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Development Account Projects

Strengthening the statistical capacity of the countries members of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in producing and disseminating short-term economic indicators for sustainable growth

Background:

Short-term macroeconomic fluctuations are increasingly impacting the socioeconomic well-being of people in countries all over the world. As multiple economic shocks, crises and emergencies strike at the global, regional and national levels, developing countries in particular are struggling to safeguard precious developmental gains and race to adapt to new economic realities and their impact on economic progress and social spending. In the ESCWA region, in particular, short-term policy issues have become more critical for policymakers in their quest to guide the direction of their economies in the short term and of their sustainable development in the longer term. The recent food, energy and financial crises, not to mention the rapidly changing political and security situations in many countries, demonstrate the need for a minimum set of “early warning”, short-term economic indicators, adapted to the region, that are capable of providing rapid, easily accessible and reliable information on the state of the economy and the business cycle.

However, owing to the lack of quarterly and monthly economic data in most ESCWA member countries, policymakers are faced with difficulties in measuring and projecting the consequences of short-term economic developments. Even in some countries where short-term indicators are compiled, they are not seasonally adjusted to take into account, for example, the monthly industrial production and quarterly national accounts or employment statistics. This inability to produce, analyse and disseminate short-term economic data results in a knowledge deficit not only for policymakers and economists, but also for the media and the general public.

The programme statement of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Statistics Division at the fortieth session of the Statistical Commission, in 2009, called for swift and coordinated statistical initiatives by countries and international organizations in response to the global economic and financial crisis. The Statistics Division, together with Eurostat, jointly organized two international seminars, held in Ottawa in May 2009, and in the Netherlands in December 2009, on the methodology for generating high-quality early warning and business cycle indicators, their international comparability and the communications strategy for such indicators. A global template of short-term indicators on the performance of the real economy and the financial markets for effective monitoring statistics was proposed and covered 12 categories: national accounts, production and turnover indicators, prices, labour market, the external, financial, non-financial and household sectors, general Government, financial and real estate market indicators, and economic sentiment. An assessment of the availability, periodicity and timeliness of those short-term indicators was conducted by the Division in 2010.

In line with the ongoing international efforts for capacity-building, ESCWA proposes the current project to assist member countries in identifying a core list of eight short-term economic indicators according to five priority areas within the responsibilities of the national statistical offices. While the project will broadly target all countries members of ESCWA, technical assistance will be focused on seven of them, taking into account existing infrastructure at the national level and the capacities of the respective national statistical offices, to ensure the feasibility of the project’s implementation and its impact. The seven focus countries encompass different subregions, varied income levels and conflict countries so as to maximize the exchange of knowledge among countries and the lessons to be learned. These countries are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia and the State of Palestine. At the conclusion of the project, all seven countries are expected to produce the selected short-term economic indicators in a timely manner, in accessible and analytically useful formats, gender-disaggregated whenever possible, and using recent information technology tools.

Cooperation with the Statistics Division will ensure that lessons learned and existing methodologies and agreed indicators at the global level feed into the work to be produced in ESCWA countries. The Commission’s own experts will be involved in economic development and globalization in order to secure the quality of the indicators through participation in inter-agency and expert groups meetings, the provision of technical assistance to countries and coordination with United Nations-related agencies and policymaking divisions within ESCWA. ESCWA will also partner with ECA to coordinate the activities in the five North African member Arab countries that are members of both commissions. Finally, ESCWA will partner with the Middle East Technical Assistance Centre of IMF on capacity-building activities and methodological documents.

Objective:

To strengthen the statistical capacity of Governments in the countries members of ESCWA to produce and disseminate priority short-term economic indicators in order to support decision makers’ capacity to anticipate, design and implement policies necessary to ensure inclusive, equitable and sustainable development

Expected accomplishments:

  • Consensus on a regional and subregional set of core short-term economic indicators according to economic priority
  • Improved capacity of Governments in the countries members of ESCWA to collect, produce, estimate and disseminate methods of short-term economic indicators according to international standards
  • Increased use of short-term economic indicators for monitoring economic development and progress by policymakers, the business community, research institutions and other users of statistics, and the macroeconomic impact of the use of trade-related support measures on the export sector and growth

Implementation status:

  • Assessment missions will be conducted to the seven pilot countries.
  • The Project implementations commenced in September 2014 and missions to Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia were executed abd during those missions, awareness was raised on international recommendations and methodologies on compilation and dissemination of STEI.
  • Issues of concern to be strengthened in the three countries in the compilation, processing and dissemination of STEI were discussed with national officials.
  • The outcome of these assessments will be included in the capacity building activities such as the training workshops and study tours.