Press Release: IMF Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Economic Outlook Cites Region's Strong Growth Prospects, Highlights Risks and Medium-Term Challenges

April 13, 2007

Press Release No. 07/70

GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to rise to about 6½ percent in 2007, driven mainly by rising oil production in a number of countries. Even in oil-importing countries, growth should remain steady at about 5 percent. Inflation for the region is projected to remain unchanged at about 7 percent; three-quarters of the countries are expected to record single-digit inflation. These are among the key findings of the April 2007 IMF Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa.

For the third consecutive year, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa remained strong at 5.4 percent in 2006 slightly lower than the 6 percent recorded in 2005. Because of constraints faced in expanding oil production, growth in oil exporting countries declined to 5.6 percent in 2006 from 7.9 percent in 2005. By comparison, growth in oil-importing countries at 5.3 percent was almost unchanged from 2005: nearly half of them recorded growth of 5 percent or more, supported by strong demand for nonfuel commodity exports, a good agricultural season, and rising investment.

The higher growth trend in Sub-Saharan Africa is attributable both to positive external developments, such as foreign demand and high commodity prices, and strong domestic investment and productivity gains. Sound economic policies in most countries have also played an important role in supporting these outcomes. Still, much more needs to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While increased aid flows is necessary for greater progress in meeting the MDGs, the scaling up of aid promised at the Gleneagles summit has not yet materialized.

There have been other positive developments. First, oil-producing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from large windfall profits in recent years and, in contrast to previous commodity price booms, they have saved a significant part of their additional revenue. The challenge for public policy and policymakers is to create the necessary space for higher and effective public spending.

Second, the recent commodity boom and rapid growth in Asia has improved Sub-Saharan Africa's export prospects, providing an opportunity to reverse the long-term decline in the region's share in world trade. Commercial exchanges with Asia, particularly China, have expanded dramatically, although European Union countries and the United States still account for 2½ times the export shares of Asia.

And finally, recent improved macroeconomic performance and debt relief have altered many countries' medium term debt outlook. As a result domestic debt markets have become more active and, in a number of countries, foreign portfolio investors have shown active interest.

Risks to Outlook and Key Challenges

Although the outlook is positive, near-term risks remain important. An unanticipated sharp decline in global demand would hurt growth in the region. Growth and inflation could also be adversely affected by further increases in oil prices and a larger-than-expected fall in nonfuel commodity prices. Many countries in the region remain vulnerable to droughts and other natural disasters, others struggle with the high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS. And there are still political and security risks in a number of countries in the region.

The Regional Outlook also examines some of the challenges noted above and suggests some policy approaches. Faced with historically high prices and finite resources, oil producers must now deal with the complexities of managing their resources so as to improve living standards and make decisive progress toward the MDGs. The Regional Outlook (Chapter III) suggests that with higher resource levels and increasing spending pressures, strengthening governance becomes even more critical, particularly in public financial management (PFM) systems, to ensure that resources are used efficiently and transparently within a longer term framework consistent with fiscal sustainability. Unless properly managed, scaling up spending risks putting substantial upward pressure on prices and the real exchange rate. The risk can be mitigated by policies that ease absorptive capacity, such as liberalizing trade, reducing the costs of doing business, and making labor markets more flexible.

While there has been a diversification of export destinations, exports remain concentrated in oil and other commodities and exports of manufactures are confined to a few countries and product categories. The Regional Outlook (Chapter IV) notes that most countries have neither managed to achieve a labor-intensive manufacturing export surge nor to move up the value chain of their commodity-based exports. This is largely due to lack of infrastructure and the costs of doing business. Experience from other parts of the world shows that trade could be an important engine of growth. Tackling structural impediments to growth and trade in valued-added industries linked to agriculture and commodities is therefore important for Sub-Saharan Africa to realize its growth potential.

The Regional Outlook also examines the development of local currency debt markets (Chapter V). In general, their development promises important benefits in increasing the efficiency and transparency of budgetary financing while supporting the emergence of a yield curve—a prerequisite for corporate bond markets. The latter role is important for facilitating financial sector development which could help to eventually overcome the credit constraints of Africa's private sector. To achieve the full benefits of debt markets, market infrastructure, debt management, and overall sustainable fiscal deficits are important. Capital account regulations may need to be reviewed to ensure that interest rates are competitive, while remaining mindful of the possible risks of "sudden reversals".


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