On July 19, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation1 with Iraq.
An improved security situation and the recovery in oil prices have improved near-term vulnerabilities. Large fiscal and current account surpluses—around 8 and 6 percent of GDP, respectively—were recorded in 2018, allowing the government to retire domestic debt and accumulate fiscal buffers. Gross international reserves reached $65 billion by end-2018.
However, post-war reconstruction and economic recovery have been slow. Non-oil GDP rose by only 0.8 percent year-on-year in 2018 in a context of weak execution of reconstruction and other public investment. Overall GDP contracted by around 0.6 percent as oil production was cut to comply with the OPEC+ agreement.
The 2019 budget implies a sizable fiscal loosening that will reverse the recent reduction in vulnerabilities. Current spending is expected to increase by 27 percent year-on-year, in part due to a higher public sector wage bill, while revenues will be dampened by the abolition of non-oil taxes. As a result, the budget is projected to shift to a deficit of 4 percent of GDP in 2019, and reserves are projected to decline.
The fiscal and external positions are expected to continue to deteriorate over the medium term absent policy changes—with reserves falling below adequate levels and fiscal buffers eroded. Although the level of public debt will remain sustainable, gross fiscal financing needs will increase. Non-oil GDP growth is projected to reach 5½ in 2019 but subside over the medium term.
In a context of highly volatile oil prices, the major risk to the outlook is a fall in oil prices which would lower exports and budgetary revenues, leading to an even sharper decline in reserves or higher public debt. Geopolitical tensions, the potential for social unrest in a context of weak public services and lack of progress in combatting corruption pose further risks.
Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.
At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country’s authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summings up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm.