Pacific island developing economies
Date: 10 May 2011
The event will be held in Suva, Fiji, with the participation of distinguished participants from academia, government, civil society, international organizations, and the press. The list of well known participants making opening remarks, presentations and commenting on the publication includes:
Biman C. Prasad
Dean, Professor of Economics and Chair
Oceania Development Network
The University of the South Pacific
ESCAP Pacific Office
Country briefing note <download pdf file>
Economic performance of Pacific island developing economies
Pacific island developing economies experienced sharp declines in GDP growth in 2009 on account of the global economic crisis. For 2010, t he results appear to be mixed, with only Papua New Guinea , Solomon Islands , and Palau recording improved GDP growth performance. Most of the other Pacific economies virtually stagnated, with the economy of Tonga actually contracting.
Good prospects for resource driven economies
Papua New Guinea is the star performer with 7.1% GDP growth in 2010 as a result of strong demand for its exports and also boosted by the commencement of PNG liquefied natural gas project.
Solomon Islands ' economy rebounded with a strong growth of 4% in 2010 after contracting by 1.2% in 2009. Solomon It benefited from high commodity prices, particularly for logs. But there is concern that the current rate of logging is far beyond the sustainable rate and exports could continue to decline and may virtually cease in the coming years.
The exception is Nauru 's economy which grew by 1% in 2008 and did not grow in 2009 and 2010. Nauru continues to be heavily dependent on phosphate exports. Due to damage caused by the storm to the export facilities, phosphate exports have been irregular.
Pacific economies dependent on tourism and remittances are barely growing and some of them have also suffered natural disasters
Except for Vanuatu 's economy, most other Pacific economies dependent on tourism and remittances are barely growing. Vanuatu 's economy grew by 3% in 2010, somewhat lower than 3.8% growth achieved in 2009.This reflects lower than expected tourist numbers and delays in the implementation of infrastructure projects.
Fiji 's economy grew by just 0.1% in 2010 after contracting by 3.0% in 2009. The economy experienced declining preferential European Union (EU) sugar prices, highly unfavourable weather conditions (severe flooding in early 2009, the devastating cyclone Tomas in March 2010), a blow to investor confidence from the 2006 military coup and the continuation of the military-led government.
Samoa continues to recover from the devastation of the September 2009 tsunami. Damage and losses to the economy were estimated at US$124 million, with economy contracting by 4.9%. Post-tsunami reconstruction has stimulated Samoa 's economy as did the increase in remittances recorded after the tsunami. Nevertheless, it will take considerable time for the economic damage to be repaired. Samoa 's economy did not grow in 2010.
Tonga 's economy continues to struggle to find its way back to full recovery following the tsunami that hit the country in September 2009.The global economic crisis with lower remittance inflows and lower tourism demand has had a significant impact on the economy with GDP contracting by 0.4% in 2009 and further contracting by 1.2% in 2010.
Cook Islands ' economy was also affected by natural disasters. The destruction caused by cyclone Pat in February 2010 also hurt the tourism industry in the first quarter of 2010 but it recovered in the second quarter. After two years of economic contraction, the Cook Islands economy grew by 0.5% only in 2010.
Kiribati 's economy grew by 0.5% in 2010 after contracting by 0.7% in 2009. The slower global economic recovery is likely to leave remittances to Kiribati in 2010 at 2009 levels.
Tuvalu 's economy contracted by 1.7% in 2009 and is estimated at zero growth in 2010 due to poor remittance flows into the country.
Tourism sector, which makes up more than 95% of service exports in Palau , saw improved performance in 2010. Palau 's economy grew by 2.0% in 2010 as compared to its contraction by 2.1 in 2009.
The economies of the other small island countries have also been stagnating in recent years.
Some deceleration in inflation in several economies
There was some deceleration in inflation in some major Pacific island developing economies in 2010. However, prevailing inflation has been driven by higher global prices for oil and commodities and by accelerating price pressures in some of their trading partners, particularly Australia and New Zealand .
With the exception of the Marshall Islands and Tonga , the remaining countries recorded lower inflation rates in 2010, with inflation pressures actually easing significantly in Kiribati and Samoa .
Papua New Guinea recorded the highest inflation rate among Pacific island economies at 6% in 2010 compared to 7.0% in 2009. Papua New Guinea's 6.0% inflation rate in 2010 is attributed to the global economic recovery with higher food and commodity prices and increasing domestic demand associated with the Papua New Guinea's LNG project.
The inflation rate in Fiji declined to 4.0% in 2010 from 6.8% in 2009. Considering the 20% devaluation of the Fiji dollar in April 2009, the increasing global petroleum price and the increased minimum wage, 4% inflation rate was a good performance.
In Samoa , the rate of inflation for 2009 reached 6.6% because of the high global prices for food and other commodity, in combination with an expansionary budget. Inflationary pressures in Samoa eased significantly in 2010 to about 1.0%, partly due to tightening of monetary policy to reduce credit growth.
In Tonga , inflation came down from 5.0% in 2009 to 2.0% in 2010. The main factors contributing to inflation in 2010 were an increase in transport costs and increases in the prices of food and household commodities.
