Middle East

Student Stories: Analyzing Trade with UAE's Ministry of Economy

Enzo Dominguez Prost head shotEnzo Dominguez Prost is a second-year MPA/ID student at Harvard Kennedy School. He was accepted into the Growth Lab's 2022 Summer Internship Program and contributed to the UAE project. Our team is developing rigorous research to inform the Ministry of Economy in devising a dynamic trade policy, geared towards promoting structural transformation in the UAE and achieving sustained long-term economic growth.... Read more about Student Stories: Analyzing Trade with UAE's Ministry of Economy

Student Stories: Forecasting Inflation for the UAE

Fernando Mundaca is currently pursuing a master's degree in the MPA/ID program at Harvard Kennedy School (expected graduation in May 2023). He was accepted into the Growth Lab's 2022 Summer Internship Program and contributed to the UAE project. Our team is developing rigorous research to inform the Ministry of Economy in devising a dynamic trade policy, geared towards promoting structural transformation in the UAE and achieving sustained long-term economic growth.... Read more about Student Stories: Forecasting Inflation for the UAE

Student Stories: Overcoming Unique Challenges in the UAE

Harumi Hasegawa photoHarumi Hasegawa Sanchez is a second-year MPA/ID student at Harvard Kennedy School. She was accepted into the Growth Lab's 2022 Summer Internship Program and contributed to the UAE project. Our team is developing rigorous research to inform the Ministry of Economy in devising a dynamic trade policy, geared towards promoting structural transformation in the UAE and achieving sustained long-term economic growth.... Read more about Student Stories: Overcoming Unique Challenges in the UAE

O'Brien, T., et al., 2022. What Will It Take for Jordan to Grow?.Abstract
This report aims to answer the critical but difficult question: "What will it take for Jordan to grow?" Though Jordan has numerous active growth and reform strategies in place, they do not clearly answer this fundamental question. The Jordanian economy has experienced more than a decade of slow growth. Per capita income today is lower than it was prior to the Global Financial Crisis as Jordan has experienced a refugee-driven population increase. Jordan’s comparative advantages have narrowed over time as external shocks and responses to these shocks have changed the productive structure of Jordan’s economy. This was a problem well before the country faced the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jordanian economy has lost productivity, market access, and, critically, the ability to afford high levels of imports as a share of GDP. Significant efforts toward fiscal consolidation have further constrained aggregate demand, which has slowed non-tradable activity and the ability of the economy to create jobs. Labor market outcomes have worsened over time and are especially bad for women and youth. Looking ahead, this report identifies clear and significant opportunities for Jordan to strengthen new engines of export growth that would enable better overall job creation and resilience, even amidst the continued unpredictability of the pandemic. This report argues that there is need for a paradigm shift in Jordan’s growth strategy to focus more direct attention and resources on activating “agents of change” to accelerate the emergence of key growth opportunities, and that there are novel roles that donor countries can play in support of this.
Lopesciolo, M., Muhaj, D. & Pan, C., 2021. The Quest for Increased Saudization: Labor Market Outcomes and the Shadow Price of Workforce Nationalization Policies.Abstract
Few countries have embraced active labor market policies to the same extent as Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the imperative of increasing Saudi employment became paramount. The country faced one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world while over 80 percent of its private sector consisted of foreign labor. Since 2011, a wave of employment nationalization efforts has been mainly implemented through a comprehensive and strictly enforced industry and firm specific quota system known as Nitaqat. This paper assesses the employment gains as well as the costs and unintended consequences resulting from Nitaqat and related policies between 2011 and 2017. We find that while job nationalization policies generated significant initial gains in Saudi employment and labor force participation, the effects were heterogeneous across workers, firms and sectors. Moreover, our analysis suggests that the resulting unintended consequences far outweighed the benefits over time generating a less cost-effective and productivity inhibiting labor market composition.
 
Hani, F. & Lopesciolo, M., 2021. Understanding Saudi Private Sector Employment and Unemployment.Abstract

This paper analyzes the changes in Saudi employment and unemployment between 2009 and 2018 and argues that a supply-demand skill mismatch exacerbated by insufficient job creation, and prevalent Saudi preferences and beliefs about employment underpin the high unemployment problem that coexists with low Saudi employment in the private sector in the country.

