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Fiscal system in GCC upset by heavy expatriate remittances

posted on 09/08/2003: 665 views

Foreign workers in the six-nation GCC have siphoned out more than US$240 billion over the past 10 years as lack of investment opportunities and a general trend to save at home are discouraging them from keeping their money in the region. Saudi Arabia has been the main victim in the capital flight, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the total cash transfers made by Indians, Pakistanis, non-GCC Arabs and other expatriates working in the oil-rich region.

Between 1993 and last year, the more than seven million expatriates based in the 22-year-old Gulf economic, defence and political group remitted a total US$240.5 billion, an average US$24 billion a year, according to official figures. The transfers have allied with heavy defence spending by the six GCC countries and persistent volatility in oil prices and production to upset their balance of payments, although most of them have enjoyed huge trade surpluses.

The figures by the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and other regional organisations showed cash transfers by expatriates totalled around US$24.6 billion last year and the level is expected to remain unchanged this year as no counter measures have been taken by GCC governments. Between 1993 and last year, remittances from Saudi Arabia alone totalled US$152.8 billion while those from the UAE stood at US$36.9 billion.

Transfers by expatriates based in Kuwait stood at US$17.5 billion while they were estimated at US$14.7 billion from Oman, US$11.8 billion from Qatar and US$6.08 billion from Bahrain, according to the figures published in the 2002 Arab economic report and estimates by Henry Azzam, a Jordanian economist. AMF figures showed most other Arab states recorded a positive net cash transfer as incoming remittances outsized outgoing transfers. Only the GCC and Libya, which is also a key base for foreign labour, suffered from such capital flight.

Egypt, the most populated Arab country, recorded a positive net transfer of US$3.9 billion in 2001 while Jordan, which also relies heavily on transfers from its citizens working in the Gulf, netted nearly US$2.23 billion. All other non-GCC Arab countries recorded positive balance except Libya, which had a negative balance of around US$357 million in 2001, according to the AMF. Expatriate transfers from the GCC states have combined with high defence spending to keep pressure on their current accounts and balances of payments, which are also largely influenced by oil price fluctuations. On the other hand, they have largely benefited the economies of the expatriates' home countries.

In 2001, Saudi Arabia had a balance of payment surplus of only US$889 million while it was as high as US$12 billion in 2000 mainly because of strong oil prices. In 1999 and 1998, it reeled under a staggering balance of payment deficit of US$8.89 billion and US$7.76 billion respectively mainly because of low oil prices. GCC officials have often complained of the problem of heavy financial transfers by the expatriates and their negative impact on the economic and fiscal system, which is already hit by heavy reliance on unpredictable oil sales. (The Gulf News)


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