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Economic growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is expected to increase from 2.0% last year to 2.1% in 2019, before accelerating to 3.2% in 2020 and stabilizing at 2.7% in 2021, according to the new World Bank’s Gulf Economic Monitor released in Abu Dhabi.

The biannual report, “Building the foundations for economic sustainability: Human capital and growth in the GCC,” commends the ongoing reforms made towards improving the business environment in the region. However, to achieve more sustainable growth, the GCC countries need to continue supporting fiscal consolidation, economic diversification, and increasing private sector-led job creation, especially for women and young people. The report also calls for accelerating human capital formation by adopting a holistic governmental strategy to improving health and education outcomes.

“Working closely with the GCC, we have seen strong political will from some countries to achieve their country Vision Plans with real, tangible outcomes on the ground,” said Issam Abousleiman, World Bank Regional Director for the GCC. “But economic transformation is a long-term endeavor, requiring steadfast, predictable implementation. While the road ahead is challenging, it is possible; and we are committed to taking this journey together.”

The GCC countries have made steady progress on implementing major reforms to attract investors and boost competitiveness, such as easing business licenses, lowering fees, liberalizing foreign ownership, and supporting women and young entrepreneurs. Much has been done in recent years to attract investments, especially in non-hydrocarbon sectors, and to encourage non-oil exports, such as reforming legislation and creating free trade zones with generous incentives for investors. But FDI inflows to the region have under-performed that of other emerging markets. A remaining agenda includes loosening foreign ownership of firms and reducing non-tariff barriers, in addition to business environment reforms, is already receiving high priority in many countries.

A vital part of the region’s economic transformation and reform agenda is human capital formation. In the World Bank’s recently published Human Capital Project (HCP), GCC Human Capital Index scores are higher than MENA’s average but lower than countries with comparable levels of income, such as Germany, Ireland and Singapore. Three of the GCC countries, KSA, Kuwait and UAE, are among the early adopters of the World Bank’s HCP, demonstrating their commitment to improving their human capital. The most pressing challenges slowing human capital formation in the GCC are related to learning outcomes and adult survival rates. Children born in the GCC will only attain between 58% and 67% of their full health and learning capacity and therefore potential productivity.

The report suggests four approaches to enhancing human capital in the GCC: (1) Investing in early childhood development to give children a strong learning foundation, (2) Preparing youth for the future by improving learning outcomes, linking education to labor market needs, and reducing major health risk factors like smoking, inactivity, and unhealthy diet, (3) Improving human capital of the adult population by emphasizing lifelong learning, increasing female labor force participation, reducing the skills mismatch, and preventing chronic diseases and injuries , and (4) Implementing policies to help change social norms and behaviors.

Bahrain:   Growth is projected at 2% in 2019, expected to reach 2.2% in 2020. Non-oil growth is expected to slow to 2.4%, due to front-loaded FBP fiscal measures and tapering mega-project investments. Growth will resume in the coming years as efficiency gains from reforms materialize.

Kuwait: Growth is forecast at 1.6% in 2019 due to OPEC+ oil output cuts in the first half of the year. The economy is expected to grow at around 3% by 2020 as higher government spending supports the non-oil sector.

Oman:  Growth is projected to slow to 1.2% in 2019 as Oman's commitment to the December 2018 OPEC+ output cut constrains oil production. There will be a one-off spike in growth to 6% in 2020 as the government plans to significantly increase investment in the Khazzan gas field. The potential boost from the diversification investment spending would continue supporting growth in 2021 and the medium term.

Qatar:  Growth is expected to reach 3% in 2019, accelerating to 3.2% in 2020 and to 3.4% by 2021, as the country continues construction operations in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. In addition, higher infrastructure spending on Qatar National Vision 2030 projects aimed at diversifying the economy should help boost investor confidence.

Saudi Arabia:  Growth is expected to slow moderately to 1.7% in 2019, as higher government spending offsets the impact of oil production cuts implemented in the first half of 2019. It should then recover to over 3% in 2020 as oil production cuts are reversed, and as large infrastructure projects generate positive spillovers to private sector growth.

United Arab Emirates:  Growth in the UAE is forecast at 2.6% in 2019, jumping to 3% in 2020 as the country pushes infrastructure investments ahead of Dubai’s Expo 2020. Economic growth is forecast to reach 3.2% by 2021 supported by the government’s economic stimulus plans, hosting Expo 2020, and improved growth prospects in trading partners.