World Bank Country Director for GCC: Non-Oil Sector to Drive Saudi Growth

World Bank’s Country Director for the Gulf Cooperation Council Safaa El-Kogali
World Bank’s Country Director for the Gulf Cooperation Council Safaa El-Kogali
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World Bank Country Director for GCC: Non-Oil Sector to Drive Saudi Growth

World Bank’s Country Director for the Gulf Cooperation Council Safaa El-Kogali
World Bank’s Country Director for the Gulf Cooperation Council Safaa El-Kogali

The World Bank expects the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region to grow by 2.8% in 2024 and 4.7% in 2025. This growth is driven by OPEC+ gradually increasing oil production from mid-2024 and strong non-oil economic activities.

In Saudi Arabia, the economy is predicted to grow by 2.5% this year, thanks to a booming non-oil private sector. The non-oil sector is set to grow by 4.8% in 2024, while the oil sector is expected to shrink by 0.8%.

These predictions highlight the GCC’s shift towards diversifying its economies beyond oil.

The World Bank has updated its growth forecast for the GCC region. It now expects a lower growth rate of 2.8% for this year, down from the previous estimate of 3.6%.

However, the growth outlook for next year has increased to 4.7%, up from the earlier projection of 3.7%.

Safaa El-Kogali, the World Bank’s Country Director for the GCC, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the region’s economic performance slowed to 0.7% in 2023 due to OPEC+ oil production cuts, despite strong growth in 2022.

On the other hand, non-oil sectors grew by 3.9%, thanks to ongoing reforms and diversification efforts.

El-Kogali is optimistic about the future, predicting GDP growth of 2.8% in 2024 and 4.7% in 2025. This positive outlook is due to the expected gradual increase in oil production and the continued strong performance of non-oil sectors.

Moreover, the World Bank predicted the GCC’s non-oil GDP will grow by 3.6% this year and 3.5% in the medium term, fueled by expansive fiscal policies, low interest rates, and strong private consumption and investment.

Oil GDP is expected to grow by 1.7% in 2024 and jump to 6.9% in 2025 as oil production quotas gradually increase.

Oil and gas revenues will remain critical for the region’s fiscal policies and external balances. The fiscal surplus for GCC countries is expected to narrow to 0.1% of GDP in 2024, with the current account surplus projected to be 7.5% of GDP, down from 8.4% in 2022.

El-Kogali warned of significant uncertainties and risks.

“The outlook is clouded by uncertainty and downside risks,” she said.

“The conflict in the Middle East poses substantial risks, especially if it escalates or involves other regional actors,” added El-Kogali.

“While such tensions could drive up oil prices, bringing unexpected gains for the GCC, they could also destabilize financial and trade markets and weaken economic confidence,” she explained.

El-Kogali also noted risks like slower growth in China, prolonged high interest rates, and severe climate conditions, all of which could negatively impact the region.

Assessing Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification efforts, El-Kogali said: “Saudi Arabia has already taken significant steps towards realizing its economic potential and diversifying away from oil reliance.”

“Structural reforms have been implemented over the past two years, demonstrating the Kingdom’s commitment to reform,” she asserted.

“Economic diversification lies at the heart of Vision 2030, with all efforts aimed at achieving this national goal. We see Saudi Arabia making significant progress in diversifying the real economy and increasing the contribution of non-oil sectors to GDP.”

“Improvements in public finance revenue diversification are evident, with non-oil revenue increasing from 3.5% of GDP in 2011 to 12% in 2023.”

“However, there’s room for further focus and improvement in diversifying Saudi export baskets, as non-oil exports remain modest, accounting for less than 10% of GDP,” noted El-Kogali.



IMF Praises Saudi Arabia’s Unprecedented Economic Transformation

Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit: IMF (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit: IMF (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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IMF Praises Saudi Arabia’s Unprecedented Economic Transformation

Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit: IMF (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit: IMF (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has praised Saudi Arabia’s significant economic changes under the “Vision 2030” national transformation plan, noting improvements in public finances and business regulations.
An IMF mission expected non-oil growth in Saudi Arabia to reach around 3.5% in 2024, crediting careful economic policies and major reforms.
The mission also highlighted record-low unemployment rates and controlled inflation in the country, and welcomed recent updates to funding requirements aligned with “Vision 2030” goals.
The IMF released a concluding statement at the end of its official staff visit to Saudi Arabia.
In the statement, the IMF said: “Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented economic transformation is progressing well.”
“Prudent macroeconomic policies, transformative changes—including through fiscal reforms and in the regulatory business environment—and strong domestic demand have helped prop up non-oil growth. Inflation remains contained.”
“Spending reprioritization and recalibration of major spending programs are ongoing. Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit.”
“Building on these successes, it will be important to sustain the non-oil growth momentum, maintain financial sector stability, continue mitigating risks of overheating, reverse declining total factor productivity and ensure inter-generational equity.”
Economic Activity Remains Robust
According to the IMF, real non-oil growth decelerated from 5.3% in 2022 to a still robust 3.8% in 2023, driven mostly by private consumption and non-oil investment.
While non-oil growth for Q1-2024 indicates some moderation in economic activity— the IMF staff estimated that the output gap remains in positive territory, close to 2% of the non-oil potential GDP.
The statement also noted that the Saudi economy weathered the geopolitical tensions in the Middle East well, thanks to minimal trade and financial exposures to the affected regions and uninterrupted shipments.
Unemployment Rate Reached Historic Lows
In 2023, the Saudi economy added over one million jobs, primarily in the private sector. The overall unemployment rate for Saudis dropped to 7.7% in the last quarter of 2023—inching closer to the 2030 Vision objective of 7%.
Labor force participation rates have remained at historically high levels but relatively flat over the past year for both men and women, albeit with the women’s rate still comfortably exceeding the Vision 2030 goal of 30%.
Headline Inflation Has Decelerated Rapidly
After peaking at 3.4% in January 2023, year-on-year inflation receded to 1.6% in April 2024, helped by an appreciating nominal effective exchange rate.
However, rents are growing at a brisk rate of about 10% amid inflows of expatriate workers and large redevelopment plans in Riyadh and Jeddah.
Wholesale prices have also edged up recently, reflecting an increase in input costs. So far, some uptick has been observed in the wages of high-skilled workers.
Additionally, the current account surplus narrowed significantly.
The decline in the current account surplus from 13.7% of GDP in 2022 to 3.2% of GDP in 2023 mainly reflected lower oil exports and strong growth in investment-related imports.
These were partly mitigated by a record surplus in the services balance, including a 38 percent surge in net tourism income.
The Saudi Central Bank’s (SAMA) holding of net foreign assets reached $423.7 billion in April 2024, which was slightly above the end-2023 level.
Reserves remain ample, representing 15.6 months of imports and 208% of the IMF’s reserve adequacy metric by end-2023.