On the 28th of January, the Forum convened an online meeting of economic policymakers, specialists at International Financial Institutions, and parliamentarians from Egypt, Jordan, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States. The meeting identified urgent recommendations for policymakers to strengthen cooperation in the region and with Europe to address common economic challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Where in 2020 governments were confronted by a common problem and experience, 2021 is likely to be defined by divergence and undermining any sense of solidarity. As wealthier economies gain first access to vaccines and entertain the prospects of the pandemic ending, poorer and middle-income countries are being left behind. With the enduring scale of the health crisis, successful measures to contain the virus such as lockdowns (with direct cash support, credits, loans, subsidies and tax breaks) have become economically unsustainable. From Egypt to Tunisia to Jordan, a deepening unemployment crisis is on the horizon bringing heightened public frustration, social unrest and political instability. While the pandemic is too big for countries to fight alone, governments in the Gulf-MENA region lack effective mechanisms to facilitate regional cooperation in addressing the most urgent challenges or to advocate at the level of international economic dialogue. Middle income countries in the Gulf-MENA are neither rich enough to be at the front of the queue for purchasing vaccines, nor poor enough to be first beneficiaries of COVAX – the global mechanism for ensuring fair and equitable access to the vaccine. Long standing economic challenges and weaknesses in Gulf-MENA countries have been exacerbated by the pandemic. However, elements of the economy and business community have adapted to new pressures of the pandemic. Governments have the opportunity to utilise these opportunities to generate new dynamics in their economies and realise reforms.