Economic Research Forum (ERF)


How can the Biden administration help improve MENA’s economic prospects?

President Biden’s administration will face a number of major challenges in the Middle East over the next four years, from great power competition and climate change to cybersecurity and refugees and migration. This column, originally published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, outlines what it can do to help improve economic prospects across the region.

A Sherman Act-like moment is needed in Africa and the Middle East

With the population of Africa and the Middle East set to double by 2050, efforts to ‘demonopolise’ the economies of the region – akin to late 19th century US federal legislation that outlawed monopolistic business practices – are vital to achieve economic transformation. Collectively leveraging the rise in pent-up domestic demand will facilitate the development of domestic productive systems, transforming raw products and supporting the creation of decent jobs.

Do coronavirus containment measures work? Worldwide evidence

How effective are lockdowns and social distancing measures in containing the spread of Covid-19 and how quickly should they be adopted? This column reports cross-country evidence on eight different coronavirus containment measures in flattening the epidemiological curve of the pandemic and reducing contagion and fatality rates.

Crude lessons: what history teaches about the future of oil prices

Oil prices have taken a big hit as a result of the global pandemic, costing Middle Eastern economies billions of dollars every day and leading to downsizing and restructuring. As this column explains, forecasts of future prices focus on two divergent factors: how long will it take for demand for oil to recover; and how effective will be the agreement among the OPEC+ countries in keeping supply at bay. The lessons from history do not suggest a promising outlook for oil-exporting economies’ ability to raise prices.

When gender matters for exports by MENA firms

There is considerable evidence that export-oriented strategies have a beneficial impact on growth and development. This column reports research suggesting that enhancing women’s participation in the export sector could be a new source of competitiveness for firms in the Middle East and North Africa.

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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.