Transcript of Middle East and Central Asia (MCD) Press Briefing on MCD Economic Outlook Update

April 15, 2016

Washington, D.C.
April 15, 2016
Webcast of the press briefing Webcast

Masood Ahmed, Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, IMF
Wafa Amr, Senior Communications Officer, Communications Department, IMF

MS. AMR: Thank you all for joining us. This is the press briefing on the Middle East and Central Asia economic outlook update. I'd like to introduce Masood Ahmed, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department. He will be making a presentation and then taking questions from you and online. So, please identify yourselves and your organizations when you ask your questions.

MR. AHMED: Thank you very much, Wafa. Thank you all for coming to this press briefing. It is always nice to see some old friends at this gathering and some more recent ones. I'm looking forward to your questions.

Probably the best thing is if I just give you a little bit of an update beforehand, and then we can go to your questions. I know you have a few.

Let me start off by saying that forecasts for our region are being released in the April WEO. You will have seen the numbers. The outlook is really shaped by two things, oil and conflicts. As you know, the oil price has gone down a lot, 70 percent. That has had a big impact on the oil exporters in the region. I'll walk you through in a minute that impact.

Perhaps the important thing here is to remember that even though there is a lot of fluctuation over the last few weeks in oil prices, they've gone up a bit now to US$40, but if you look out to the medium term, say 2020, then oil prices are still only expected to recover modestly, to about US$50 by then.

So, in the medium term, the prospects still are relatively modest recovery in oil prices.

The second factor, of course, is conflicts. Conflicts in the region, particularly in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and Yemen, have intensified, and of course, have a horrendous cost in terms of human lives, in terms of the damage they are creating for those societies.

They have also given rise to large numbers of people, as you know, who are displaced within the countries, who are refugees in neighboring countries and refugees outside.

This is also having an impact on the neighboring countries' own economies, in trying to manage that cost. We can talk a bit more about that.

Also, in terms of the impact on confidence, on trade, so conflicts are having an effect, a dampening effect throughout the region.

Now, let me give you a little bit of a sense of the numbers for the different groups of countries. I want to start with the oil exporters in the Middle East and North Africa. If you look at them, in the April WEO, we have downgraded our projections for growth for nearly all of the oil exporters in the Middle East and North Africa, even compared to the numbers we had in January. The numbers that we had in January were themselves significantly downgraded in terms of growth projections from the numbers that we had a few months earlier, so that impact continues.

If you look at what those numbers are, what you will see overall for oil exporters this year, 2016, you will actually see an increase in the growth rate from 2 to 3 percent. Why is that? This is mainly due to the increased growth in Iran, because of the effect of lifting sanctions and the higher oil production that comes from it. In Iran this year, we are expecting an extra 600,000 barrels or so per year of oil production.

That and the other effects of sanctions relief will see an improvement in growth in the Iranian economy to about 4 percent, and that is one of the big reasons why you see the aggregate number going up. The other reason is that in Iraq, you see an increase in oil production for this year, which also shows up in the aggregate.

But if you look at the GCC countries, for example, look at their growth numbers, what you will find is economic growth for them as a group is projected to slow further this year. Last year, it was 3.75 percent. This year, it will be just short of 2 percent. So, economic growth in the GCC countries this year is expected to be below 2 percent in part as these countries are tightening their public spending in response to the oil price drop.

So, falling oil prices last year, you will remember we mentioned, had resulted in a big drop in export revenues, and the number that we have for last year, if you look at oil exports in 2015 in the Middle East and North Africa, compared to oil exports in 2014, that number was down by $390 billion.

Remember last year I was mentioning a number of about $360 billion. This is an updated version of that number based on the most recent data. So, 2015, oil exports from the Middle East and North Africa, $390 billion below the same figure for 2014.

If you look at 2016, this year, of course, we are only part of the way through the year, but based on the current projections for this year's oil prices, we expect that there will be a further drop this year of the revenues from oil.

This, of course, translates not only into the impact on the balance of payments but also into the budget. So, now let's look at the budget for a moment. Last year, faced with this decline in revenues, many countries, most countries in the region made quite substantial efforts to cut back on public spending. Despite that, of course, the budget deficits went up enormously because the cut back in revenues was even greater.

This year, we see that despite the efforts to cut back on public spending, we're going to see actually a widening of the deficits in most countries. Why? Because in fact oil prices for this year, 2016, on average are expected to be lower than the average figure for last year. So, in fact, their efforts to cut back are being overtaken by the further drop in revenues.

