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Ms. Elena Loukoianova, Yongzheng Yang, Mr. Si Guo, Ms. Leni Hunter, Mrs. Sarwat Jahan, Mr. Fazurin Jamaludin, Umang Rawat, Johanna Schauer, Piyaporn Sodsriwiboon, and Mr. Yiqun Wu
Asia has made significant progress in financial inclusion, but both its across-country and intra-country disparities are among the highest in the world. The gaps between the rich and the poor, rural and urban populations, and men and women remain deep. Income is the main determinant of the level of financial inclusion; but other factors, such as geography, financial sector structure, and policies, also play important roles. While some countries in the Asia-Pacific region are leaders in fintech, on average the region lags behind others in several important areas such as online (internet) purchases, electronic payments, mobile money, and mobile government transfers. This Departmental Paper aims to take stock of the development and current state of financial inclusion and shed light on policies to advance financial inclusion in the region. The research focuses on the impact of financial inclusion on economic growth, poverty reduction, and inequality, linkages between financial inclusion and macroeconomic policies, as well as structural policies that are important for improving financial inclusion. Given the increasing importance of financial technologies (fintech), the paper also provides a snapshot of the fintech landscape in the Asia-Pacific.
International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
This 2018 Article IV Consultation highlights that Samoa’s economy has shown resilience and continues to perform well. Growth remained robust at 2.5 percent in 2016/17, driven by commerce, services and agriculture. Inflation picked up to 1.3 percent in 2016/17, compared with close to zero in the previous year, but remains well below the authorities’ target of 3 percent. The current account deficit narrowed to 2.3 percent, driven by temporary factors. The Samoan Tala appreciated against the United States dollar during 2016/17, although there was little change in the nominal and real effective exchange rates. Growth is projected to moderate to 1.8 percent in 2017/18 and then rebound in 2018/19, as two new businesses scale up operations at the old Yazaki plant and several infrastructure projects are completed.
Dongyeol Lee, Huan Zhang, and Chau Nguyen
Pacific island countries are highly vulnerable to various natural disasters which are destructive, unpredictable and occur frequently. The frequency and scale of these shocks heightens the importance of medium-term economic and fiscal planning to minimize the adverse impact of disasters on economic development. This paper identifies the intensity of natural disasters for each country in the Pacific based on the distribution of damage and population affected by disasters, and estimates the impact of disasters on economic growth and international trade using a panel regression. The results show that “severe” disasters have a significant and negative impact on economic growth and lead to a deterioration of the fiscal and trade balance. We also find that the negative impact on growth is stronger for more intense disasters. Going further this paper proposes a simple and consistent method to adjust IMF staff’s economic projections and debt sustainability analysis for disaster shocks for the Pacific islands. Better incorporating the economic impact of natural disasters in the medium- and long-term economic planning would help policy makers improve fiscal policy decisions and to be better adapted and prepared for natural disasters.
International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
This 2017 Article IV Consultation highlights Samoa’s continued good economic performance. Economic activity picked up during 2015/16 driven by tourism arrivals, lower fuel prices, and new fish processing facilities, further boosted by two major sporting events and infrastructure projects. Although the pace will moderate in 2017/18 and in 2018/19 with the closure of a large manufacturing plant, growth is expected to remain buoyant. The outlook is moderately positive though subject to downside risks related to Samoa’s vulnerability to natural disasters, elevated contingent liabilities, and withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships. Given Samoa’s reliance on workers’ remittances, the closure of bank accounts of money transfer operators heightens the risk of a disruption to remittance payments.
International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
KEY ISSUES Outlook and risks. Growth is recovering gradually from natural disasters and inflation remains subdued. The current account deficit is expected to narrow on lower international oil prices and a planned fiscal consolidation. The main external risk is the occurrence of another natural disaster in the presence of already high public debt and vulnerabilities in financial institutions. The main domestic risks center around a delay in rebuilding macroeconomic buffers, in particular through fiscal consolidation, reforms of public financial institutions and financial oversight. Improving financial resilience. A recent financial sector assessment program (FSAP) mission identified risks in some commercial banks and public financial institutions (PFIs). The role of PFIs needs to be refocused to reduce contingent liabilities for public finances and to support the development of private financial markets. Regulation and supervision of financial institutions needs to be improved to reduce the risk of an adverse feedback loop from banks and PFIs to the public finances in case of another external shock. Rebuilding macroeconomic buffers. A gradual fiscal consolidation is planned to reduce public debt to the target of 50 percent of GDP by 2020, mainly through improvements in revenue and a reduction in current expenditure. While there is no significant evidence of misalignment, and reserves are adequate by standard metrics, a stronger external position with higher reserves would provide greater resilience. Boosting growth. The authorities’ structural reform initiatives emphasize a revitalization of agriculture and food processing, tourism, and an enabling environment for business. Reforms to SOE governance are beginning to bear fruit, but the government should stay the course in planned privatizations and amendments to legislation to reduce the burden of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) on the public finances. Improvements in financial infrastructure will improve the flow and allocation of credit.
Ezequiel Cabezon, Ms. Leni Hunter, Ms. Patrizia Tumbarello, Kazuaki Washimi, and Mr. Yiqun Wu
Natural disasters and climate change are interrelated macro-critical issues affecting all Pacific small states to varying degrees. In addition to their devastating human costs, these events damage growth prospects and worsen countries’ fiscal positions. This is the first cross-country IMF study assessing the impact of natural disasters on growth in the Pacific islands as a group. A panel VAR analysis suggests that, for damage and losses equivalent to 1 percent of GDP, growth drops by 0.7 percentage point in the year of the disaster. We also find that, during 1980-2014, trend growth was 0.7 percentage point lower than it would have been without natural disasters. The paper also discusses a multi-pillar framework to enhance resilience to natural disasters at the national, regional, and multilateral levels and the importance of enhancing countries’ risk-management capacities. It highlights how this approach can provide a more strategic and less ad hoc framework for strengthening both ex ante and ex post resilience and what role the IMF can play.
International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
Samoa was hit hard by a strong tropical cyclone, and the authorities are to be commended for their swift response to the resulting disaster. Economic growth this fiscal year is expected to be significantly lower than projected prior to the cyclone, but there are encouraging signs of early recovery. The need is to aim the fiscal strategy at securing sufficient resources while minimizing borrowing. With subdued inflationary pressures and the need to support the recovery, monetary policy should remain accommodative.
Yongzheng Yang, Hong Chen, Shiu raj Singh, and Baljeet Singh
This study aims to test within a relatively homogeneous group of small states what differentiates the growth performance of Pacific island countries (PICs) from their peers. We find that PICs are disadvantaged by distance and hampered by lower investment and exports compared with other small island states, but greater political stability, catch-up effects from lower initial incomes, and slower population growth have helped offset some of these disadvantages. On balance, policy-related factors, together with geography-related disadvantages, have led to growth rates in PICs that are much lower than in other small states. We also examine how real exchange rate appreciation, unfavorable developments in the external trade environment, and rising international transport costs may have contributed to PICs’ slower growth over the past decade.