x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

IMF to back statistics agency for Arab world

The International Monetary Fund has confirmed it will support Arab efforts to establish a regional equivalent of the euro zone's statistics agency in hopes of providing greater transparency in attracting investments.

The IMF has confirmed it would support Arab efforts to establish a regional equivalent of the euro zone's statistics agency in hopes of providing greater transparency for attracting the investment the region needs for development.

The Council of Arab Finance Ministers formally approved the launching of ArabStat this month "as a regional statistical initiative, marking a major step forward in the development of the region's statistical systems," the IMF said. "ArabStat was proposed … to develop further statistical capacity and systems and support home-grown efforts to improve data compilation and dissemination."

The IMF met with officials from the Middle East in Washington on Thursday to formally launch ArabStat and discuss cooperation on moving the project forward.

"This initiative is a major breakthrough. I am confident that launching a regional statistical initiative in the Middle East and North Africa will help to further improve the quality and dissemination of macroeconomic data in Arab countries, develop further statistical capacity and systems, and promote transparency and cooperation among Arab national and regional statistics-producing agencies," said Nemat Shafik, the deputy managing director of the IMF.

Ms Shafik reiterated the IMF's continued support for ArabStat and encouraged the Council if Arab Finance Ministers to continue with its efforts to set up an effective regional initiative to enhance statistical development and reforms in the Arab region.

"The AMF is very committed to providing ArabStat with the necessary support to succeed in developing further the statistical capacity and systems in the Arab countries," said the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) director general and chairman of the board, Jassim Al Mannai.

ArabStat will likely act as a regional auditor and provide credible data for policymakers and financial institutions. In the European Union, the EuroStat has authority to demand that public-sector institutions open up their accounts for review.

Despite the growth of local statistics centres in the Arabian Gulf, the vast majority of the wider region's governments are yet to provide frequent credible economic facts and figures.

Greater transparency is seen as a key driver for increased investment into the region.

Meanwhile, the IMF also reached a framework agreement with Tunisia on a two-year, US$1.75 billion (Dh6.42bn) standby loan deal. The agreement, which awaits final approval from the IMF board of directors, is aimed at helping the country's battered economy following the uprising that toppled a decades-old dictatorship in January 2011 and ignited the Arab Spring.

The loan, formally known as a standby arrangement, is a line of credit that "would support the authorities' economic agenda aimed at preserving fiscal and external stability, fostering higher and more inclusive growth, and addressing critical vulnerabilities of the banking sector," the IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, said.

The agreement "will support the implementation of the Tunisian authorities' reform programme to promote private investment, foster sustainable job-creation, reduce economic and social regional disparities, and strengthen social policies to protect the most vulnerable".

The reforms "deserve the support of the IMF and the international community through financial assistance, policy advice, and technical assistance", Ms Lagarde said.

Previous loan negotiations were interrupted by a political crisis in Tunisia sparked by the assassination of the anti-Islamist opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, which brought down the government of Hamadi Jebali. The ruling Islamist party Ennahda has claimed credit for an economic recovery since its rise to power in December 2011.

But growth remains sluggish and widespread poverty and high youth unemployment, key factors behind the revolution, persist.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse