I would like to thank the organizers and the Government of Japan for holding this follow-up meeting to the seminar in Tokyo last year. I think a great many useful things were said there, and they are more relevant today than ever.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the CIS-7 faced exceptional challenges in building new states, democratic institutions, and market economies. All of the CIS-7 started from a situation of complex dependency on the Soviet Union, including massive transfers and subsidies and the trade arrangements of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA). The shocks associated with the breakup—notably the disruption of economic relations with established regional partners, termination of large fiscal transfers, and severe energy price adjustments—compounded the problems of severe structural rigidities and weak institutions.
More effective integration into the world trading system is part of the transition from central planning to markets. Based on market forces, international trade promotes more efficient resource allocation and increased productivity and growth—necessary conditions for sustainable poverty alleviation. The low-income CIS-7 countries started the transition with different resource endowments but with similar protectionist policies that isolated their economies from the rest of the world and created large distortions in prices and resource allocation.
David Kennedy, Samuel Fankhauser, and Martin Raiser
Energy and water have emerged as critical issues for the CIS-7 countries—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—and their neighbors for at least two reasons. The first is that energy and water constitute the region’s main natural resources, and the exploitation of both was and still is a key to these countries’ mode of production. The second is that the distribution of these resources is very unequal across countries. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan benefit from rich energy reserves, while Armenia, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan have substantial water resources. This unequal distribution gives rise to potential gains from trade but it is also the source of recurrent conflict between neighboring states in the region. Energy and water issues are closely linked given that the latter can be used, inter alia, for hydropower generation and/or irrigation. Use of water in the municipal sector is not discussed in this chapter. Replenishment of the Aral Sea as an alternative to irrigation is consistent with increased winter hydro generation, discussed below under “Unlocking the Benefits from Trade.”
The debt strategy has been successful in resolving the global debt crisis. Almost all of the major debtor countries have put their external debt problems behind them. They have regained access to normal international capital flows, and have returned to healthy rates of economic growth.
Most of the world’s developing countries have used external indebtedness to finance their development. Today, this indebtedness is the main obstacle to the economic growth of these countries as a whole, and of sub-Saharan Africa, in particular.
There is a tendency in today’s world of robust, albeit at times skittish, capital flows to developing countries to say that the developing country debt crisis is over, and that, consequently, the challenge of external debt management is not as urgent as it was just a few years back. There are at least three reasons why this is not quite right. First, debt distress remains a central economic reality for the majority of low-income countries. Second, there are new countries, arising out of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, that are embarking on borrowing programs without the necessary infrastructure or regulatory and legal frameworks that permit adequate management of the borrowing process. And, third, there is recidivism; that is, the possibility either that the lessons learned from past practices were inadequately retained, or that the lessons had changed.
Africa’s current financial crisis is a tragic legacy of the debt management strategy of the 1980s. Africa became more debt distressed than any other region in the world. The U.N. Secretary General once remarked that this external debt is a “millstone” around the neck of Africa. Africa’s overall economic situation deteriorated as the debt burden worsened in many of the region’s countries, and some are even seen to be in a “debt trap” or a “debt treadmill,” which forces them to obtain new financial resources simply to repay old debts.
Although governments in Africa are embarking on comprehensive economic reforms intended to create an environment that is friendly to private enterprise, more action is required to attract more domestic and foreign investments if faster economic development is to be achieved. Areas that require urgent attention include the following.