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Investing in Human Capital is Key to Sustainable Growth in GCC

MD Staff

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Economic growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is expected to increase from 2.0% last year to 2.1% in 2019, before accelerating to 3.2% in 2020 and stabilizing at 2.7% in 2021, according to the new World Bank’s Gulf Economic Monitor released today in Abu Dhabi.

The biannual report, “Building the foundations for economic sustainability: Human capital and growth in the GCC,” commends the ongoing reforms made towards improving the business environment in the region. However, to achieve more sustainable growth, the GCC countries need to continue supporting fiscal consolidation, economic diversification, and increasing private sector-led job creation, especially for women and young people. The report also calls for accelerating human capital formation by adopting a holistic governmental strategy to improving health and education outcomes.

“Working closely with the GCC, we have seen strong political will from some countries to achieve their country Vision Plans with real, tangible outcomes on the ground,” said Issam Abousleiman, World Bank Regional Director for the GCC. “But economic transformation is a long-term endeavor, requiring steadfast, predictable implementation. While the road ahead is challenging, it is possible; and we are committed to taking this journey together.”

The GCC countries have made steady progress on implementing major reforms to attract investors and boost competitiveness, such as easing business licenses, lowering fees, liberalizing foreign ownership, and supporting women and young entrepreneurs. Much has been done in recent years to attract investments, especially in non-hydrocarbon sectors, and to encourage non-oil exports, such as reforming legislation and creating free trade zones with generous incentives for investors. But FDI inflows to the region have under-performed that of other emerging markets. A remaining agenda includes loosening foreign ownership of firms and reducing non-tariff barriers, in addition to business environment reforms, is already receiving high priority in many countries.

A vital part of the region’s economic transformation and reform agenda is human capital formation. In the World Bank’s recently published Human Capital Project (HCP), GCC Human Capital Index scores are higher than MENA’s average but lower than countries with comparable levels of income, such as Germany, Ireland and Singapore. Three of the GCC countries, KSA, Kuwait and UAE, are among the early adopters of the World Bank’s HCP, demonstrating their commitment to improving their human capital. The most pressing challenges slowing human capital formation in the GCC are related to learning outcomes and adult survival rates. Children

born today in the GCC will only attain between 58% and 67% of their full health and learning capacity and therefore potential productivity.

The report suggests four approaches to enhancing human capital in the GCC: (1) Investing in early childhood development to give children a strong learning foundation, (2) Preparing youth for the future by improving learning outcomes, linking education to labor market needs, and reducing major health risk factors like smoking, inactivity, and unhealthy diet, (3) Improving human capital of the adult population by emphasizing lifelong learning, increasing female labor force participation, reducing the skills mismatch, and preventing chronic diseases and injuries , and (4) Implementing policies to help change social norms and behaviors.

GCC Countries Outlook

Bahrain: Growth is projected at 2% in 2019, expected to reach 2.2% in 2020. Non-oil growth is expected to slow to 2.4%, due to front-loaded FBP fiscal measures and tapering mega-project investments. Growth will resume in the coming years as efficiency gains from reforms materialize.

Kuwait: Growth is forecast at 1.6% in 2019 due to OPEC+ oil output cuts in the first half of the year. The economy is expected to grow at around 3% by 2020 as higher government spending supports the non-oil sector.

Oman: Growth is projected to slow to 1.2% in 2019 as Oman’s commitment to the December 2018 OPEC+ output cut constrains oil production. There will be a one-off spike in growth to 6% in 2020 as the government plans to significantly increase investment in the Khazzan gas field. The potential boost from the diversification investment spending would continue supporting growth in 2021 and the medium term.

Qatar: Growth is expected to reach 3% in 2019, accelerating to 3.2% in 2020 and to 3.4% by 2021, as the country continues construction operations in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. In addition, higher infrastructure spending on Qatar National Vision 2030 projects aimed at diversifying the economy should help boost investor confidence.

Saudi Arabia: Growth is expected to slow moderately to 1.7% in 2019, as higher government spending offsets the impact of oil production cuts implemented in the first half of 2019. It should then recover to over 3% in 2020 as oil production cuts are reversed, and as large infrastructure projects generate positive spillovers to private sector growth.

United Arab Emirates: Growth in the UAE is forecast at 2.6% in 2019, jumping to 3% in 2020 as the country pushes infrastructure investments ahead of Dubai’s Expo 2020. Economic growth is forecast to reach 3.2% by 2021 supported by the government’s economic stimulus plans, hosting Expo 2020, and improved growth prospects in trading partners.

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Canada has the most comprehensive and elaborate migration system, but some challenges remain

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Canada has the largest and most comprehensive and elaborate skilled labour migration system in the OECD, according to a new OECD report.

Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Canada 2019 finds that Canada admits the largest number of skilled labour migrants in the OECD. Additionally, Canada also has the most carefully designed and longest-standing skilled migration system in the OECD. It is widely perceived as a benchmark for other countries, and its success is evidenced by good integration outcomes. Canada also boasts the largest share of highly educated immigrants in the OECD as well as high levels of public acceptance of migration. In addition, it is seen as an appealing country of destination for potential migrants.

According to the OECD, Express Entry – the two-step Expression of Interest system for federal permanent labour migration introduced in 2015 – has greatly improved efficiency and the effectiveness of permanent labour migration management. It allows for ranking migrants for selection from a pool of eligible candidates. A unique feature of the Canadian model, in contrast to other selection procedures, is the degree of refinement in the ranking of candidates eligible for immigration. It considers positive interactions of skills, such as between language proficiency and the ability to transfer prior foreign work experience to the Canadian context.

The OECD report stresses that core to Canada’s success is not only its elaborate selection system, but also the comprehensive infrastructure upon which it is built, which ensures constant testing, monitoring and adaptation of its parameters. This includes a comprehensive data infrastructure, the capacity to analyse such data, and subsequent swift policy reaction to new evidence and emerging challenges. Recent reforms addressed several initial shortcomings in the Express Entry system, such as too many points being attributed for a job offer (which led to a high intake of migrants working in the hospitality sector, for instance), and which were subsequently reduced. The current selection system focuses on human capital factors such as age, language proficiency and education and is largely supply driven – meaning that most labour immigrants are admitted without a job offer – in contrast to the majority of other OECD countries.

To further strengthen the system, Canada should address some remaining inconsistencies. For instance, entry criteria to the pool are not well aligned with final selection criteria and language requirements for several groups of onshore candidates are lower than for those coming from abroad. In addition, a specific programme designed to attract tradespeople allows migration for only a few occupations and not necessarily where there are shortages, which contrasts with its original objectives. Providing for a single entry grid based on the core criteria for ultimate selection would simplify the system and ensure common standards.

The management of permanent labour migration is shared between Canada’s federal and provincial/territorial (PT) governments. The increasingly significant role played by regional governments in selection and integration has resulted in a more balanced geographic distribution of migrants across the country. PT-selected migrants have a lower skills profile than federally selected migrants but boast better initial labour market outcomes and high retention. The OECD also recommends considering a provincial temporary foreign worker pilot programme, to allow PTs to better respond to regional cyclical or seasonal labour needs that are not otherwise met, without the need to resort to permanent migration through provincial nomination.

Most of the provincial nominees – like their federally selected counterparts – settle in metropolitan and agglomeration areas, a development that Canada is currently addressing with an innovative rural community-driven programme. This includes a whole-of-family approach to integration, designed to enhance retention. Indeed, the report notes that Canada has been at the forefront of testing new, holistic approaches to managing labour migration and linking it with settlement services, especially in areas with demographic challenges.

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Maintaining Economic Stability in Lao PDR

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Economic growth in Lao PDR is projected to rebound to 6.5 percent in 2019, up from 6.3 percent in 2018. Growth is expected to be driven by the construction sector, supported by investments in large infrastructure projects, and a resilient services sector, led by wholesale and retail trade growth. Against the backdrop of challenging domestic and external environments, the Government of Lao PDR has remained committed to fiscal consolidation by tightening public expenditure and improving revenue administration, according to the latest edition of the World Bank’s Lao Economic Monitor, released today.

