- The economy is recovering well amid high oil prices, with real GDP projected to reach its pre-pandemic level this year.
- Cushioning the impact of surging food prices on the most vulnerable is the most urgent priority.
- Using the current favorable oil market conditions to accelerate structural reforms and advance socio-economic priorities will be key to strengthen Iraq's medium-term economic resilience.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Tokhir Mirzoev, visited to Amman, Jordan, during May 14-18, 2022, to discuss with the Iraqi authorities recent economic developments, the impact of global events on the economic outlook, and the country's policy priorities. At the conclusion of the visit, Mr. Mirzoev issued the following statement:
"The economic recovery is well underway. In 2021, buoyed by the resumption of activity, a more accommodative fiscal stance, and stimulus measures by the central bank, real non-oil GDP rebounded by an estimated 20 percent and is poised to expand by around 5 percent this year. Oil output is projected to reach its pre-pandemic level and bring overall real GDP growth to 10 percent in 2022. The war in Ukraine is affecting Iraq mainly through its global impact on commodity prices. In 2022, soaring oil revenues will more than offset the increased food and energy import bills. As a result, the fiscal and current account balances are projected to post double-digit surpluses in percent of GDP. Nonetheless, headline inflation is expected to climb to 6.9 percent, up from 6 percent last year, driven in part by higher food prices, which are adversely affecting the poorest segments of the population.
"Cushioning the impact of surging food prices on the most vulnerable is thus the most urgent priority. With fiscal policy paralyzed by the absence of the 2022 budget-which limits current fiscal expenditures to last year's level-strengthening spending efficiency, maintaining tight control over public hiring, and reprioritizing expenditures within the overall budget cap will be essential to enable boosting targeted cash transfers to the most vulnerable and containing the poverty impact of the rising cost of living.
"In an environment of high oil prices and against the background of elevated global risks and uncertainty, the focus of macroeconomic policies needs to shift toward consolidating economic stability and strengthening Iraq's long-term economic resilience. In the short run, maintaining fiscal discipline and tapering the central bank's lending support to the real estate sector will help avoid adding to inflationary pressures. In addition, despite large reconstruction and other investment needs, limited near-term absorptive capacity, fiscal vulnerability to oil price volatility, and the challenges of the global energy transition call for building buffers for the future by saving a portion of oil revenues via a carefully designed sovereign wealth fund.
"The current favorable oil market conditions also provide an opportunity to accelerate structural reforms envisaged in the authorities' "White Paper." Strengthening the quality of public services and creating the fiscal space for much-needed investments and the social safety net require a civil service reform, reducing inefficient energy subsidies, diversifying fiscal revenues, and strengthening governance. Fixing the electricity sector will be crucial to reduce fiscal costs and enable private sector productivity. Improving the coverage and targeting of social assistance will help better protect the most vulnerable. Enhancing governance in large state-owned banks and completing their audits and restructuring will facilitate access to finance and job creation by the private sector.
"The mission welcomes the authorities' increased attention to the challenges of climate change and the release of Iraq's first Nationally Determined Contribution document last year. In the coming months, the mission encourages prioritizing the preparation of national climate adaptation and mitigation plans, development of green financing, and full integration of climate-related priorities into the macroeconomic policy framework. The IMF stands ready to support Iraq in these endeavors.
"The IMF staff team would like to thank the authorities for candid and productive discussions and looks forward to continuing close cooperation with Iraq in the period ahead."