CEMAC is broadly benefiting from the positive terms of trade shock amidst the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine. Post-pandemic economic recovery is taking hold, albeit slowly, supported by high oil prices and the lifting of COVID-19 containment measures. External reserves have started to build up, though still short of the desired level, owing in part to costly untargeted energy and food subsidies. Global inflation pressures have passed through to domestic prices, putting pressure on real incomes. Rebuilding buffers and sustaining a recovery that protects the most vulnerable will require stricter adherence to budget and reform plans consistent with Fund-supported programs and policy advice; this will ensure that part of the oil windfall is saved. Implementation of these policies in current favorable conditions is critical to strengthening resilience in the face of rising risks, including most notably to food security, debt vulnerabilities, and tightening of global financial conditions.
CEMAC ended 2021 in a fragile external position, with gross reserves at only 2.7 months of prospective imports and net foreign assets (NFA) at their lowest level in decades, despite the availability of Fund financing, the SDR allocation, and monetary policy tightening. The terms of trade shock this year is expected to be broadly positive for CEMAC. This more favorable outlook is, however, subject to heightened external uncertainties associated with the fallout from the war in Ukraine (notably global inflation pressure, global growth uncertainties, and high oil price volatility), faster-than-anticipated global financial tightening, possible emergence of new COVID strains and risks from cryptoassets. Current high oil prices, if sustained, will help rebuild fiscal and external buffers, provided fiscal policies remain prudent. Shielding vulnerable populations from soaring energy and food prices adds to the complexity of navigating this uncertain environment, given CEMAC’s already limited policy options.
Despite a more favorable external environment, marked by the rebound in global growth, fast-increasing oil prices, and unprecedented Fund financial support, CEMAC is ending 2021 in a fragile external position. Net external reserves fell throughout 2021 to reach their lowest level in decades, and gross reserves are just above three months of imports of goods and services. The launch of a second phase of the regional strategy at the August 2021 CEMAC Heads of States summit saw renewed commitments to accelerate structural, transparency, and governance reforms. The resumption of program engagements with the Fund, combined with high oil prices and significant fiscal adjustments in 2022, should allow for a turnaround, and the build-up in external reserves is expected to resume in 2022. Risks include possible adverse pandemic developments, oil price volatility, possible fiscal slippages, shortfall in external financing, and security issues.