Now, what does this mean? It means that really this effort to consolidate their budgets by cutting back spending, by trying to raise normal revenues, is something that in most of the countries in the region will need to continue over many years. So, this is a multi-year adjustment effort to try to balance their budgets over time.

Fortunately, most of these countries have the financial resources that they have built up and the capacity to borrow from the markets, which enables them to spread this process out over time. They don't have to make the adjustment brutally. They have to do it in a gradual way, but it is an adjustment that has to be made.

The final point I want to make about this group of countries is also one that we talked about earlier, which is that adjusting their budgets and putting them back in equilibrium is one challenge, but a second challenge, which is perhaps even more important for many of them, is to make sure that despite this cutting back in public spending, and despite the impact of making the public sector smaller as a share of the economy, they have to create in their economies jobs for young people.

To create those jobs in the future, they will have to come more and more from the private sector, those jobs, and the private sector itself will have to adjust to working in an environment where the governments no longer are their main clients, because the governments no longer have the same capacity to spend as they did before.

So, let me just end by saying that what I am really very heartened by and in conversations we have had already this weekend here, but also in the recent weeks in the region as I have traveled around, is to see a commitment and a degree of proactivity amongst policymakers in virtually all of the oil exporting countries to tackle this problem.

So, there is a clear understanding that there is an issue out there, and there is a recognition that they need to be quite proactive in tackling that issue.

Let me just say a couple of words now on the oil importers in the region, the Middle East. For the oil importers in the region, I think the one line message is that you are beginning to see economic growth finally starting to pick up after a few years of stagnation, but the recovery that we see is quite fragile and quite uneven. It's not the same for all countries in the Middle East, oil importers of the Middle East.

Overall, growth for this group of countries grows from below 3 percent in 2011 to 2014, that period when many of them were going through changes, to just short of 4 percent, 3.75 percent last year. If you look at this year and next, it is about the same level as last year.

What's driving this? Lower oil prices are helping, obviously. It's helping them both in terms of balance of payments. It gives them a little bit more ease on their rounds of payments side. It also, for those countries that were subsidizing energy products, helps them on the budget because it reduces the subsidy that they have to pay to import oil and then sell it domestically.

The reforms that they themselves have undertaken are helping. It's not just all due to external factors. It is due to the fact that many of them made difficult decisions that are now beginning to pay off. You see the effect of reforms in Jordan, in Morocco, in Tunisia, and in other countries in the region you are beginning to see the impact of those reforms.

At the same time, why is it fragile? Why is it uneven? One is security reasons. Conflicts and their spillovers. If you look at Lebanon, you look at Jordan, you look at Tunisia, you can see the growth rates, despite all these positive factors that I mentioned, are not in the kind of range you would want them to be because of the spillovers from conflicts.

You remember I mentioned in the case of Tunisia you have tourism, which is about 7 percent of the economy, 50 percent of tourism has gone down. Why is that? Because of the effect of terrorist attacks.

The second thing I would mention also in terms of risks to the outlook is that many of these countries are quite connected to the oil exporters in the region. So, their links with the GCC countries are very important in terms of remittances, in terms of trade, in terms of investment, in terms of tourism.

So, as the GCC countries are cutting back on some of their expenditures, public spending, that also has some negative spillovers on some of the neighboring countries. So, you are beginning to see some anecdotal stories now of remittance flows being cut back in countries like Lebanon, in countries like Pakistan you see a slow down in remittances, and countries that have a number of workers in the GCC countries are beginning to worry a little bit about that. Similarly, on tourism, you hear some stories now, anecdotal, not yet showing up in big numbers, similarly, you hear stories now on investments. There are some specific projects that are being postponed.
Now, in terms of what they can do, obviously an important task for them given the fact a number of them have still quite high debt levels, is to continue with their fiscal consolidation that they have already begun to do to put their debt on a firm path towards building buffers, and in some cases, greater exchange rate flexibility would also help with competitiveness.

The final thing I want to say about this group of countries, so they did a little bit better. They managed to go through a difficult period without macroeconomic instability. I think it is always important to recognize and give credit for that because it is easy to forget, but macroeconomic instability would have been a big problem for them over the last four years and they have successfully avoided it.

If you look out not just for this year but for the next five years, what we are seeing, the teams that are working on these countries and the country authorities themselves, is growth rates that are below what they had say in the 2000-2010 period.

What that means is that if your medium term growth projections are now coming down, they are becoming more modest, then the challenge of providing enough jobs for the populations that are young and looking for employment in these countries is going to be even more acute going forward then it has been in the past. We all know that youth unemployment is a chronic problem in these countries.

Really, the need to embark on the kinds of reforms that would make these economies more competitive, where jobs could be created through growth and where they could reel in their public spending towards more job creating infrastructure and less spending on current things like their public sector wage bill, would help to improve the growth rates for the medium term for this group of countries.

Let me finally turn to countries in the Caucuses and Central Asia. I know some of you are interested in them. I guess my one line message there is for this set of countries, this is a particularly challenging period. This year, they are going to have a growth rate that is lower than it has been any time in the past two decades. It is almost a 20 year low in terms of their economic growth rates.

Why is that happening? Because they have been hit really by a variety of shocks. Lower oil prices have affected the oil exporters in this group. In addition, they have been impacted by the spillovers from the recession in Russia and the slowdown in China, two big trading partners for them.

These persistent shocks have also exposed some deep rooted vulnerabilities in the economies. Fiscal and external imbalances have worsened significantly, their financing costs have gone up, and although they have been helped by having a more flexible exchange rate, so they have allowed currency weakening and fiscal easing to mitigate some of the impact of the shocks.

At the same time, you see a pick-up in inflation. You see a pick-up in some of the vulnerabilities in the banking sector because their banking sector is very dollarized, and in some cases, I think that is a challenge that they are working on.

So, for them, the message going forward is this is a time where on the budget, the fiscal side, they have to find the right balance between trying to support economic activity in the near term, but at the same time, ensuring they have sustainable budgets in the middle term. That depends a bit country by country because it is a function of the buffers that they have.

In terms of the financial sector, because of the increased vulnerabilities I mentioned in the banking sector, stepping up financial sector supervision is going to be essential at this time.

On the monetary policy side, they are now trying to modernize the monetary policy frameworks, especially by trying to replace the exchange rate with an effective interest rate instrument.

More broadly, the current growth model they have been pursuing, which has worked well for them in the past because living standards doubled in the past 12 years in this group of countries, is no longer generating the kind of growth they need going forward.

So, for them really without structural reforms, it would take them 25 years now to double the income levels, so twice as long compared to what they have done in the past.

What kinds of reform? They would have to try to move away from a dependence on commodities, reduce in some cases their reliance on remittances, which is a main source of income for a country like Tajikistan, for example, almost 40 percent of their economy is generated by remittances, and also they need to try and improve the business environment and governance that will enable people to invest in these economies.

So, that is the outlook for them. Overall, a message for the group of countries that is a little bit sober. They are all going through a difficult period in different ways, but you do see within this still countries making an effort and some of the results of that effort beginning to pay off.

Let me stop with that. As I say, I will be very happy to answer any questions that you have. As Wafa said, please do identify yourself and your affiliation.

QUESTIONER: How do you assess the procedures that were taken by the Egyptian government to reform in the different sectors starting in 2014 after the government has increased the prices of oil and petroleum products, and adopted a program for five years in order to cancel and eliminate subsidies to be eliminated or directed to the targeted categories? How do you see the procedure taken by the Central Bank by reducing the price of the Egyptian pound vis-à-vis the dollar? Is it efficient in order to enter into a program with the International Monetary Fund?

Secondly, the second question, some people say the negotiations of the IMF are going on very fast with other countries such as Tunisia and Jordan, but they are not going the same pace when we talk about the case of Egypt. I would like to refer to two years ago when you were responsible for the negotiations between the IMF and Egypt, and there was no results achieved. So how would you comment on that?

MR. AHMED: So on Egypt, two parts. So the first thing I want to say is that if you look at the economy overall, which was your first question, and the reforms that are being undertaken after a few years when the economy was going through a very difficult time with very low growth, widening imbalances. Certainly over the past two and a half years we’ve begun to see a reversal of that trend, so there’s more stability. There’s more confidence. Investment has begun to pick up. Growth went up in 2014, 2015, particularly. You saw an effort to reduce those imbalances. Budget deficit went down 2014, 2015 quite substantially. The balance of payments was also helped, in part, also because of the large grant and financing that were received from countries in the Gulf.

I would say over the last 12 months that effort has continued, but it’s a little bit slower in terms of the budget deficit. The authorities had intended to have a budget deficit below 10% for this year. In the end, they were not able to achieve that. VAT implementation has been postponed a little bit. At the same time, we do welcome, actually, the move that the Central Bank has made in terms of both the pricing of the Egyptian pound, and also the move towards introducing more flexibility in the exchange rate.

