Eritrea: IMF Executive Board Concludes 2019 Article IV Consultation With the State of Eritrea

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On July 22, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV Consultation [1] with the State of Eritrea.

Eritrea has recently emerged from a long period of conflict and international sanctions, which together deprived the country of vital investment, trading opportunities and external support, and left the economy in a difficult situation. Notwithstanding these challenging conditions, the Eritrean authorities have made considerable progress on some development goals, notably in the health and education sectors.

The macroeconomic situation is, however, dire. A sustained period of high deficits, financed through monetization and external borrowing, left Eritrea in debt distress. The banking sector is in a highly vulnerable position due to weak asset quality, scarce foreign currency and tight monetary controls. The economy, dominated by agriculture and mining, is highly vulnerable to shocks and has experienced several episodes of large negative growth in recent years. Reported inflation for the Asmara region has been negative in 2016-18 but has started to stabilize in recent months.

The near-term outlook for real GDP growth is challenging due to the tight fiscal situation and existing restrictions on economic activity. Over the medium term, prospects for a pick-up in growth are promising, including due to new mining projects that are well advanced coming on stream. Moreover, the peace agreement with Ethiopia in July 2018 and removal of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council in November 2018 provide a welcome opportunity for Eritrea to build an impetus for economic development, restore capacity and begin implementing much needed reforms.

Executive Board Assessment [2]

Executive Directors welcomed the authorities' efforts to reengage with the international community and notably with the Fund through the Article IV consultation process. Directors noted that prolonged conflict had exacerbated Eritrea's economic difficulties and that the macroeconomic situation and near‑term growth prospects are challenging. They underscored the importance of securing macro‑financial stability, addressing the unsustainable debt burden, and removing impediments to private sector‑led growth. Directors emphasized the important role of technical assistance in supporting the country's development and encouraged close cooperation with the Fund.

Directors noted that the peace agreement and removal of international sanctions provide an opportunity for Eritrea to build an impetus for development and bring vital aid and investment resources to the country. They encouraged the authorities to begin implementing reforms to accelerate the development process, and welcomed the authorities' intention to pursue an economic development strategy that envisages a strong role for the private sector. Directors underscored that significant reforms and investment, public and private, are necessary to diversify the economy and reduce its dependence on agriculture and mining.

Directors welcomed the authorities' recent efforts to adjust the fiscal position and their intention to limit budget financing and focus on securing grants and concessional loans. Nonetheless, they stressed that continued fiscal pressures could complicate macroeconomic management and warranted continued vigilance. Directors encouraged the authorities to pursue fiscal restraint not only by spending cuts, but also by improving tax collection and broadening the revenue base, while making room for social spending.

Directors noted that Eritrea remains in debt distress with a weak external position. They noted that arrears accumulation, weak debt‑servicing capacity, and relatively low foreign exchange reserves call for strong measures to put debt back on a sustainable path. Accordingly, they called on the authorities to develop a comprehensive debt resolution strategy, including regularizing arrears to unlock external support and ease macroeconomic adjustment efforts.

Directors noted that financial sector stability is crucial to establish the basis for banks to engage in financial intermediation and for the Bank of Eritrea (BOE) to conduct monetary policy. They advised the authorities to update holistically the legal framework, including to restate the BOE's independence. Directors also encouraged steps to align the AML/CFT framework with international standards.

Directors emphasized that restrictions impeding the private sector should be eliminated and recommended that the authorities reduce state monopolies, impose hard budget constraints on public enterprises and banks, ease foreign exchange restrictions, improve access to financial services, and strengthen property rights. They underscored that actions to improve governance and reduce vulnerabilities to corruption would also be important.

Directors stressed the need for capacity building tailored to country circumstances, particularly the production and analysis of data. They encouraged the authorities to make use of technical assistance from the IMF and other partners in a well sequenced and coordinated manner.

Table 1. State of Eritrea: Selected Economic Indicators, 2015-21

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

Preliminary

Est.

Projections

(Percentage change, unless otherwise indicated)

National income and prices

GDP at constant market prices

-20.6

7.4

-9.6

12.2

3.1

3.9

4.0

GDP deflator

-3.0

0.8

-4.1

-6.8

2.0

0.1

2.0

Consumer price index, period average /1

28.5

-5.6

-13.3

-14.4

-27.6

0.0

2.0

Consumer price index, end of period /1

50.8

-22.0

-18.2

-29.3

-0.1

0.0

2.0

Nominal GDP at market prices (millions of nakfa)

30,826

33,367

28,935

30,252

31,809

33,054

35,075

External trade

Exports of goods and services, f.o.b.

-20.5

-26.6

29.8

11.9

-4.8

1.4

1.9

Imports of goods and services, f.o.b.

-18.0

-14.8

5.5

17.3

8.5

2.8

11.2

Real effective exchange rate (annual average) /2

26.0

18.9

15.3

14.9

...

...

...

Nominal effective exchange rate (annual average)/2

10.1

4.1

0.8

0.0

...

...

...

Money and credit

Net foreign assets /3

1.3

-1.3

2.1

1.4

-0.6

1.7

0.1

Net domestic assets /3

2.0

5.8

-2.0

-1.2

0.6

1.4

0.6

Net claims on the central government /3

0.7

3.5

2.2

-2.0

-0.2

-0.2

-0.4

Credit to the economy /3

3.1

3.5

0.8

2.0

1.4

2.5

1.5

Broad money

3.2

4.5

0.1

0.2

0.1

3.0

0.7

(Percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)

Central government operations

Total revenue and grants

28.4

29.9

35.4

37.9

32.9

35.3

32.8

Of which: external grants

2.0

1.9

2.4

1.0

0.2

2.4

0.0

Expenditure and net lending

31.2

25.7

33.3

23.3

29.1

34.2

32.5

Of which: externally financed expenditures /4

5.5

3.3

4.4

0.6

0.6

5.2

3.4

Overall fiscal balance (including grants)

-2.8

4.1

2.1

14.6

3.8

1.1

0.3

Financing

2.8

-4.1

-2.1

-14.6

-3.8

-1.1

-0.3

Domestic (net) /5

1.7

-4.1

-1.6

-14.2

-0.6

-0.5

-0.8

External (net)

1.1

0.0

-0.5

-0.5

-3.2

-0.6

0.4

Primary domestic balance

2.8

7.7

6.2

15.8

5.9

5.3

5.1

Balance of payments

Exports of goods and services, f.o.b.

31.6

21.0

31.5

33.7

30.5

29.8

28.6

Imports of goods and services, f.o.b.

26.7

20.6

25.1

28.2

29.1

28.8

30.2

Current account (including official transfers)

20.8

15.3

23.8

16.6

11.3

13.2

8.1

Overall balance of payments

-2.4

0.1

-0.1

0.7

-1.2

3.8

0.3

Gross international reserves (US$ millions)

112.3

113.6

111.0

124.9

98.8

181.1

187.9

(Months of imports of goods and services)

2.9

2.8

2.4

2.4

1.9

3.1

2.8

Public debt

Domestic public debt

207.5

191.6

217.8

202.6

190.0

180.3

167.9

External public debt

66.2

59.6

70.3

64.4

58.0

55.2

52.5

Sources: Eritrean authorities and IMF staff estimates.

/1

The consumer price index covers Asmara only.

/2

Positive = appreciation.

/3

Change, percent of beginning-of-period broad money.

/4

Includes both current and capital expenditures.

/5

Includes errors and omissions.

[1] Under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country's economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

[2] At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country's authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summings up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm .

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