Growth in the Pacific is expected to remain weak in 2018, as economic and political uncertainties, fiscal challenges, and natural disasters hold back some of the region’s larger economies. The outlook projects a slow recovery, with growth picking up only in 2019, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report launched today.
The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2018, ADB’s flagship annual economic publication, projects that Pacific economies will, on average, grow 2.2% in 2018—the same rate as last year. However, expected recovery in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and strong growth in Timor-Leste should contribute to regional growth picking up to 3.0% in 2019.
“Several Pacific countries face heightened economic uncertainty and the impacts of extreme weather events and disasters, highlighting the need to build resilience across the region,” said Carmela Locsin, Director General of ADB’s Pacific Department. “Climate-proofing infrastructure, maintaining fiscal buffers, and investing in education to expand economic opportunities are all vital for more resilient economies in the Pacific.”
PNG—the Pacific’s largest economy—was adversely affected by a major earthquake in late February this year, which will hold back growth in oil and gas production, and slow economic growth to 1.8%. However, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in 2018 is expected to provide economic stimulus. The ADB report says the medium-term outlook for PNG remains positive with GDP growth likely to reach 2.7% in 2019.
After a steep growth slowdown in Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston in 2016, reconstruction spending, improved agricultural output, and tourism growth spurred recovery. With most cyclone reconstruction ending soon, economic growth is expected to decelerate slightly from 3.9% in 2017 to 3.6% in 2018 and 3.3% in 2019—with tourism, construction, and agriculture likely to be the main contributors.
In Timor-Leste, the economy contracted in 2017 as political uncertainty held back public spending and private investment. The 3.0% and 5.5% projected growth rates for 2018 and 2019, respectively, hinge on a solid public expenditure program after the election of a new government expected in May. A new treaty with Australia to pave way for the development of the Greater Sunrise oil field will boost the growth outlook in the long term. The report says renewed emphasis on skills development and a supportive approach to labor migration would give young people better access to employment.
Slower growth in Solomon Islands is expected in 2018 and 2019 as new construction will only partly offset a likely further decline in logging. Progress is being made in implementing a national transport plan, but challenges remain.
Growth will moderate in Vanuatu in 2018 and 2019, due to the completion of several large infrastructure projects. Vanuatu’s ambitious infrastructure pipeline is supporting its current and future prospects, but a rise in public debt poses challenges for fiscal management.
The economic outlook for the North Pacific economies is mixed, with tourism expected to recover in Palau, but capacity constraints could limit infrastructure investment-driven growth in the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands. The report notes that improving education can equip a young labor force with better skills to fill domestic employment over the long term.
Moderate growth in the South Pacific economies of Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga is seen this year and the next. Damage caused by Cyclone Gita which hit Tonga in February 2018 is projected to push the economy into a slight contraction. Growth in Samoa will fall sharply this year as one of the country’s biggest employers—a manufacturing plant—closes operations. The Cook Islands’ economy is expected to expand by 3.5% in 2018, supported by tourism.
Economic prospects for the small island economies of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu are weakening. Growth is projected to decelerate slightly in Kiribati and Tuvalu, but more significantly in Nauru due to the winding down of the Regional Processing Centre for asylum seekers. Public investments financed by development partners are expected to drive economic growth in these countries throughout 2018 and 2019.