Positive IMF assessment seen as vote of confidence in Saudi reform strategy

The King Abdullah Financial District station highlights the Kingdom’s focus on developing the non-oil economy. (AFP)
1 / 8
The King Abdullah Financial District station highlights the Kingdom’s focus on developing the non-oil economy. (AFP)
The King Abdullah Financial District highlights the Kingdom’s focus on developing the non-oil economy. (AFP)
2 / 8
The King Abdullah Financial District highlights the Kingdom’s focus on developing the non-oil economy. (AFP)
Metro lines in Riyadh are also being modernized as part of Vision 2030. (AFP)
3 / 8
Metro lines in Riyadh are also being modernized as part of Vision 2030. (AFP)
A worker at the Bin Salman farm picks Damascena (Damask) roses to produce rose water and oil, in the western city of Taif, on April 11, 2021. (AFP)
4 / 8
A worker at the Bin Salman farm picks Damascena (Damask) roses to produce rose water and oil, in the western city of Taif, on April 11, 2021. (AFP)
The IMF report came as an endorsement of  the Kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy and invest in non-oil sectors such as tourism and entertainment. (AFP)
5 / 8
The IMF report came as an endorsement of the Kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy and invest in non-oil sectors such as tourism and entertainment. (AFP)
 Jeddah's seaside corniche has been extensively redeveloped. (AFP)
6 / 8
Jeddah's seaside corniche has been extensively redeveloped. (AFP)
The oil sector, far left, has benefited from the Kingdom’s role in rebalancing global markets through OPEC+. (AFP)
7 / 8
The oil sector, far left, has benefited from the Kingdom’s role in rebalancing global markets through OPEC+. (AFP)
Work on the exterior of the King Abdullah Financial District station of the Riyadh Metro in full swing on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
8 / 8
Work on the exterior of the King Abdullah Financial District station of the Riyadh Metro in full swing on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 10 May 2021

Positive IMF assessment seen as vote of confidence in Saudi reform strategy

Positive IMF assessment seen as vote of confidence in Saudi reform strategy
  • Latest assessment of the Kingdom’s economy is a vindication of Vision 2030 and the pandemic response
  • IMF has the power to deliver a positive or negative verdict on the way the economy is being run

DUBAI: Economic policymakers sometimes feel a little edgy when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) comes to town.

The 77-year-old global financial institution is not a regulator in the strict sense of the word, but it does have the power to deliver a positive or negative verdict on the way those policymakers — ministers, central bankers, and officials — are running their economy.

In extreme circumstances, the IMF can approve or withhold potentially life-saving funds from an economy in crisis. In more normal conditions, its verdict can have a big influence on the international credit ratings all countries use when accessing global capital markets.

When the IMF “mission” finished its visit to Saudi Arabia last month, there must have been at least a sliver of apprehension among economic policymakers in the Kingdom as they awaited the IMF’s formal verdict on their handling of the pandemic and its related economic shocks in 2020.




The oil sector has benefited from the Kingdom’s role in rebalancing global markets through OPEC+. (AFP)

There was no question of resource-rich Saudi Arabia seeking IMF financial assistance, but as the organization had not carried out its usual annual visit in coronavirus-ravaged 2020, there was a lot of ground to cover after a year of radical policy changes to handle the sharp recession that followed the outbreak of the pandemic.

As it turned out, there had been no need for the Saudi officials to worry at all. The “concluding statement”, when it came last week, was a ringing vote of confidence in the way they had handled the huge challenges presented by the pandemic.

More than that, it was a firm endorsement of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil dependency.

Independent economists were not surprised by the IMF’s positivity. Nasser Saidi, former chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), told Arab News: “The country has been proactive in rolling out a spate of reforms despite the pandemic and lower oil prices. The public health system has proven to be resilient.”

The IMF experts were categoric. “The authorities responded quickly and decisively to the COVID-19 crisis. Strict early containment and health mitigation measures limited cases and fatalities and the vaccination program has advanced well in recent months,” they said.




The IMF report came as an endorsement of  the Kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy and invest in non-oil sectors such as tourism and entertainment. (AFP)

The experts added: “Fiscal, financial and employment support programs introduced by the government and SAMA helped cushion the impact of the pandemic on businesses and Saudi workers.”

A major reason for this performance, the IMF visitors concluded, lay in the Vision 2030 reform plan that has been in place since 2016, aiming to modernize the Kingdom’s economy and create a more dynamic, entrepreneurial private sector to take the place of government spending as the economic driving force.

“Reforms under Vision 2030 have played a key role in helping the economy navigate the pandemic. Efforts to establish a robust structure of inter-agency coordination and governance, the growing digitalization of government and financial services, reforms to increase labor market mobility, and strong fiscal and financial policy buffers, all equipped the economy to manage the crisis,” the IMF said.

All the indicators are moving in the right direction. Real GDP growth is projected at 2.1 percent this year, representing a dramatic turnaround from the 4.1 percent decline in 2020. In the critical non-oil sector — the key measure of the success of the diversification plan — real GDP growth rebounded in the second half of 2020 and the signs are that this will continue in 2021.

Non-oil growth is projected by the IMF at 3.9 percent this year and 3.6 percent next. Inflation, often a prime concern for the IMF, will be a very manageable 2.8 percent next year, while unemployment — another key indicator for the diversification strategy — fell to 12.6 percent for Saudi nationals at the end of last year.

Moreover, the role Saudi Arabia has played in the OPEC+ cuts strategy to rebalance global markets will pay off this year and next, as oil GDP recovers to 6.8 percent growth next year when oil supply returns to normal at higher crude prices.

The Kingdom’s fiscal policymakers also got a slap on the back from the IMF. “The deficit widened in 2020 to 11.3 percent of GDP (4.5 per cent of GDP in 2019) as oil revenues fell and spending needs increased, and it was comfortably financed by new borrowing and the drawdown of government deposits.” The deficit will decline to 4.2 percent this year, the IMF said, lower than the official forecast.

Some of the controversial measures introduced during the pandemic, like the tripled VAT rate, as well as the removal of cost-of-living allowances and domestic-energy price subsidies, “are all important contributors to the planned fiscal adjustment and should not be reversed or delayed.”

INNUMBERS

3.9% Projected non-oil growth this year.

2.8% Projected inflation rate next year.

The work of the Ministry of Finance was recognized by the IMF. “Steps to continue to strengthen fiscal transparency are needed, including by publishing more detailed information in budget documents and broadening the coverage of fiscal data beyond the central government,” they said.

Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister, appreciated the IMF’s praise. “Such results have been achieved despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, fluctuations in oil prices, sharp economic fluctuations, declines in global demand, receding growth and other challenges that the Saudi government has risen to,” he said in response.




Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan. (AFP)

The IMF included the Kingdom’s financial and capital markets sectors in its praise. “The financial sector continues to be well-regulated and supervised by SAMA,” it said.

“Banks are well-capitalized and liquid despite a decline in profitability and a slight increase in non-performing loans (which remain low) over the past year.”

It added: “The impressive pace of equity and debt market reforms has continued under the guidance of the Capital Market Authority and the National Debt Management Center. These reforms are increasing capital raising options for companies and investment opportunities for savers.”

Saidi, the former DIFC chief economist, said: “Saudi Arabia’s fiscal prudence has to be complimented, in addition to the efficient tapping of debt markets and structuring of key energy infra structuring to finance deficits.”

On one crucial subject — the gradual erosion of Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves under the impact of pandemic pressures and the need for continued investment in Vision 2030 initiatives — the IMF was sanguine. “The exchange rate peg continues to serve Saudi Arabia well given the current economic structure. SAMA’s foreign exchange reserves remain at very comfortable levels,” it said.




‘Fiscal, financial and employment support programs helped cushion the impact of the pandemic on businesses and Saudi workers.’ (AFP)

There were some caveats from the IMF assessors. “To secure the recovery and spur stronger growth, policymakers need to carefully manage the exit from the remaining COVID-related support and continue the longer-term reform agenda under Vision 2030,” they said.

They also highlighted the need to continue support for the “social security net” to support low-income households which may be struggling from the effect of economic recession compounded by higher tax rates and the withdrawal of cost of living allowances.

“If the recovery stalls, the planned reduction in government capital spending could also be slowed while keeping the medium-term capital spending envelope unchanged,” the IMF said.




The IMF report came as an endorsement of  the Kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy and invest in non-oil sectors such as tourism and entertainment. (AFP)

Above all, it is important to maintain the momentum of economic reform. “Increasing the competitiveness of Saudi workers in the private sector is important to the success of the reform agenda. Developing a competitive and diversified private sector will be difficult unless the wage expectations of Saudi workers are in line with their productivity,” the IMF assessors concluded.

