in conversation with Ferdinando Giugliano, Columnist, Bloomberg
As the COVID-19 pandemic resumes its spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, local policymakers are still bearing the burden of maintaining the strict containment measures required to limit the infection while keeping the economy accessible enough to protect it from crippling losses and declining profits. According to the latest report from the International Monetary Fund, the growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) for all MENA countries is estimated to decrease by 5.1% for 2020 (7.5% for oil-exporting countries). Due to their substantial reliance on energy exports, the lack of a robust private sector, prolonged situations of fragility and conflict, as well as the disruption of rates, remittances, trade and tourism, the MENA region economies are posed to pay one of the highest prices from the pandemic.
In the face of the high uncertainty on the speed of global recovery, constant oil prices fluctuation, and the increased risks of a resurgence in infections with a more prolonged impact, MENA economies are preparing for their most significant slowdown in recent decades. In such a dramatic situation, multilateral assistance could become a crucial component of the recovery, as international organizations are facing increasing demands for action to contain the crisis. By regulating and supporting new policies with local institutions and by assisting to the reallocation of resources, global institutions could play an active role in alleviating the social and financial burden of the virus, while attempting at once to turn this threat into a window of opportunity for reforms and to lay the groundwork for inclusive growth.
Jihad Azour is the Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund where he oversees the Fund’s work in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Caucasus.
Mr. Azour served as Lebanon’s Finance Minister in 2005-08, during which time he coordinated the implementation of important reforms, including modernizing the country’s tax and customs systems. Before and since his time as finance minister, he held a wide range of positions in the private sector, including McKinsey and Booz and Co. where he was a Vice-President and Senior Executive Advisor. Prior to joining the IMF in March 2017, he was a Managing Partner at investment firm Inventis Partners.
Mr. Azour holds a PhD in International Finance and a post-graduate degree in International Economics and Finance, both from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. He also did research on emerging economies and their integration into the global economy as a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard. Mr. Azour has published several books and articles on economic and financial issues and taught extensively.