As we’ve said in the past, we do think that moving towards an exchange rate that is more flexible that reflects market conditions will be important not just for the companies that are looking to participate in the export and area to be able to import spare parts and raw materials. It’s also important for the functioning of the economy overall, and it can also help competitiveness. So we welcome that move as well.

Egypt still faces important challenges going forward. As I said, the budget deficit is still quite high. There’s still more to be done to make that exchange rate regime as flexible and market clearing as needed. There’s also work underway to try and make the business environment more conducive. Because, ultimately, what you want in the case of Egypt is to get a vibrant, thriving private sector that is able to invest and create jobs for young people. These are all steps in the right direction. Our view is that the main challenge is really steadfast implementation, and in a timely way without undue delay in some of the important measures that have been laid out.

As to the negotiations with the IMF that you mentioned, as you know, we continue to have a lot of interaction in terms of advice, in terms of technical assistance. The Egyptian authorities have not formally requested a program, a financial program of assistance from the IMF. As the Managing Director of the IMF has said on a number of occasions, whenever the Egyptian authorities feel that in addition to the policy consultations that we have it would be useful for them to have financing from the IMF under a program we would be very happy to look at that. We stand ready to help Egypt and the people of Egypt.

QUESTIONER: I want to follow up on my colleague’s question. Right now the balance in payment deficit in Egypt is 3.4 billion. The budget deficit is 12.5 billion, declining in debts and debt levels up to 2.8 trillion. In your opinion, each of these challenges, even one of them, is enough for any country to come to the IMF and request a loan. We have the whole three challenges plus the classic ongoing exchange rate problem. In your opinion, at which stage do you advise a country to come and seek help from the IMF? Thank you.

MR. AHMED: All of these things are, of course, related. The three issues that you raised. Our view is that the programs for tackling economic challenges have to come from countries themselves. They formulate a program and then they come to the IMF for support. Because the purpose of the IMF support is really to ease the process of adjustment because the countries have to go through an adjustment anyways, but with financing from the IMF that helps in terms of smoothing out the path to adjustment. Financing from the IMF can also serve, in some cases, as a catalyst for financing from other sources who are looking to do it.

What advice would we give to countries that are looking to get financing from the IMF? I think our advice generally is that the sooner you get into a -- if you have a problem, the earlier you’re beginning to tackle it, with or without IMF financing, the better. Because if you delay tackling a problem then, of course, sometimes the problem becomes more acute. In that process many countries have an internal dynamic as to when they feel is the right time to bring the IMF in as a partner into that exercise. From our side, I think what we say is we’re ready to come in from as early as possible.

QUESTIONER: My question is in French. You have revised downward growth in Tunisia downward. The region is very weak and cannot meet the needs of the country, particularly the creation of jobs for young people. What priority measure would you advise in the framework of the second program or cooperation with Tunisia to enable this country to face its challenges? Will the IMF take into account the social problems, the social challenges of the country? Are you going to force the country to have an expansionist monetary policy? Thank you.

MR. AHMED: Thank you for that question. First of all, I thank you for this question because it also allows me to inform you of an important development vis-à-vis the discussions between the Tunisian Authorities and the IMF. Let me say that I’m very pleased to be able to announce that we have just reached a staff-level agreement on a four year program of support for Tunisia totaling US$2.8 billion.

As we leave this press briefing you’ll have a copy of the press release that will give you more details on that program, but let me use this moment to just say that the focus of the efforts of the Tunisian government, and that also guides our own support under the second program, is really to move from the phase of stabilization of the economy in the face of shocks, to creating the foundations for accelerating the pace of growth and job creation. To do that, this program, in particular, will support the reorientation of public spending away from current spending and towards investments.

This includes then controlling the public sector wage bill. Focus, secondly, on providing access to credit for small and medium enterprises. In particular, by working through with their program of restructuring and rehabilitation of the banking sector. Thirdly, by introducing a more efficient and equitable tax system, tax burden in the case of Tunisia. Finally, also, by looking at and improvement in the delivery of public services by looking at the structure and reform of the civil service as a whole. So those are, if you like, the broad parameters.

In doing that, we are very conscious, as we were in the previous program, of the importance of protecting the vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of households in the economy. That would include then making sure that in making these adjustments they are not done in a way that puts the burden of adjustment on them.

