The ICP in Western Asia: turning the spotlight on Arab economies

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New results from the ICP including purchasing power parities (PPP), price level indexes and PPP-based expenditures for reference year 2017 are now available at icp.worldbank.org. This blog series, edited by Edie Purdie, covers all aspects of the ICP and explores the use made of these data by researchers, policymakers, economists, data scientists and others. We encourage users to share their data applications and findings in this blog series via [email protected].

Since the release of the International Comparison Program’s (ICP) global results from its 2017 cycle in May 2020, the program’s regional implementing agencies have been releasing their own results and analyses covering their participating economies. These regional programs are the building blocks of the global program, and in this series of blogs we are highlighting each to explore how the ICP is organized locally, what the regional ICP results tell us, and what’s in store as the ICP 2021 cycle is launched.

The regional ICP program in Western Asia is managed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA), which has served as the regional implementing agency from the ICP 2005 cycle onwards. UN-ESCWA coordinated twelve participating economies in the ICP 2017 cycle: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, West Bank and Gaza, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. UN-ESCWA is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations (UN) and works on fostering inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab countries and on promoting regional cooperation. The World Bank’s ICP Global Office has been supporting the implementation of the regional program by providing technical assistance and channeling funding.

 

Access to 2017 results

UN-ESCWA’s ICP website provides users with access to purchasing power parities (PPPs) and ICP results for the region’s economies, including the publication “Purchasing Power Parities and the Real Size of Arab Economies: A comprehensive regional report covering PPP results for the years 2011 to 2019”, released on December 10, 2020, and a comprehensive database. The website also features informative videos, illustrative charts, interactive animations and testimonial videos. Furthermore, an online PPP converter allows users to compare the real purchasing powers of different local currencies relative to one another and to the US dollar.

 

Regional results

PPP-based GDP for the Western Asia region stood at just over $5 trillion in 2017, contributing around 4% of the global economy. Saudi Arabia and Egypt were the largest economies in the region, at $1,566 billion and $1,263 billion, respectively. With a combined population of around 277 million, the 12 participating economies differ widely in PPP-based GDP and GDP per capita, and in their price level index at the GDP level. In general, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries were more expensive than non-GCC countries and had a higher per capita income.

Comparing these economies with the rest of the world shows that Qatar was second only to Luxembourg in 2017 in terms of GDP per capita while the United Arab Emirates was in eighth place globally. Egypt was the least expensive country in the world, while Sudan was the third least expensive.

Moreover, three Arab economies were ranked in the top 15 globally in terms of PPP-based per capita government spending, while four scored among the top 15 in PPP-based per capita investment spending, with Qatar taking on the first position globally.

Watch the Arabic version here.

Regional impact

Testimonials from economies in the region illustrate the benefits, and their experience, of participating in the ICP. Their statistical capacity has improved through ICP workshops and technical assistance provided by the ICP Western Asia team with support from the ICP Global Office on data collection, data entry, data validation, and the treatment of outliers. Furthermore, the regional team has focused on advancing the integration between the ICP and regular national price statistics work programs to produce new indices and enhance national capacities in the production of price indices.

ICP Western Asia is also looking to build upon the use of PPP-based indicators in monitoring progress towards many of the Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, national practitioners and policy makers are using PPP-based data to conduct cross-country comparisons and to showcase a country’s position within a region or sub-region, as well as for comparative analyses of competitiveness, price levels, wages, income and poverty, and for setting benchmarks for improvements. Following the successful computation of subnational PPPs in the United Arab Emirates in 2015, another round of subnational PPP production will take place for the United Arab Emirates, as well as for Egypt and Sudan.

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Uses of Purchasing Power Parities in Sustainable Development Goals

 

Looking ahead

With the launch of the ICP 2021 cycle, the ICP Western Asia program has been developing and updating its regional ICP price surveys. The number of economies participating in the next ICP cycle is most likely to increase from the ICP 2017 under the regional guidance of UN-ESCWA. A shift to annual data collection has allowed the regional program to calculate PPPs for the interim years between the global ICP cycles, and, as a result, PPPs for the years 2011 to 2019 have been published to date. Furthermore, initiatives by UN-ESCWA to harness new technology and methods such as web-scraping in its price collection has enabled the region to continue collecting data throughout 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in conjunction with the traditional survey approach to price collection of household consumption items.

Authors

Majed Skaini

Economic Statistician, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA)

Mizuki Yamanaka

Statistician, Development Data Group

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