Riyadh, June 15, 2017— A new World Bank report projects growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries will gradually recover from 1.3% in 2017 to 2.6% in 2019. The first edition of the Gulf Economic Monitor, which will be produced half-yearly by the World Bank, indicates that, although overall growth will remain weighed down by oil production cuts, growth in the non-oil sector has bottomed out. With oil prices expected to stabilize at close to current levels, the pace of fiscal austerity slowing and with major reforms planned in the region, spending and sentiment in the non-oil sector are expected to slowly lift.
Regional fiscal and current account balances are expected to improve, but are unlikely to return to pre-2014 double-digit surpluses. The contribution from net exports to growth is expected to remain small over the near- to medium-term.
“The green shoots of recovery are cropping up, helped by the recovery in global energy prices over the past year,” said Nadir Mohammed, Country Director for the GCC Countries at the World Bank. “That’s good for public finances across the region, and providing space to governments to focus on long term challenges.”
The outlook is subject to downside risks. In addition to uncertainties emanating from geopolitical developments in the region, OPEC’s production cuts also could be undercut by quick-acting non-conventional energy producers in North America. Any turbulence in global financial markets could affect funding costs for a region which continues to have large financing needs.
Implementing broad-based reforms is one of the region’s key challenges. GCC countries have begun to dismantle energy subsidies and are also attempting to increase non-oil revenues; a GCC-wide VAT is expected to be enacted in 2018.
However, with budgetary pressures lessening, the region needs to shift focus away from short-term cuts in recurrent spending and consolidation of capital spending towards deeper, multi-dimensional fiscal policy and institutional reforms. These will help to secure long term fiscal sustainability, and also support the development of vibrant private sectors. In addition, by boosting investor and market confidence, they can also start a virtuous cycle of stronger investments, including FDI, and output growth in the near term.