Uncertainty in Post-COVID Recovery in Central Asia – The Diplomat
Uncertainty still reigns supreme, clouding the global economic outlook following the devastation of 2020. In its latest Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank revised upward its expectations for global growth, while underscoring the deep uncertainty of such projections, given varied success in vaccine rollouts and a lack of clarity as to when the pandemic will abate.
In its June 2021 Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank states its expectation that the global economy will expand 5.6 percent in 2021, “its strongest post-recession pace in 80 years.” But the recovery, the Bank says, is “ uneven and largely reflects sharp rebounds in some major economies.”
The World Bank groups Central Asia with Europe in what it calls the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region, which includes Central Europe (Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania), the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia), Eastern Europe (Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine), the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), Russia, and Turkey.
This wide range of economies can obscure divergent developments in the different regions and types of economies.
When it comes to the Europe and Central Asia regions, the Bank maintained its expectation of forecasted growth in 2021 at 3.9 percent across the region. Central Asia (excluding Turkmenistan for want of good data), sits below the regional average but the outlook has still improved since January, from forecasted growth in 2021 of 3 percent to 3.7 percent. Within Central Asia, forecasts have improved but Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (with 2021 growth forecasted at 3.2 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively) remain at the lower end and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (with 2021 growth forecasted at 5.3 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively) above the regional average.
“Growth [in the ECA region] could be weaker than projected if the pandemic takes longer than expected to abate, external financing conditions tighten, or policy uncertainty and geopolitical tensions rise further,” the report notes.
Kazakhstan, the Bank comments, is expected to benefit from a “modest rise in commodity prices, [and] relaxation of OPEC+ production cuts” while Uzbekistan should continue to “benefit from the implementation of an ambitious reform agenda.” Kyrgyzstan’s recovery, in particular, is expected to be dampened somewhat by “rising policy uncertainty,” while both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may be further affected by the recent border tensions and at risk given the possibility of future conflicts.
While the overall outlook has improved marginally, the challenges and risks loom large. Notably vaccination campaigns vary widely and the risk of future waves of the pandemic impacting the region cannot be ruled out. “Several countries Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Western Balkans face bottlenecks related to the production, procurement, or delivery of vaccines secured through the COVAX facility or other agreements,” the report notes.