KEY ISSUES Context: The union’s current account deficit—the key economic vulnerability flagged in the previous (2011) consultation—has declined over the past few years, including thanks to fiscal adjustment in Curaçao. But it remains large. Curaçao’s growth and job creation remain lackluster, due to weak competitiveness, adverse sectoral trends (e.g., in the international financial center), red tape, and rigid labor laws. Sint Maarten’s tourism-based economy is recovering but remains vulnerable to shocks and suffers from weak administrative capacity—as underscored, for example, by weakening tax collection. Risks: Both Curaçao and, especially, Sint Maarten are exposed to shifts in tourism demand. Curaçao is vulnerable to the uncertain situation in Venezuela, its main trading partner. If long-discussed flexibility- and competitiveness-enhancing structural reforms are not implemented, both countries’ capacity to absorb shocks may prove limited, and pressures on FX reserves and, ultimately, the peg may intensify. Policy recommendations: Fiscal policies should entrench recent gains to facilitate continued external adjustment (especially in Curaçao) and build buffers against shocks. Curaçao should extend the reform of its pension system to public sector workers, further streamline its administrative apparatus, and address weak governance and finances in state companies. Sint Maarten needs to increase revenues to support an expanding administration, including through stronger tax collection and greater contribution from its profitable state companies. The common central bank must monitor closely the deterioration in banks’ loan portfolios and refrain from direct financing of non-financial companies. It should also use more standard sterilization tools to control banks’ excess liquidity. Urgent action is required to lower the cost of doing business and remove pervasive disincentives to both supply and demand of labor.
The two newly autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands face substantial challenges. Growth has been low, and unemployment high. The current account deficit has widened to worrisome levels, increasing the vulnerability of the peg to the U.S. dollar and stimulating calls for dollarizing or dissolving the currency union. A substantial adjustment is needed to bring the underlying current account deficit to historically sustainable levels over the medium term. This could be facilitated by measures to restrain credit growth, supported by fiscal consolidation.