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Kingdom of the Netherlands-Aruba and the IMF

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Public Information Notice (PIN) No. 05/70
June 1, 2005
International Monetary Fund
700 19th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20431 USA

IMF Concludes 2005 Article IV Consultation with the Kingdom of the Netherlands—Aruba

Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case.

On May 25, 2005, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with the Kingdom of the Netherlands—Aruba.1

Background

After a two-year long recession, GDP growth reached 1.4 percent in 2003, helped by strong private investment, and accelerated to an estimated 3½ percent in 2004. Growth is projected to level off at about 3¼ percent in 2005, as hotel capacity constraints slow tourism growth. Planned investments in the oil refinery and the hotels are expected to keep growth at about 2½ percent in the medium term.

Strong domestic demand, fueled by double-digit private credit growth and fiscal expansion, and a sharp increase in the oil price in 2002, had reignited inflation, which peaked at about 4.3 percent in mid-2003. To stem inflationary pressures, credit ceilings were reintroduced in 2003 and subsequently tightened in 2004. Average inflation fell to 2½ percent in 2004. The real effective exchange rate of the Aruban florin, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1986, has remained largely unchanged since 1998. Declining net tourism revenue and robust import demand widened the (rolling 12-month) non-oil current account deficit to almost 12 percent of GDP by mid-2003, but the deficit has narrowed subsequently with the strengthening of tourism revenue. The debt-creating external deficit (non-oil current account deficit plus FDI), however, has remained significantly lower and improved faster than the headline deficit. Reflecting these trends and government payment obligations, international reserves have declined since 2002, to about 5¼ months of imports in September 2004.

The fiscal deficit, which widened sharply during the recession, continued to deteriorate, from 3½ percent of GDP (including health care) in 2003 to an estimated 5½ percent in 2004. The health care fund has experienced large spending overruns since the introduction of universal health care in 2001. Moreover, despite a nominal freeze, total wage costs increased by a cumulative 12 percent in 2001-03, reflecting a rapid increase in public sector employment. Large deficits and called guarantees increased public debt sharply, from 28½ percent of GDP in 2000 to some 46 percent in 2004.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors commended the authorities for Aruba's strong record of sustained high growth and macroeconomic stability since gaining autonomy in 1986. These achievements have been underpinned by strong public institutions and prudent macroeconomic policies. Looking ahead, Directors encouraged the authorities to build on their successes and pursue further wide-ranging policy and institutional reforms to secure Aruba's long-term prosperity. The key tasks are to consolidate public finances, to pursue a strategy to enhance the economy's long-term growth potential and diversification and address the problem of rapid population aging, and to improve further the quality of public institutions. Directors welcomed the authorities' commitment to pursue the policies and reforms required to achieve these objectives.

Directors urged the authorities to take advantage of the favorable cyclical position in order to rein in the widening fiscal deficit, and make strong efforts to meet the original 2005 budget deficit target. They viewed fiscal consolidation as essential to narrow further the non-oil current account deficit and reduce the burden on monetary policy.

Looking forward, Directors stressed the need for ambitious fiscal adjustment over the medium term to lower public debt to a safer level. In this context, they encouraged the authorities to introduce a fiscal responsibility law and a medium-term fiscal framework, which should facilitate the required fiscal consolidation and enhance policy credibility. They considered that a key medium-term objective should be to eliminate the budget deficit and reduce the public debt by the end of the decade. This will require wide-ranging expenditure reforms, including with respect to health care, civil service, and pension reforms. In this context, they welcomed the recent measures to reduce health care costs and the reform of the public sector pension scheme for new participants. Directors welcomed the progress made in eliminating expenditure arrears, and encouraged the authorities to continue strengthening budget management to prevent their recurrence. Directors highlighted the need for further tax reforms to broaden the tax base, narrow the tax wedge on labor, and simplify taxes. In particular, the introduction of a broad-based consumption tax and a simplification of the income tax were regarded as important. In the area of tax policy, Directors commended the authorities' decision to phase out tax holidays and guarantees.

Directors encouraged the authorities to take early action to sustain growth in the face of rapid population aging. In addition to fiscal consolidation and pension reforms, they recommended measures to maintain high labor utilization and create the conditions for faster productivity growth, including by improving education and public infrastructure. Directors also called for faster progress in restructuring public enterprises to open up markets for private sector activity. Underscoring the importance of economic diversification to enhance the country's growth potential, they welcomed Aruba's request for a World Bank Foreign Investment Advisory Service report on Aruba's development strategy.

