Austerity, subsidy cuts, and diversification are buzz words in the Gulf states right now. While budget deficits are projected across the Gulf Cooperation Council for 2016, the intensity of economic reform has so far been mild and measured. Governments are testing public appetite and consent for reform, what some analysts have termed a renegotiation of the rentier bargain, and perhaps more euphemistically, the Gulf social contract.
With this edition, Market Watch introduces our Economic Reform Barometer, which will monitor initiatives taken by Gulf states as they seek fiscal, monetary, and labor policy changes to meet the challenge of reduced state revenue from natural resources. We will update the barometer on a regular basis. The key trend is a reversal in fiscal expenditure, in a major shift in the way states in the GCC have been steadily increasing spending on public sector wages, infrastructure, and social services over the last decade.
For example, government spending on public sector wages accounted for as much as 45 percent of total outlays in Saudi Arabia, according to the International Monetary Fund. For Gulf states, maintaining public sector wage expenditure, without increases for the thousands of young job seekers entering the workforce every year with a preference for government employment (some 300,000 per year in Saudi Arabia), will present a challenge.
Fiscal Policy Measures
The greatest number of changes across the GCC states have been on fiscal policy. The reduction of subsidies, particularly in gasoline, has occurred quickly, with momentum from the fall of oil revenue a publicly understood driver necessitating reforms. There is renewed discussion, and nominal agreement, across the GCC to institute a value-added tax by 2018, though previous initiatives have not been implemented.
Public Sector Lay-offs
Electricity, Water Subsidies
33% price increase for premium fuel, 22% for regular
Expected 3% increase in corporate tax
50% or > price increase
New land tax
None announced, though the Ministry of Labor reports complaints of unpaid workers from construction firms with government contracts
Increases for residential and corporate users for electricity
Plans announced for tax on local and foreign companies, to increase fiscal revenue by $596,840,000, 2 billion Kuwaiti dinars (8% rise)
Reductions in staff (as much as 34%) at Kuwait Water and Electric Authority;Kuwait Airways has reduced staff of 1,350 Kuwaiti nationals
30% petrol price increase
Staff reductions at Qatar Rail, Qatar Petroleum
Increased the price of residential electricity and water and more than doubled the cost of its postal services
United Arab Emirates
Subsidies reduced; Monthly price set by board; Highest price across the GCC
Abu Dhabi raised water tariffs; tariffs in Dubai are generally higher for water and electricity
60% price increase; cuts in food price support as well
Raises import duty on tobacco from 100% to 200%
Prices will rise for all expatriates, industrial and private sector on both water and electricity
Monetary Policy Measures
SWF asset sales
Central Bank FX sales
Commercial lending to government; first sukuk issued
Yes, domestic issues in summer 2015, international expected 2016
$15 billion debt issuance Sept. 2015
United Arab Emirates
Yes, by emirate, not federal
$1.5 billion Nov. 2015, at higher premium than 2014 issue
Despite a “voluntary” production cut announced by Saudi Arabia for July, economic uncertainty overshadowed the June 4 OPEC+ meeting.
Through its careful examination of the forces shaping the evolution of Gulf societies and the new generation of emerging leaders, AGSIW facilitates a richer understanding of the role the countries in this key geostrategic region can be expected to play in the 21st century.