Economic Research Forum (ERF)

April

Transparency for a time of crisis and beyond

In times of crisis like the current pandemic, citizens turn to their governments for action and reliable information – but in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the state has lost much of its credibility. This column summarises a new report on the region’s notable lack of transparency and how that relates to the challenges of low growth, macroeconomic fragility and stagnant labour markets.

Shelter from the Middle East’s perfect storm

The Covid-19 pandemic threatens every region in the world, none more so than the Middle East. This Project Syndicate column argues that with oil prices plummeting and public health costs poised to skyrocket, the Arab world must use this tragic occasion to forge a new cooperative regional order.

Covid-19 and oil prices: a dual shock for the Gulf Cooperation Council

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council face a dual shock: from both the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse in oil prices. This column argues that authorities should focus first on responding to the health emergency and the associated risk of economic depression. They should postpone fiscal consolidation linked to the persistent drop in oil prices until recovery from the pandemic is well underway.

Covid-19 and the global economy: this time is different

The economic crash landing caused by Covid-19 is unprecedented. But as this column argues, once the virus threat has abated, the speed of recovery could be almost as fast as the speed of deterioration given the pent-up demand, the massive policy support and the strength of fundamentals that many economies had before the crisis.

Killer lockdowns

Most developed countries have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by imposing lockdowns to control the spread of infections rather than taking the ‘herd immunity’ approach that some have advocated. This column argues that poor countries should not necessarily mimic this response: for them, the risks of the herd immunity approach can be dwarfed by the risks of starvation, destitution, instability and violence arising from a prolonged lockdown.

Will Covid-19 trigger a massive fall in FDI flows to the Arab region?

Flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Arab region by multinational enterprises are falling dramatically as a consequence of the global pandemic. This column reports on the likely scale of the negative impact and the implications for regional growth and development.

Solving both the short- and long-term Covid-19 crises

The global health and economic crisis compels us to act in the short term. But as this Brookings column argues, we also need to look at longer-term challenges. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide a pathway for us to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19.

How global trade tensions are affecting the Arab region

How are Arab countries likely to be affected by the trade wars instigated by the United States against China and the European Union? This column reports research findings on the potential winners and losers in the Arab region.

Economic impact of Covid-19 on Egypt’s tourism and remittances

As Covid-19 reaches everywhere, low- and middle-income countries are racing to respond to this massive and fast-moving challenge. This column, originally published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), assesses the pandemic’s economic impacts for Egypt. Household income, especially for the poor, will be hard-hit, linked to disruptions in tourism and declining remittances. The authors provide initial policy insights for support to households and businesses.

Coping with a dual shock: Covid-19 and oil prices

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa face a dual shock from the Covid-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices. This column explores the policy options available to deal with such shocks, arguing that authorities should sequence and tailor their responses. MENA countries should first focus on responding to the health emergency and economic depression, postponing fiscal consolidation linked to the persistent drop in oil prices until the recovery from the pandemic is well underway.

Tackling Lebanon’s fiscal crisis: should food subsidies be eliminated?

Is elimination of food subsidies the right policy to address Lebanon's public finance crisis? This column reports research that uses information from consumer surveys to identify potential alternatives to such a policy. The evidence suggests that elimination of food subsidies is the worst possible option for policy-makers.

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.