

Consider this. In Spain and Greece, nearly half of all young people cannot find jobs. In the Middle East, young people account for 40 percent or more of all unemployed people in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia and nearly 60 percent in Syria and Egypt. And in the United States, which traditionally has had a strong job creation record, more than 18 percent of all young job seekers cannot find employment.

Legacy of loss

Youth unemployment has long-term consequences for economic growth because of the loss or degradation of human capital. But it also has many other consequences, both for the individuals affected and for society as a whole.

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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

More Diversity will Help the IMF at Work


By iMFdirect

Nemat Shafik, who took over as IMF Deputy Managing Director in April, says she has been surprised by the vigor of internal policy debate at the IMF. “From the outside looking in, you have the impression that the IMF is a monolith with a very single-minded view of the world. When you are inside the Fund, what is really striking is how active the internal debate is,” she says.

At a time when the global economy is being buffeted by continued uncertainty in Europe, uprisings in the Middle East, and signs of overheating in some emerging market economies, there’s a lot to discuss. And, in addition to global economic problems, the IMF’s work environment has come under increased scrutiny, in particular how women are treated and its professional code of conduct.

In an interview, Ms. Shafik discusses some of these issues Continue reading

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