Fiscal consolidation is expected to result in a decline in the budget deficit to 4.3 percent of GDP in 2019 down from 4.4 percent in 2018, driven by tighter control of the public wage bill and capital spending. This is expected to keep public expenditure stable at around 20 percent of GDP in 2019. The revenue to GDP ratio is projected to improve slightly in 2019 thanks to efforts to strengthen revenue administration and the legal framework. Looking forward, public debt is expected to decline from 57.2 percent of GDP in 2018 to 55.5 percent of GDP in 2021. The outlook until 2021 is subject to increasing downside risks.

Strengthening revenue collection is important to create fiscal space and reduce the burden of public debt,” said Nicola Pontara, World Bank Country Manager for Lao PDR. “Looking forward, it will be important to improve the business environment to support private sector development, including the growth of small and medium enterprises. These measures can contribute to maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment, promoting job creation and reducing poverty and inequality.”

The report includes a thematic section that summarizes the perceptions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on the business environment, based on the data of the World Bank Enterprise Survey. The key constraints reported by SMEs include access to finance, competition with informal firms – such as those that are not registered and do not comply with regulations – and electricity outages. The report maintains that strengthening the performance of SMEs can improve the quality of jobs, raise incomes, and contribute to the greater well-being of the Lao people.

The Lao Economic Monitor is published twice yearly by the World Bank Office in Lao PDR.

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Economic woes hold sway over geopolitics

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While geopolitical tensions in the Middle East Gulf remain high, with US sanctions recently extended to more Iranian officials and a Chinese oil importer, as well as another tanker seizure, oil prices (Brent) have eased back from the most recent high of $67/bbl. Shipping operations are at normal levels, albeit with higher insurance costs. The messages from various parties that vessels will be protected to the greatest extent possible, and the IEA’s recent statement that it is closely monitoring the oil security position in the Strait of Hormuz will have provided some reassurance.

There have been concerns about the health of the global economy expressed in recent editions of this Report and shown by reduced expectations for oil demand growth. Now, the situation is becoming even more uncertain: the US-China trade dispute remains unresolved and in September new tariffs are due to be imposed. Tension between the two has increased further this week, reflected in heavy falls for stock and commodity markets. Oil prices have been caught up in the retreat, falling to below $57/bbl earlier this week. In this Report, we took into account the International Monetary Fund’s recent downgrading of the economic outlook: they reduced by 0.1 percentage points for both 2019 and 2020 their forecast for global GDP growth to 3.2% and 3.5%, respectively.

Oil demand growth estimates have already been cut back sharply: in 1H19, we saw an increase of only 0.6 mb/d, with China the sole source of significant growth at 0.5 mb/d. Two other major markets, India and the United States, both saw demand rise by only 0.1 mb/d. For the OECD as a whole, demand has fallen for three successive quarters. In this Report, growth estimates for 2019 and 2020 have been revised down by 0.1 mb/d to 1.1 mb/d and 1.3 mb/d, respectively. There have been minor upward revisions to baseline data for 2018 and 2019 but our total number for 2019 demand is unchanged at 100.4 mb/d, incorporating a modest upgrade to our estimate for 1Q19 offset by a decrease for 3Q19. The outlook is fragile with a greater likelihood of a downward revision than an upward one.

In the meantime, the short term market balance has been tightened slightly by the reduction in supply from OPEC countries. Production fell in July by 0.2 mb/d, and it was backed up by additional cuts of 0.1 mb/d by the ten non-OPEC countries included in the OPEC+ agreement. In a clear sign of its determination to support market re-balancing, Saudi Arabia’s production was 0.7 mb/d lower than the level allowed by the output agreement. If the July level of OPEC crude oil production at 29.7 mb/d is maintained through 2019, the implied stock draw in 2H19 is 0.7 mb/d, helped also by a slower rate of non-OPEC production growth. However, this is a temporary phenomenon because our outlook for very strong non-OPEC production growth next year is unaltered at 2.2 mb/d. Under our current assumptions, in 2020, the oil market will be well supplied.

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