Jordan: The Elements of a Growth Strategy

Between 1999 and 2009, Jordan experienced a huge growth acceleration, tripling its exports and increasing income per capita by 38%. Since then, its economy has been thrown off balance, impacted by a number of external shocks that include the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, and the Syrian Civil War. For the past year, The Growth Lab has been working in the country with the goal of understanding what is hindering income growth per capita and drafting a roadmap to help Jordan get back on a sustainable growth track. On today's Growth Lab podcast, Director of Applied Research,...

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Cortes, P., Kasoolu, S. & Pan, C., 2020. Labor Market Nationalization Policies and Firm Outcomes: Evidence from Saudi Arabia.Abstract
Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s third largest migrant population. Under mounting pressure to increase the private sector employment of Saudis during the last decade, a series of nationalization policies on the labor force have been imposed since late 2011. In this paper, we study how the first nationalization policy, Nitaqat, affected the overall labor market and non-oil firms in the private sector, especially exporting firms. Our rich and novel data allow us to assess the effect of the policy on a wide set of outcomes: employment decisions by composition and size, the output and productivity of exporting firms, labor costs, and exit from the market. Using a difference-in-difference analysis, we compare the 2011 to 2012 change in outcomes between firms above and firms below the threshold required for the minimum share of Saudi workers in a firm. Our results suggest that the policy succeeded in encouraging firms to increase the share of Saudis in private firms. It also increased the share of Saudi women in the workforce, suggesting that the policy had a positive effect on increasing female labor force participation. However, these gains came at a very high cost to firms: our findings suggest that the policy led to a reduced firm size, reduced productivity and output of exporting firms, increased wage bill, increased share of low-skilled Saudi workers, and higher firm exit rates.

Female Labor in Jordan

Women in Jordan are excluded from labor market opportunities at among the highest rates in the world. Previous efforts to explain this outcome have focused on specific, isolated aspects of the problem and have not exploited available datasets to test across causal explanations. In this podcast, Emma Cameron, student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, interviews Growth Lab Research Fellow Semiray Kasoolu. Semiray discusses Growth Lab...

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Macroeconomic Stability & Long-Term Growth in Jordan

The Macroeconomic Stability & Long-Term Growth in Jordan project deployed research guided by Growth Diagnostic and Economic Complexity methodologies, first to understand constraints to growth and key opportunities and later to guide problem-specific research.

Hausmann, R., et al., 2019. A Roadmap for Investment Promotion and Export Diversification: The Case of Jordan.Abstract

Jordan faces a number of pressing economic challenges: low growth, high unemployment, rising debt levels, and continued vulnerability to regional shocks. After a decade of fast economic growth, the economy decelerated with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09. From then onwards, various external shocks have thrown its economy out of balance and prolonged the slowdown for over a decade now. Conflicts in neighboring countries have led to reduced demand from key export markets and cut off important trade routes. Foreign direct investment, which averaged 12.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) between 2003-2009, fell to 5.1% of GDP over the 2010-2017. Regional conflicts have interrupted the supply of gas from Egypt – forcing Jordan to import oil at a time of record prices, had a negative impact on tourism, and also provoked a massive influx of migrants and refugees. Failure to cope with 50.4% population growth between led to nine consecutive years (2008-2017) of negative growth rates in GDP per capita, resulting in a cumulative loss of 14.0% over the past decade (2009-2018). Debt to GDP ratios, which were at 55% by the end of 2009, have skyrocketed to 94%.