QUESTIONER: I will ask in Arabic. How does the IMF not take in cooperation with Arab governments more innovate procedures in order to solve the problems? Recently their solutions were, in a nutshell, was to remove subsidy on main services such as energy and water, and also increasing the tax base. You know that Arab countries in the Middle East are suffering from the decrease of the economic growth rates and increase of unemployment and increase of inflation and poverty.

Second question is about after removing the sanctions from Iran what is the situation of the IMF? How do you help Iran in order to get its frozen money from the banks? Another questions is about the Palestinian economy whose government is suffering from deterioration and reduction in foreign aid which has dropped about 50% in 2015?

MR. AHMED: Okay. So you had three questions. I’ll try to answer them quickly so others have a chance. On the first one, in terms of what could be done in a more innovative way to try to tackle this problem? I think the fundamental point here is that we have to start from an analysis of what is the problem. The short term problem a number of countries face is how to manage the decline in revenue. I’m thinking particularly of the oil exporters. The longer term problem that same group of countries faces is how to diversify their economy so they’re less dependent on oil?

If you look at the oil importers, the short term problem many of them faced was shocks from the external economy and consequence of, in some cases, of their own political transitions. Then, again, the longer term question for them also is how to create more jobs and more growth. Finally, you look at the conflict group of countries. Well, there the big issue is the political security humanitarian one. What can the IMF do? What can the countries do?

The IMF is there to really help them to manage both the imbalances that they have in the short term, and that’s where the IMF support can help to make the adjustment process less painful. But it’s also there to help them define the longer term strategies that would respond exactly to the question you raise, how do you create jobs? How do you create more employment?

I think the bottom line answer in many of these countries is going to be that the future of jobs and growth has to come from a vibrant private sector. In the Middle East and North Africa in the past the state has played a big role in terms of job creation. That is not sustainable any more in many countries. If you want a vibrant private sector then you have to focus on many of the challenges that I started to talk about in the case of Tunisia, but we could talk about in other countries also which relate to the business environment, the role of banks in providing financing, the focus of infrastructure on job creation. That’s where, I think, the IMF working with many other agencies, the World Bank, Regional Bank, can help countries to take the lead in providing that change of orientation.

As to the second question you had on Iran, the lifting of sanctions is a big plus for the Iranian economy this year. Last year the Iranian economy hardly grew at all. This year we expect that because of the increased production of oil, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, about 600,000 barrels a day of additional oil production is expected for exporters here. That plus the impact of reducing the sanctions, lifting of sanctions on the cost of transactions and the ease of doing trade, including financial transactions. That should help to increase the growth rate to about 4% this year in Iran.

The big challenge for Iran is going to be can you sustain that higher growth rate for a number of years? Because there is a one-off increase that comes from higher oil production. But to sustain that growth rate they have to make some quite significant improvements in their infrastructure, modernize their machinery of production, and also in the business environment to be able to attract investment and to make it more effective.

The final point you raised is the one about the Palestinian economy. There’s no doubt that the Palestinian economy is going through a period of deep stress. Unemployment is high, growth rates are low, per capita incomes are stagnating, and the budget deficit is large. We expect a financing gap this year of almost half a billion dollars. We have said before, and I can reiterate here that we don’t think that the current financing model is going to be sustainable. It really does require looking at ways in which you can both focus on what the Palestinian economy can do in terms of the Palestinian monetary authority, the government can do in terms of trying to look at expenditures and reorienting them.

You have to look at the restrictions and the transfer of revenues from Israel and how you can make sure that those are done on a regular basis. And you have to look at the third part which is to ensure that the financing from donors is done in a more predictable way, and that they follow through on their pledges. Without these you are not going to be able to get a sustainable long term.

QUESTIONER: I have a follow up question. You spoke about the role of the private sector and the importance of private investment. In the same vein, the IMF reports have also focused on refugees and conflicts among other things. These issues drive investors away. It creates uncertainty politically. Can the IMF help promote the private sector appetite for investment? I would like also to hear your comments on the impact of the refugee issue on the economic situation and the appetite by investors to come to the region. Thank you, sir.

MR. AHMED: It would be right to say that the conflicts and the spillovers from those conflicts, not just in terms of refugees, but in terms of the violence, in terms of the trade impact, in terms of the impact on confidence is a deterrent for the private sector to come in. One of the reasons why in a country like Tunisia or a country like Lebanon you see private investment is pulling back is because there is an uncertainty and a sense of wait and see that comes for investors because of these conflicts. So no doubt about that, it’s one of the reasons why we have been focusing on that issue as one of the general factors, teams if you like, affecting outcomes in the region.

