Economic Research Forum (ERF)

June

A moonshot for MENA: laying the groundwork for a modern digital economy

A new economic reality is needed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This column proposes a ‘moonshot’, which, like the US effort to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, can unite people behind a common goal and transform the ways in which governments, companies, international financial institutions and civil societies conduct business. It would transform MENA economies and help to ensure that millions of the region’s young people can find the good jobs they deserve.

Iran: the nuclear deal, currency depreciation and inflation

Iran’s currency has once again fallen against the dollar following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. This column explores the inflationary impact of speculative attacks on the rial, as well as the policy responses from the government and the central bank. Such episodes – and subsequent overshooting – have proven to be highly disruptive to the country, with lasting adverse social and economic effects.

Measuring economic destruction in Syria from outer space

How is Syria’s civil conflict affecting the economy? This column analyses data on night-light intensity measured by satellites to assess the extent of the destruction of economic activity across the country. Without a strong programme of economic rebuilding when the conflict finally ends, the return of approximately 5.6 million registered refugees to Syria will not happen any time soon.

Local winners and losers in Erdoğan’s Turkey

Throughout the 2000s, Turkey was portrayed as a model of social and economic success for other countries in the MENA region. Ahead of the country’s early presidential and parliamentary polls, this column reports research evidence on how the ruling Justice and Development Party has managed public resources and fostered local economic development since it took power in 2002. The government has played a substantial role in influencing local economic performance on a discretionary basis.

Liberalising road transport markets between Turkey and Europe

The routes that connect Turkey to its most important trading partners in Europe are governed by a system of road transport quotas, which has a significantly negative effect on the country’s exports. This column explores the challenges of liberalising the market for road freight transport services between Turkey and the European Union.

Poverty reduction efforts in Iran: the wrecking force of inflation

Iran’s universal cash transfer (UCT) programme plays an important role in fighting poverty. But as this column shows, its real value and impact on the country’s poorest people has diminished significantly as a result of rising prices. Over the five-year period since the UCT was first operating in 2011, inflation halved its original value.

The new normal in the global economy: challenges for MENA

ERF’s annual conference has become the premier regional event for economists of the Middle East. This column previews the 2018 conference, to be held in Cairo in July, where the main theme will be the challenges for the region of the likelihood of a relatively sustained period of low oil prices as well as disruptive cyclical movements around the long-term price trend – the so-called ‘new normal’ in the global economy. Special sessions will also discuss the challenges of inequality; climate change and environmental damage; and solidarity, economy and social justice.

Jordan’s labour market: new inputs for informed policy-making

The labour market in Jordan has deteriorated since 2010: informality and irregular employment have increased; the recent social security reform has had limited impact; and large shares of young people are neither working nor in school. This column reports new high-quality survey data collected by ERF, analysis of which is providing insights into the causes of the deterioration and potential policy responses. Jordanian researchers and policy-makers are now in a better position to ask informed questions and develop better policy.

Most read

Egypt’s care economy needs to address deteriorating working conditions

A robust and high-quality care economy is critical for supporting women’s employment – as both an employer of women and a mechanism for redistributing unpaid care work to the market. Yet in Egypt, despite national goals of expanding care services, employment in the sector has been shrinking, while becoming increasingly privatised. As this column reports, care jobs have also experienced worsening conditions of work, including reduced formality and the emergence of a pay penalty for care workers.

Unemployment among young women in GCC countries

The average rate of unemployment among young women in the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is far higher than the equivalent for young men. This column reports new evidence on the extent to which flexible labour markets, in the context of a generous social contract, can reduce female youth unemployment rates in the region.

Boosting trade through flexible rules of origin in preferential agreements

Rules of origin are critical components of preferential trade agreements designed to stop products coming in under insufficient transformation or through the partner that applies the lowest tariff. But in practice, these rules are often needlessly complex, undoing the benefits of market access associated with trade agreements. This column reports research showing that the adoption of more flexible product-specific rules of origin within preferential agreements would give a significant boost to global trade.

Challenges of GCC investment in the energy transition

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have identified the energy transition as a crucial area of growth and are investing heavily in a diverse array of projects. However, as this column explains, the region faces a number of challenges in making a success of these investments, most notably its current dependence on fossil fuels, a lack of infrastructure and technical expertise, the high upfront costs, and geopolitical tensions.

The decline of social insurance in Egypt: directions for reform

The longstanding challenge for the Egyptian economy of providing its workers with decent, formal, socially insured jobs has become even more difficult. As this column explains, informality has been rising rather than falling, with a substantial reduction in social insurance coverage for the employed since the late 1990s. Reforms are needed to reverse this decline.

Social insurance in Egypt: between costly formality and legal informality

The rates of participation of Egyptian workers in contributory social insurance has continued to decline, even during times when the country has had positive annual growth rates. This column discusses key institutional elements in the design of the current social insurance scheme that have contributed to the growing gap in coverage, particularly the scheme’s cost and eligibility requirements.

Making trade agreements more environmentally friendly in the MENA region

Trade policy can play a significant role in efforts to decarbonise the global economy. But as this column explains, there need to be more environmental provisions in trade agreements in which developing countries participate – and stronger legal enforcement of those provisions at the international level. The MENA region would benefit substantially from such changes.

Jordan: navigating through multiple crises

Jordan’s real GDP per capita is today no higher than it was 40 years ago. While external factors have undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the country’s economic outcomes, weak macroeconomic management and low public spending on investment and the social sectors have also played a substantial role. This column explores what can be done to reduce high public debt, accelerate private sector development and enhance social outcomes.

Egypt and Iraq: amenities, environmental quality and taste for revolution

The Middle East and North Africa is a region marked by significant political turbulence. This column explores a novel dimension of these upheavals: the relationship between people’s satisfaction with, on one hand, the amenities to which they have access and the environmental quality they experience, and, on the other hand, their inclination towards revolutionary actions. The data come from the World Value Survey collected in 2018 in Egypt and Iraq.

Iran’s globalisation and Saudi Arabia’s defence budget

How might Saudi Arabia react to Iran's renewed participation in global trade and investment? This column explores whether the expanding economic globalisation of Iran, following the lifting of nuclear sanctions, could yield a peace dividend for Saudi Arabia, consequently dampening the Middle East arms competition. These issues have attracted increased attention in recent times, notably after a pivotal agreement between the two countries in March 2023, marking the resumption of their political ties after a seven-year conflict.