Tonga’s economy showed recovery from recent shocks on the back of stronger tourism activity and fiscal expansion. In spite of generous grant inflows, Tonga remains at “high risk of debt distress” according to World Bank-IMF debt sustainability analysis. Executive Directors stressed that fiscal consolidation is necessary to ensure fiscal sustainability, and encouraged authorities to set up a comprehensive debt-management strategy to limit the credit and currency risks. Directors welcomed the government’s policy to pursue structural reforms to promote private sector activity and restore fiscal sustainability.
Mr. Jonathan C Dunn, Mr. Matt Davies, Yongzheng Yang, Mr. Yiqun Wu, and Mr. Shengzu Wang
During the global financial crisis, central banks in Pacific island countries eased monetary policy to stimulate economic activity. Judging by the ensuing movements in commercial bank interest rates and private sector credit, monetary policy transmission appears to be weak. This is confirmed by an empirical examination of interest rate pass-through and credit growth. Weak credit demand and underdeveloped financial markets seem to have limited the effectiveness of monetary policy, but the inflexibility of exchange rates and rising real interest rates have also served to frustrate the central banks’ efforts despite a supporting fiscal policy. While highlighting the importance of developing domestic financial markets in the long run, this experience also points to the need to coordinate macroeconomic policies and to use all macroeconomic tools available in conducting countercyclical policies, including exchange rate flexibility.
This paper analyzes the determinants of remittances to Tonga. The results indicate that macroeconomic conditions in remitting countries and exchange rate fluctuations influence remittances. In particular, remittances growth falls when the Tongan currency appreciates, but increases with higher real GDP growth and lower unemployment in remitting countries. The analysis also finds that the influence of these determinants varies with the recipients of remittances, with remittances to non-profit organizations being more sensitive to an appreciation of the Tongan currency and the interest rate differential between Tonga and remitting countries than remittances to households. However, the analysis does not find evidence of "Dutch Disease" in Tonga, as the real exchange rate does not appear to be affected by remittances.
Tonga’s high debt and the apparent ineffectiveness of the monetary transmission mechanism constrain the authorities’ ability to support growth. In the near term, the strength of the global recovery is by no means assured, and there are multiple risks that could weaken prospects in both Europe and the United States. A further rise in world commodity and food prices would also hit Tonga hard, feeding through to inflation, growth, and the current account deficit. Tonga’s high public debt now poses a major risk to economic prospects.
We cannot allow the return of economic stability to signify a return to "business as usual" for the IMF. The crisis exposed huge cracks in the international financial architecture of which the Fund is a key part. We have an historic responsibility to fix them. I urge all of us to recommit to seeing our collective goals to the finish line before reform fatigue sets in.
Tonga’s growth is likely to be low in the near term as remittances remain constrained by global economic conditions. The staff report for Tonga’s 2009 Article IV Consultation highlights economic developments and policies. The reconstruction of the central business district and increased subsistence agriculture are likely to cushion the downward pressures. Risks are, however, tilted to the downside, mainly owing to increasing unemployment in remittance-sending economies and rising oil prices. The drawdown of the large reconstruction loan will lead to high risk debt levels over the medium term.
This 2008 Article IV Consultation highlights that Tonga’s economy has shown resilience in the aftermath of the November 2006 riots and is now on a path to recovery. The key factor underpinning this resilience has been private investment. Donor-supported government reconstruction loans are expected to add further momentum to the recovery. However, the global upswing in fuel and food prices has intensified pressure on inflation and external reserves. Tonga’s external position is expected to weaken, reflecting mainly the impact of rising food and fuel prices.
This Selected Issues paper assesses the fiscal risk impact of various events in Tonga and describes the challenges implied for fiscal management. The paper discusses that the Tongan government has made various efforts to limit the budgetary implications of the recent economic and political shocks, including pursuing revenue administration efforts, cutting other expenditures, and seeking donor assistance. The paper examines rising household indebtedness in Tonga. Within the framework of the life-cycle hypothesis, the paper finds that Tonga’s relatively young demographic distribution tends to be associated with higher level of aggregate household debt.