Ekonomske analize
Liberia

Liberia

Population 4.2 million
GDP 473 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2014 2015  2016 (f) 2017 (f)
GDP growth (%) 0,7 0,0 -0,5 3,0
Inflation (yearly average) (%) 9,9 7,7 8,6 8,5
Budget balance (% GDP) -1,8 -11,4 -7,1 -8,4
Current account balance (% GDP) -32,7 -34,7 -30,5 -26,6
Public debt (% GDP) 33,4 39,2 42,8 46,2

 

(e) Estimate (f) Forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Diversity of natural resources (rubber, iron, gold, diamonds and oil)
  • Strong support from the interational community
  • Growing investment in mining and in infrastructure
  • Member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

WEAKNESSES

  • Infrastructure shortcomings
  • Dependent on the price of commodity exports (energy and food products)
  • High levels of poverty and unemployment
  • Recent Ebola epidemic
  • Recent and fragile democracy
  • Difficult business climate

RISK ASSESSMENT

Difficult return to economic growth after the Ebola virus epidemic

Liberia was one of the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola virus. The economic losses associated with these health risks, the health expenditure and capital flight continued to hit growth in 2016. They were further exacerbated by weak iron ore and rubber prices, which account for 46% of exports (2015). Commodity exports were disappointing, in particular becuse of lower than expected gold production. In 2017, the macroeconomic environment will remain difficult, with commodity export prices rising slowly. The gradual recovery is expected, nonetheless, to be supported by a revival in gold production and in agricultural output. The completion of major transport and energy infrastructure project, like that of the Mount Coffee hydroelectric plant, and the launch of projects delayed by the epidemic, such as the start of drilling off the Liberian coast by ExxonMobil in late 2016, are expected to help relaunch private investment. Nevertheless, investment will still be considerably hampered by the precarious business environment: the forthcoming 2017 presidential elections, the current scandal involving members of the ruling party and the withdrawal of troops of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in December 2016, which had been deployed since the end of the civil war in 2003 are factors as likely to deter investors, on top of the risk of another Ebola epidemic.

With regard to consumer prices, inflationary pressures will remain in 2017 mainly because of the depreciation of the Liberian dollar and this despite the general fall in food prices.

 

 

A marked improvement in the double deficit is unlikely in 2017

The budget was significantly affected by the consequences of the Ebola virus. Government revenues were weaker than expected in 2016 and will continue to be limited by low growth. At the same time, spending will remain high, particularly social spending to help the most destitute and the budget dedicated to infrastructure. Moreover, spending on security to make up for the departure of UN troops (UNMIL) and spending on the organisation of elections is also expected to weigh on the fiscal balance. The budgetary restrictions introduced in the 2015/2016 budget have to date not been sufficient to significantly reduce the deficit. In 2017, Liberia will certainly be able to count on help from the IMF which is expected to prolong the Arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility until November 2017 in order to help support the country's macro-economic stability until the October elections. Despite debti relief of USD 36.5 million from the IMF in 2015, the public debt as a percentage of GDP will continue to rise and is nearing a worrying level.

 

The current account balance is expected to remain very high in 2017. On the one hand, weak prices for export commodities will limit export revenues, which declined by more than 55% in 2015. On the other hand, the constraints limiting agricultural production will require an increase in the procurement of foodstuffs. Imports are also likely to be sustained by investment in infrastructure and the expansion of projects in the mining sector. As a result, the trade balance will again run a deficit. On a positive note, Liberia's accession to the WTO in July 2016 should simplify customs procedures and duties helping eventually to strengthen its commercial competitiveness. Transfers of funds from international donors are expected to help moderate the current account deficit.

 

Democratic transition from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a fragile political context

At the head of the Liberian State since January 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has contributed to the marked improvement in the political situation since the end of the civil war (2003) and the transition period that followed (2003-2006). The political climate remains fragile nonetheless as the many ministerial reshuffles in recent years testify. Meanwhile the withdrawal of the UNMIL troops after 13 years of presence in a country suffering from major socioeconomic frustrations (unemployment, poverty) is a threat to political stability in the run up to the presdential and parliamentary elections in October 2017. The presidential elections will be a high stakes turning point as the first democratic handover takes place with the stepping down of  Ms Sirleaf at the end of her mandate. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, the current president is yielding her place as candidate for the Unity Party to Vice President Joseph Boakai. Standing against him, his main rival is likely to be Benoni Urey, an influential businessman, who could however suffer from the perception that he made his fortune during the civil war and from his possible links with former president Charles Taylor, imprisioned in the United Kingdom for crimes against humanity. The reforms to recognise customary land rights and a new corruption scandal involving the Unity Party representatives are likely to be at the heart of the election campaign. Despite the commitments made and the measures taken by Ms Mme Sirleaf's government, the business climate remains poor (placed 174th out of 190 countries in the Doing Business 2017 rankings). The issues at stake in the transition and in the potential political changeover are substantial in view of the social tensions within the country and the heightened risk of violent clashes with the departure of the UNMIL. Large-scale cross-border movement of firearms and mercenaries will still be a major concern, given the influence of international drug cartels in the sub-region.

 

Last update: January 2017

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