Economic Research Forum (ERF)

March

Africa’s continental free trade area: a stepping-stone to integration?

In a week that marks the anniversary of the treaty for an African continental free trade area, signed in Kigali on 18 March 2018, this column asks whether it is a turning point on the road towards economic integration. There are signs of progress: the inclusion of negotiations on trade in services; progress-tracking on removing barriers to trade in goods; easing the movement of persons; and improving hard and soft infrastructure to lower trade costs. But starting off with a small membership that does not include all the big players and the possibility of backsliding under the guise of indiscriminate promotion of regional value chains pose serious threats.

Transformation under radical uncertainty: the challenge for MENA

Shifting from a centralised rent-seeking society to a decentralised productive society is such a major transformation that it cannot be fully planned in advance. As Paul Collier explained in his keynote address at ERF’s 25th annual conference, it is subject to ‘radical uncertainty’ and as such depends on igniting rapid social learning so that society ‘error-corrects’ as it attempts change. His analysis draws lessons for MENA countries.

Productive jobs: rebasing growth in the MENA region

With the oil rents of the Middle East set to wane, it is essential to generate opportunities for jobs that are sufficiently productive to sustain the living standards that the population has come to expect. As Paul Collier explained in the opening keynote address at ERF’s 25th annual conference, the bare bones of building productivity at twenty-first century levels are not mysterious: clusters of firms capable of innovation have to be built and linked to vocational training that equips a workforce with the skills that firms need.

Knowledge, research networks and development policy: the ERF at 25

ERF’s annual conference has become the premier regional event for economists of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This column previews the 2019 conference, which takes place in Kuwait City next week (10-12 March) and which marks the 25th anniversary of the ERF. The central focus will be on the knowledge economy as an economic development model for the region.

Location and firm performance: evidence from Italy, Tunisia and Turkey

Clustering of economic activity has long been seen as an important way to boost employment, innovation and productivity. This column reports FEMISE research evidence for the positive impact on output and innovation performance of local ‘spillovers’ between domestic and foreign firms located in the same regions in Italy, Tunisia and Turkey. The results provide a benchmark for analysing the efficiency of clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises in southern Mediterranean countries.

The benefits of year-round daylight saving time: evidence from Turkey

Ever since Benjamin Franklin’s observation in the late eighteenth century that people wasted daylight by sleeping after sunrise and squandered wax by burning candles in the evening, energy conservation has been the main motivation for governments to follow ‘daylight saving time’ (DST). Using Turkey’s recent decision to extend DST to the whole year, this column summarises new evidence on how DST affects the consumption and generation of electricity, and related greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis suggests that while total consumption is unchanged, emissions may have gone down due to the policy change.

Kuwait and New Zealand: comparing GDP, competitiveness and social progress

A comparison between two economic indicators shows how competitiveness is more closely related to social progress than to GDP. This LSE Business Review column looks at how Kuwait, New Zealand and many other countries perform in terms of GDP per capita, the Global Competitiveness Index and a new Social Progress Index.

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.