International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
A year into the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the race between vaccine and virus entered a new phase in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the path to recovery in 2021 is expected to be long and divergent. The outlook will vary significantly across countries, depending on the pandemic’s path, vaccine rollouts, underlying fragilities, exposure to tourism and contact-intensive sectors, and policy space and actions. 2021 will be the year of policies that continue saving lives and livelihoods and promote recovery, while balancing the need for debt sustainability and financial resilience. At the same time, policymakers must not lose sight of the transformational challenges to build forward better and accelerate the creation of more inclusive, resilient, sustainable, and green economies. Regional and international cooperation will be key complements to strong domestic policies.
Chapter 1 of the report draws some early lessons from governments’ fiscal responses to the pandemic and provides a roadmap for the recovery. Governments’ measures to cushion the blow from the pandemic total a staggering $12 trillion globally. These lifelines and the worldwide recession have pushed global public debt to an all-time high. But governments should not withdraw lifelines too rapidly. Government support should shift gradually from protecting old jobs to getting people back to work and helping viable but still-vulnerable firms safely reopen. The fiscal measures for the recovery are an opportunity to make the economy more inclusive and greener. Chapter 2 of this report argues that governments need to scale up public investment to ensure successful reopening, boost growth, and prepare economies for the future. Low interest rates make borrowing to invest desirable. Countries that cannot access finance will, however, need to do more with less. The chapter explains how investment can be scaled up while preserving quality. Increasing public investment by 1 percent of GDP in advanced and emerging economies could create 7 million jobs directly, and more than 20 million jobs indirectly. Investments in healthcare, housing, digitalization, and the environment would lay the foundations for a more resilient and inclusive economy.