Directors commended the authorities for successfully taming the inflationary pressures that had emerged at the beginning of the recent recovery. Noting that the inflation outlook is favorable and the underlying current account deficit of the non-oil sector has been narrowing, Directors saw no immediate need for further monetary tightening. Given the uncertainties, however, they called on the central bank to continue to monitor price and non-oil current account developments closely, and to stand ready to tighten the monetary policy stance if necessary. Directors noted that credit controls have been effective in dampening inflationary pressures. They encouraged the authorities to strengthen efforts to develop indirect monetary policy instruments over the medium term.

Directors noted that the peg to the U.S. dollar remains appropriate, and that Aruba has broadly maintained its competitiveness. Given the economy's dependence on highly volatile tourism revenue and the rapid increase in public sector external debt, Directors saw a case for rebuilding reserves to end-2002 levels.

Directors noted that the financial sector is generally sound and well supervised. Overcoming the capacity constraints that have slowed drafting and vetting of supervisory and anti-money laundering legislation should be given priority. Directors also considered it particularly urgent to proceed with extending central bank supervision to company service providers and insurance intermediaries.

Directors noted that long existing practices in Aruba provide the central bank with a high degree of operational independence. Nonetheless, they considered strengthening the legal guarantees for central bank independence as an important way to enhance policy credibility further. In this context, they welcomed the authorities' intention to move toward modernization of the central bank law and encouraged the authorities to seek IMF technical assistance with drafting the new law. Directors called on the authorities to eliminate the remaining exchange restriction subject to Fund approval under Article VIII as soon as possible.

Directors urged the authorities to renew their efforts to strengthen statistics. They judged that improvements are particularly needed in national accounts, government finance, and labor market statistics, as well as social indicators.


Aruba: Selected Economic Indicators


 

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004


             
 

(Percent change)

             

Real economy

           

Real GDP

1.1

3.7

-0.7

-2.6

1.4

3.5

Nominal GDP

3.4

7.8

2.1

0.7

5.1

6.0

Real final consumption

3.3

1.1

2.1

3.8

1.8

3.6

Real investment

-1.5

-17.4

-9.3

1.3

19.0

11.9

Real exports

1.5

-3.5

-3.1

-7.0

-4.5

2.1

Real imports

2.3

-13.0

-3.4

0.8

1.7

5.5

Inflation (period average)

           

CPI

2.3

4.1

2.9

3.3

3.7

2.5

Real exchange rate index (2000=100) 1/

98.5

100.0

100.8

107.1

103.8

...

             
 

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

             

Balance of payments

           

Current account

-414.5

232.4

332.2

-329.4

-155.4

-113.6

(In percent of GDP)

-24.1

12.5

17.5

-17.2

-7.7

-5.3

Non-oil current account

-60.2

-28.1

-14.7

-162.5

-192.1

-120.1

(In percent of GDP)

-3.5

-1.5

-0.8

-8.5

-9.6

-5.6

Financial and capital account

445.3

-269.8

-246.7

330.3

92.2

113.8

Errors and omissions

-20.0

11.3

-13.1

17.3

29.3

-11.0

Changes in reserves (-=increase) 2/

-2.9

15.0

-82.8

-40.1

36.3

-0.9

             
 

(Percent change)

             

Monetary aggregates

           

Net foreign assets

3.4

-8.1

24.4

5.9

-8.8

13.6

Net domestic assets

14.4

7.7

-2.3

13.1

18.1

-1.5

Quasi-money

11.8

3.0

-0.2

4.3

7.7

3.4

             
 

(In percent of GDP)

             

Public finances central government

           

Balance 3/

0.9

-1.3

-4.1

-3.4

-3.5

-5.5

External public debt

11.9

11.3

11.6

15.3

20.3

22.4

Domestic public debt

16.3

17.2

20.9

21.0

21.4

22.4

             

U.S. dollar

The Aruban florin is pegged to the U.S. dollar at

 

Af. 1.79 =US$1

SDR (end of period)

2.46

2.33

2.25

2.43

2.66

2.78

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

Sources: Data provided by the Aruban authorities; and IMF Staff estimates.

             

1/ Based on market shares in tourism.

2/ Including gold, excluding revaluation differences.

3/ Including the health care fund (AZV).

             

1 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.




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