The second point though of that, that you made, is what about the impact of refugees on the neighboring countries? Well, I think if you look at both Lebanon and Jordan as two countries what you’ll find is that there’s a direct cost of the refugees in terms of the fiscal cost. We estimate it about 1% of GDP in both cases, but there’s also an indirect cost which is probably quite a bit more. A bit harder to measure, but substantially larger than the direct cost.

There’s also a social cost that you see in terms of managing the integration of refugees, in terms of jobs, in terms of access to schools, in terms of rent. So I have to start off by saying that you have to credit and give recognition to these countries where, now in the case of Jordan, about a tenth of the population is officially registered as refugees. Probably many more unofficially there. In the case of Lebanon -- its almost a quarter of the population are refugees. You have to give credit to these countries for taking on what is really an international public good. And they also do believe in the IMF and we have strongly advocated this, that the cost needs to be borne by the international community because it is not up to these countries to bear the burden, and financial burden, for hosting their neighbors. It has to be something that the international community has to do, and they have to provide the support on terms that are affordable for these countries. And that is why we have strongly advocated that the support to these countries for dealing with the initial cost of hosting refugees needs to be provided as grants or as highly concessional terms, so that it does not add to the financial burden for them.

QUESTIONER: I will ask in Arabic also. (Speaking in Arabic) You pay an important attention to the role of the private sector, while in our countries, the private sector focuses on the quick profit enterprise including in services. And so this is an issue. The second question, is that economic adjustment may be linked sometimes to a loan from The World Bank or the IMF. Is it right? And would you consider the GCC assistance to Egypt as sufficient enough to keep Egypt away from seeking additional financial resources elsewhere? Thank you.

MR. AHMED: First of all, in terms of the role of the private sector. You see, the private sector does what is most profitable for it to do, and it depends on the conditions you create in terms of the business environment. It's hard for the private sector, small businesses to set up shop, and to create something that is long-term adding value, and you know that in our region, in many, many countries, we find that the burden of bureaucracy, of regulations, forces so many enterprises out of the formal private sector, and they go into the informal sector.

In our region, we have the largest share of the informal sector in the economy, because people find it very hard to become part of the formal private sector because of the burden of regulations. And so, often, what you find is, it's the firms that have good connections, that are able to set up and do business, and sometimes they do quite well out of it. But that’s why you have to create a level playing field over time, that encourages all firms, large, small, connected, unconnected, to be able to go there be competitive.

Also you have to open up the economies a bit more with the rest of the world, because that will bring, not just capital, but also markets, technology and become part of the global value chain. There are good examples in the region, where that is beginning to happen in some sectors, and we need to make that the general case, not just a few. So I will say that of the private sector.

In terms of, is the financing from the GCC countries sufficient? Well, it certainly has been sufficient so far. I think it's really a question that Egypt has to decide in terms of what are the sources of financing and hope that it needs and wants, and if you look out for the next few years, you have a financing need for Egypt, for about roughly US$12 or so billion a years, and you need to get that financing from different sources.

But whatever the financing, the more important point, is that the underlying reform that would make the Egyptian economy, more competitive, more vibrant, create more jobs, would be there, regardless of how you finance it. And that’s why we do think do think that the steps that have been taken in the right direction, now need to be followed through and implemented systematically.

QUESTIONER: I came from Kazakhstan, and I have two questions for you. Can you, please, name serious countries with the most fast-growing economy, based on current data? And what is your opinion in a common currency in Eurasian Economic Union, as we know there are a lot of talking about this issue.

MR. AHMED: I'm trying to see if I can make sure I don’t get it wrong by comparing growth rates for countries, and I'll give you the -- the countries you said are most fast-growing in the CCA based on current data. That I think I should be able to tell you. For this year, if you look at this year, the fastest-growing countries in the region are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, they are oil exporters of course.

Now, in terms of the overall point though, now you can have fast growth in one year, or in two years, or it can be financed by commodities, but overall, all of these economies are now under a lot of stress from the different shocks that I mentioned. And I think the challenge for them, and even for these countries that I mentioned, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; they may be the fastest-growing this year, but if you look at their growth rates and compare them to what the rates at which they were growing in the past, they are much lower.

So everybody is feeling some degree of stress from the current shocks. As to the common currency, after the Eurasian, for these groups of countries, I think that’s something which is on the agenda for the medium-term, right now what I see are the challenges that they face and the need to address those challenges, individually.

MS. AMR: Thank you. Thank you all for attending.
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