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Mohamed A. El-Erian and Ms. Susan Fennell


Unprecedented opportunities have opened up for the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to transform their economies through accelerated economic growth. The opportunities are many and varied: prospects for continued rapid expansion of international trade; increasing globalization of world financial markets; closer economic links to the European Union; and an improved, although still very fragile, regional environment. The potential benefits to the region are enormous, but for the benefits to become reality the MENA countries themselves must ensure the necessary conditions.

Amer Bisat, A. El-Erian Mohamed, El-Gamal Mahmoud, and Mr. Francesco P Mongelli


How to achieve a better economic growth is the major economic policy challenge facing the countries of MENA. Sustained high growth is needed to improve living standards, reduce unemployment, and provide jobs for the growing labor force. During the 1970s and early 1980s, favorable developments in MENA’s external environment stimulated growth. This was no longer the case in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s and the region’s per capita income stagnated and fell short of that achieved by developing countries as a group. Looking forward, the external environment is expected to remain broadly neutral with significant downside risk, particularly related to developments in the international oil market. Sustained economic growth will therefore depend primarily on domestic policy efforts.

Ms. Sena Eken, Mr. Thomas Helbling, and Adrian Mazarei


Governments in the countries of the MENA region have traditionally played a dominant role in their economies, especially in terms of the resources that they command, their contribution to output, and their impact on economic incentives. While government involvement has been important in many respects, such as in developing infrastructure and providing public services, expenditure has not always been directed toward efficient and productive uses, and has often been out of line with the revenues available. As a result, until recently, the MENA region has been characterized by large fiscal imbalances.

Mr. Nigel A Chalk, Mr. Abdelali Jbili, Mr. Volker Treichel, and Mr. John F. Wilson


Strong and dynamic modern financial institutions and systems are important prerequisites for MENA countries to compete in the global economy and achieve full integration into world financial markets. While most MENA countries have undertaken financial sector reforms over the past two decades and have made progress in financial deepening, financial sectors remain generally underdeveloped compared with the fast-growing developing countries. As a broad measure, M2 in MENA has remained on average around 60 percent of GDP, significantly lower than the high-performing Asian economies, but somewhat better than countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, the regional indicator is biased upward by the high level of financial deepening in the Mashreq (particularly in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon; see Chart 1).1 Progress in financial sector reform now is more urgent than ever if the region is to reap the full benefit of reforms undertaken in other areas, raise significantly the levels of domestic saving and investment, and promote higher economic growth and employment creation.

Alonso-Gamo Patricia, Fennell Susan, and Sakr Khaled


The MENA region, with the exception of the GCC countries, remains one of the most protectionist in the world. Furthermore, despite the remarkable growth in international trade over the past few decades, MENA has become even less integrated in the world economy in terms of its trading activities. World trade grew by about 9 percent in 1994 and 1995—more than twice that of world output in those years—and is estimated to grow by some 6 percent annually over the next decade. This, together with the opportunities presented by the recent multilateral trade arrangements—the Uruguay Round and the European Union’s Mediterranean Basin Initiative—have opened up new growth opportunities for countries in the MENA region.

International Monetary Fund


Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have unprecedented opportunities for transforming their economies through accelerated economic growth, but the countries themselves must ensure the necessary conditions. This study, by the Middle Eastern Department, focuses on four areas that are fundamental to growth-enhancing structural changes: improving the region's investment performance, fiscal reform, financial sector reform, and trade liberalization.

George M. von Furstenberg

This paper highlights that despite severe limitations of resources, developing countries have made substantial progress during the past three decades in sending more children to school and in generally improving their education systems. Enrollment of children in schools at all levels has expanded at unprecedented rates. There has been a significant decline in the proportion of adults who are illiterate—from 44 percent in 1950 to 32 percent in 1975. Public expenditures for education have increased steadily in developing countries to reach roughly the same share of national product as in industrialized countries.

Mr. Sanjeev Gupta, Mr. Benedict J. Clements, Ms. Rina Bhattacharya, and Shamit Chakravarti

For the latest thinking about the international financial system, monetary policy, economic development, poverty reduction, and other critical issues, subscribe to Finance & Development (F&D). This lively quarterly magazine brings you in-depth analyses of these and other subjects by the IMF’s own staff as well as by prominent international experts. Articles are written for lay readers who want to enrich their understanding of the workings of the global economy and the policies and activities of the IMF.