The inflation rate in Solomon Islands at 7.1% in 2009 declined to 3% in 2010, partly helped by tight monetary policy in combination with the cutting of government expenditure. In Vanuatu , the inflation rate also declined from 4.5% in 2009 to 3.4% in 2010.
Current account deficit widened in some economies as growth of imports outpaced growth of exports
Most Pacific island countries had current account deficits for 2010 with deficit widening for Kiribati , Papua New Guinea and Samoa as growth in imports of goods and services outpaced that for exports.
In Papua New Guinea , the kina was stable against the US dollar while it depreciated by 14% against the Australian dollar in 2010. In the first nine months of 2011, Papua New Guinea's total exports increased by 20.8% and imports by 26.3%. Current account is estimated to have widened considerably in 2010.
In Fiji , the devaluation in April 2009 increased tourist arrivals considerably by making Fiji more attractive to tourists from Australia and New Zealand . The devaluation in Fiji also helped to offset the decline in the EU price paid for Fiji 's sugar exports, increased the value in Fiji dollar terms of remittances and contributed to an increase in foreign reserves. Fiji 's exports have grown faster than imports and the current account deficit was 2.3% of GDP for 2010, much lower than for the previous year.
Samoa has only limited number of exports. The main import is petroleum products, which account for about 30% of the total. The huge merchandise trade deficit is largely offset by remittance inflows. Nevertheless, the current account deficit widened from 2.0% of GDP in 2009 to 8.0% of GDP in 2010.
The balance of payments outlook in Solomon Islands remains poor, particularly given the heavy reliance of output and export earnings on log exports and the threat that this industry faces from over-exploitation. The current account in Solomon Islands deteriorated further in 2010, with deficit in excess of 20% of GDP, which is not sustainable and threatens to destabilize the economy.
The managed currencies of Pacific countries are linked fairly closely to the US dollar. In 2009 and 2010 the dollar depreciated against most currencies and, as a result, although imports from these sources became more expensive, Pacific tourism became a better bargain. Pacific tourism has performed quite well in 2009 and 2010, despite the impact of the global economic crisis on their important source markets.
For many economies in the subregion, private inflows through remittances are a more robust source of income than other financial flows, such as foreign direct investment. Remittances vary hugely in importance among the countries in terms of the share of GDP: from 0.1% in Papua New Guinea to 25.9% in Samoa in 2009.
Mixed picture in terms of budget performance
Available data suggest a mixed picture in terms of budget performance for Pacific island developing economies in 2010, with Samoa and Tuvalu recording larger budget deficits, while others, such as Fiji , Papua New Guinea , Solomon Islands and Tonga were expecting improved budget performance.
In Papua New Guinea total expenditure and net lending increased in 2010 by 23.3%, based on strong growth in development expenditure for national projects. Recurrent expenditure recorded 1.6% growth. Papua New Guinea Government projections see total government revenue (including grants) increasing by 24.0% with tax revenue contributing more than 92% of total revenue. Papua New Guinea government estimated a balanced budget in 2010 after a small budget deficit of 0.2% of GDP in 2009.
In Fiji , due to the shortfall in revenue and the widening of the budget deficit, the government introduced a revised budget in June 2010 to tackle the negative fiscal developments. The budget deficit in Fiji reached 3.6% of GDP in 2010, slightly better than the 2009 budget deficit of 3.8% of GDP.
Future outlook and policy challenges
The Pacific island countries are strongly linked to the neighbouring major economies of Australia and New Zealand . Both of these economies are projected to grow by 2.3% and 2.4% respectively in 2011 and contribute to the positive outlook for small islands developing economies.
Papua New Guinea is again expected to lead this growth with 8.0% growth in 2011, boosted by rising commodity prices and growth in domestic demand coupled with acceleration in investment in a large gas export project and several mining projects.
While some countries with rich natural resources such as Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have benefited from rising commodity prices, their economies remain fragile due to wide price volatility.
Fiji 's economy is projected to grow by 1.3% in 2011.
The economy of Solomon Islands is also projected to grow by 7% in 2011, largely reflecting higher commodity prices, especially for logs. GDP growth of 4% is projected for Vanuatu and 2.5% for Samoa in 2011.
Most of the rest of the economies are also expected to grow in 2011, but by 2% or less.
Food and oil prices are showing an increasing trend. Therefore, the challenge for Pacific governments would again be to devise appropriate social protection policies to protect the poor. While many governments adopted some good social protection policies in 2009 and 2010, they ought to evaluate further and refine them to ensure the maximum positive impact for the poor.
The ever-present challenge for the Pacific island countries is to diversify their economies. One area that offers potential for diversification for them is agriculture.
A large proportion of the population in Pacific island economies lives in rural areas and produces largely for a subsistence economy. However, a number of problems exist which must be addressed as a priority if they wish to increase the productivity of the agricultural sector.
The involvement of the private sector is very crucial. In this connection the role of government as a facilitator in improving agricultural productivity is important.
Pacific island economies need to invest heavily in physical infrastructure (roads, ports, water, and electricity) and in research and development.