According to Saidi, the pace of continued growth depends on global oil markets and the future pattern of the virus, but the signs are as good as the IMF’s conclusions.

“Saudi Arabia’s growth prospects with continued macroeconomic stability and prudent fiscal stance will encourage increased domestic and foreign investment in addition to housing investment and consumption by households,” he said.

_______________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
Updated 13 min 43 sec ago

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
  • The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans

DUBAI: UAE waste management company Bee’ah and Greek sustainability firm Polygreen has launched a new company that will offer marine and environmental management solutions.

The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans, the UAE state news agency has reported.

“Evogreen will take the lead in promoting best practices in the maritime waste management industry and achieve remarkable outcomes for the UAE and wider region,” Salim bin Mohamed Al-Owais, Bee’ah chairman, said.

The new company has already established an alternative raw material facility in Bee’ah’s Sharjah complex. It processes maritime waste and marine-related hazardous waste to produce alternative materials for industrial use.

EvoGreen is currently building another facility that can process waste streams and convert materials into alternative fuel.

Both facilities will collect, recycle and recover hazardous and non-hazardous waste from ships visiting ports in the UAE.

“The launch of Evogreen is a milestone regarding the global effort to protect the environment and address the challenge of climate change,” Polygreen chief, Athanasios Polychronopoulos, said.

The company will also offer oil spill response services and management of distressed vessels, as well as recycling and recovery solutions.


Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
  • The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region
  • About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has signed deals worth $99.91 million to build an airport and a power plant in Turkmenistan.
The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region of the country.
It aims to improve airport infrastructure in the area and enhance air connectivity in central Asia.
The project includes building Jebel airport terminal with a capacity of 100 passengers per hour.
About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant that will provide clean energy for the people in Altyn Asyr.
Earlier this year, the ADFD signed agreements with the government of Turkmenistan for projects including including an investment company.


G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
Updated 12 June 2021

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013
  • More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure

CARBIS BAY: The Group of Seven will seek to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative on Saturday by announcing a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said.
The G7 is trying to find a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.
The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would also push the other G7 leaders for “concrete action on forced labor” in China, and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique from a three-day summit in southwest England.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” the official said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013, involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from Asia to Europe and beyond.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.

China’s rise
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Leaders of the G7 — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan — want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The US official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and coercive approach” of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
“So tomorrow we’ll be announcing ‘build back better for the world,’ an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI,” the official said.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20 percent of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hosting the G7 summit, that democratic countries should develop their own rival scheme.

Forced labor
In talks, Biden will also press the other leaders to make clear that they believe forced labor practices are an affront to human dignity and “an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
“We’re pushing on being specific on areas like Xinjiang where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7,” the official said of the final communique to be issued at the end of the summit on Sunday.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the official said.
The aim was to work with the US Congress to supplement existing development financing “with the hope that, together with G7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle income countries that need it.” (Reporting by Steve Holland and Michael Holden Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry)


Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
Updated 12 June 2021

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
  • Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai

BERLIN: Germany has bought a trove of data that could help treasury officials track down possible tax evasion by wealthy German citizens, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Friday.
“The data will now be evaluated by the regional tax authorities,” Scholz said in Berlin. “Tax evasion is not a minor offense it is a crime.”
Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai such as tracts of land and real estate owned by German nationals.
It said an anonymous informant approached German officials and offered to pass on the data, for which the Federal Tax Office paid about 2 million euros ($2.42 million), Spiegel said.
Scholz did not confirm or deny the details reported by Spiegel about how the CD was purchased or the price.
Tax authorities in Germany’s 16 states had in the past sought information from countries like Switzerland to unearth possible tax evasion by wealthy Germans.
Scholz, who leads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has made fair taxation a major election pledge before an election in September forecast to deal his center-left party its worst-ever result.


US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
Updated 12 June 2021

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
  • Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible
  • The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings

DUBAI: Washington DC-based Nexford University has completed a $10.8 million Pre-Series A funding round, led by UAE-based venture capital (VC) firm Global Ventures.
Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible despite the students’ physical location.
Other participating investors included Future Africa’s education fund, as well as angel investors, family offices and other VC firms from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings.
“Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides,” the university CEO Fadl Al-Tarzi said.
He added: “Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”
Nextford recorded a 300 percent increase in revenue in 2020 with learners enrolling from over 65 countries. It has formed partnerships with tech giants Microsoft, LinkedIn and IBM.