Over the previous five years Jordan has undertaken a significant process of fiscal consolidation. The resulting reduction in fiscal impulse is among the largest registered in the aftermath of the Financial Crises, third only to Greece and Jamaica, and above Portugal and Spain. Higher taxes, lower subsidies, and sharp reductions in public investment have in turn furthered the recession. Within a context of lower aggregate demand, more consolidation is needed to bring debt-to-GDP ratios back to normal. The only way to break that vicious cycle and restart inclusive growth is by leveraging on foreign markets, developing new exports and attracting investments aimed at increasing competitiveness and strengthening the external sector. The theory of economic complexity provides a solid base to identify opportunities with high potential for export diversification. It allows to identify the existing set of knowhow, skills and capacities as signaled by the products and services that Jordan is able to make, and to define existing and latent areas of comparative advantage that can be developed by redeploying them. Service sectors have been growing in importance within the Jordanian economy and will surely play an important role in export diversification. In order to account for that, we have developed an adjusted framework that allows to identify the most attractive export sectors including services.

Based on that adjusted framework, this report identifies export themes with a high potential to drive growth in Jordan while supporting increasing wage levels and delivering positive spillovers to the non-tradable economy. The general goal is to provide a roadmap with key elements of a strategy for Jordan to return to a high economic growth path that is consistent with its emerging comparative advantages.

Revised March 2020
Kasoolu, S., et al., 2019. Female Labor in Jordan: A Systematic Approach to the Exclusion Puzzle.Abstract

Women in Jordan are excluded from labor market opportunities at among the highest rates in the world. Previous efforts to explain this outcome have focused on specific, isolated aspects of the problem and have not exploited available datasets to test across causal explanations. We develop a comprehensive framework to analyze the drivers of low female employment rates in Jordan and systematically test their validity, using micro-level data from Employment and Unemployment Surveys (2008-2018) and the Jordanian Labor Market Panel Survey (2010-2016). We find that the nature of low female inclusion in Jordan’s labor market varies significantly with educational attainment, and identify evidence for different factors affecting different educational groups. Among women with high school education or less, we observe extremely low participation levels and find the strongest evidence for this phenomenon tracing to traditional social norms and poor public transportation. On the higher end of the education spectrum – university graduates and above – we find that the problem is not one of participation, but rather of unemployment, which we attribute to a small and undiversified private sector that is unable to accommodate women’s needs for work and work-family balance.

Listen to a podcast interview with author Semiray Kasoolu about her research on women and labor force exclusion in Jordan

Hausmann, R., et al., 2019. Jordan: The Elements of a Growth Strategy.Abstract

In the decade 1999-2009, Jordan experienced an impressive growth acceleration, tripling its exports and increasing income per capita by 38%. Since then, a number of external shocks that include the Global Financial Crisis (2008-2009), the Arab Spring (2011), the Syrian Civil War (2011), and the emergence of the Islamic State (2014) have affected Jordan in significant ways and thrown its economy out of balance. Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned from 55% (2009) to 94% (2018). The economy has continued to grow amidst massive fiscal adjustment and balance of payments constraints, but the large increase in population – by 50% between 2008 and 2017 – driven by massive waves of refugees has resulted in a 12% cumulative loss in income per capita (2010-2017). Moving forward, debt sustainability will require not only continued fiscal consolidation but also faster growth and international support to keep interest payments on the debt contained. We have developed an innovative framework to align Jordan’s growth strategy with its changing factor endowments. The framework incorporates service industries into an Economic Complexity analysis, utilizing the Dun and Bradstreet database, together with an evaluation of the evolution of Jordan’s comparative advantages over time. Combining several tools to identify critical constraints faced by sectors with the greatest potential, we have produced a roadmap with key elements of a strategy for Jordan to return to faster, more sustainable and more inclusive growth that is consistent with its emerging comparative advantages.

Diwan, I. & Haidar, J.I., 2016. Do Political Connections Reduce Job Creation? Evidence from Lebanon.Abstract
Using firm-level census data, we determine how politically-connected firms (PCFs) reduce job creation in Lebanon. After observing that large firms account for the bulk of net job creation, we find that PCFs are larger and create more jobs, but are also less productive, than non-PCFs in their sectors. On a net basis, at the sector-level, each additional PCF reduces jobs created by 7.2% and jobs created by non-PCFs by 11.3%. These findings support the notion that politically-connected firms are used for clientelistic purposes in Lebanon, exchanging privileges for jobs that benefit their patrons’ supporters.

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