Economic Research Forum (ERF)


The India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor: an early assessment

The India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor represents an important shift in US and EU efforts to promote trade in the Middle East. Unlike past trade initiatives, the IMEC encompasses a broader coalition of regional and non-regional participants. It also makes a priority of infrastructure over trade policy as a means to expand inter- and intra-regional trade. While the IMEC has the potential to transform commerce on the Arabian Peninsula, international and domestic politics risk derailing its success. Western policy-makers have a strong incentive to invest their economic, political and diplomatic capital in helping to build an enduring and transformative IMEC.

MENA trade patterns and the pursuit of growth

Changing trade structures continue to shape national development paths, not least for the countries of Middle East and North Africa, whose futures depend closely on trends in globalisation. This column outlines empirical evidence for the region, which indicates the positive growth effects of participation in global value chains for the all sectors. The analysis also reveals considerable variation within the region in terms of types of trade flows, sectors and trade partners.

Risk prevention and public compliance in MENA during the Covid-19 pandemic

Public health measures introduced in early 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19 played a critical role in mitigating the worst effects of the pandemic. This column highlights how to understand the effectiveness of these policies in MENA, and the importance of evaluating the relationship between risk perception and compliance. People’s risk perception and attitudes towards the disease varied over time and between countries, and assessing the drivers of these variations, and how they affected levels of compliance, is vital for understanding what happened and for building resilience to future crises in the region.

Sudan’s labour market: new data in turbulent times

With Sudan experiencing numerous economic and political shocks over the past decade, a lack of labour market and household data has made it difficult for policy-makers to make evidence-based decisions. This column presents new nationally representative survey data, which have been long anticipated and are now publicly available: the Sudan Labor Market Panel Survey 2022.

Sudan’s labour market in an era of shocks

After a decade of economic and political shocks, the newly available Sudan Labor Market Panel Survey of 2022 provides the first data on households and the labour market for over a decade. This column presents some of its key findings. The country continues to grapple with long-run labour market challenges, such as a high fertility rate, low school enrolment and limited labour force participation among women. After years of political turmoil, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic and recent internal conflict, it is vital that Sudanese policy-makers are able to make evidence-based decisions to help the country to prosper.

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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.