International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
The war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia are exacerbating the divergence in recovery prospects for the Middle East and Central Asia (ME&CA). Despite better-than-expected upside momentum in 2021, the economic environment in 2022 is defined by extraordinary headwinds and uncertainties, particularly for commodity importers, with higher and more volatile commodity prices, rising inflationary pressures, faster-than-expected monetary policy normalization in advanced economies, and a lingering pandemic. Prospects for oil exporters in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have improved, while countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) region face a particularly challenging outlook given their linkages to Russia and Ukraine. Downside risks dominate the outlook and include a prolonged war and further sanctions on Russia, tighter-than-expected global financial conditions, possible deanchoring of inflation expectations, a sharper slowdown in China, and new pandemic outbreaks. Policymaking has become increasingly complex, with dwindling macro policy space to deal with these extraordinary shocks, amid high debt and inflation. Given divergent outlooks, policies will need to be calibrated carefully to country circumstances to manage uncertainties, maintain macroeconomic stability, and support the recovery while protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring food and energy security. Structural reforms have become even more urgent to prevent scarring from the pandemic and the war, and ensure a private sector-led and inclusive recovery, including by embracing digitalization and investing in a greener future.
Just as uncertainty associated with COVID-19 pandemic was abating, Russia invaded Ukraine. Uncertainty endured, shifting from pandemic to war, affecting all countries but in different ways. Above-target inflation rates and inflation surprises have helped reducing debt-to-GDP ratios but such relief is often temporary. High uncertainty and marked divergences across countries require a tailored and agile fiscal policy response that is ready to adjust as the outlook becomes clearer. Fiscal policy will need to shift focus away from the exceptional pandemic-related measures as central banks increase interest rates to fight inflation. Emerging and developing economies that are net importers of energy and food will be hit the hardest by surging international prices. Many of these countries already experience scarring from the pandemic and have little fiscal space to tackle new spending pressures. Government should focus on those most affected by the crisis and priority areas. Ensuring greater resilience through investment in health, food, and energy security from cleaner sources has become even more urgent. Global cooperation to achieve these objectives is more important now than ever. As countries strive to promote an inclusive and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—and formulate responses to the immediate impacts of increased energy prices—they face shared challenges to secure tax revenues, address inequalities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. National tax policies are under pressure to deal with cross-border spillovers—one country’s action affects other countries. Chapter 2 discusses how international coordination on tax matters (i) reduces profit shifting by multinationals and tax competition between countries; (ii) improves tax enforcement by lifting the veil of secrecy to tackle tax evasion; and (iii) limits global warming. The current energy crisis reinforces the case for coordination among major emitters to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, urging countries to not allow near-term responses to detract efforts to establish credible policies for emissions reductions in the medium term.
Chapter 1 argues that fiscal policy should remain nimble and strengthen its medium-term frameworks, as countries face highly uncertain and differentiated prospects. Vaccination has saved lives and is helping fuel a nascent recovery, but risks are elevated amidst new virus variants, high debt, and poverty. In advanced economies, the shift in fiscal support toward medium-term packages to “build back better” will have overall positive effects globally. Emerging markets and low-income developing countries face a more challenging outlook, with permanent economic scarring and revenue losses. They need international support to increase vaccine availability and financing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries find themselves in a situation where fiscal support is still invaluable to protect lives and livelihoods. At the same time, governments are also facing questions on their elevated debt and gross financing needs. Chapter 2 provides countries with guidance on how they can both avoid withdrawing fiscal support too early, and yet signal to the public that their debt levels are sustainable in the long run. To commit to future deficit reduction, governments have several instruments, including undertaking structural fiscal reforms (such as pension reform or subsidies reform), pre-legislating changes to taxes or spending, committing to fiscal rules that lead to deficit reduction in the future. Countries that follow debt rules, for instance, manage to reduce debt faster that other countries, although fiscal rules should also provide enough flexibility to spend in times of need. Overall, governments that commit to sound public finances and that achieve high levels of fiscal transparency reap meaningful benefits: their budgets are more credible, their announcements are better perceived by the media, and they pay lower interest rates on their debt.