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IMF chief starts dialogue with Middle East youth

 InDepth News 14 May 2019

(Originally published: 04/2010) What has the International Monetary Fund got to do with the youth? One would think that there is nothing common between the two. The obvious reason is that the international organization is tasked with overseeing the global financial system by following the macroeconomic policies of 186 member countries; in particular those with an impact on exchange rate and the balance of payments. True. But the International Monetary Fund’s managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn wants it to be more: not only to work to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, and facilitate international trade, but also promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world. In a report for InDepth News, Bernhard Schell takes a look at the IMF’s work with the Middle Eastern youth. (878 words) - By Bernhard Schell

AMMAN, Jordan - What has the International Monetary Fund got to do with the youth? One would think that there is nothing common between the two.

The obvious reason is that the international organization is tasked with overseeing the global financial system by following the macroeconomic policies of 186 member countries; in particular those with an impact on exchange rate and the balance of payments.

True. But the International Monetary Fund's managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn wants it to be more: not only to work to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, and facilitate international trade, but also promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

In fact, young people from the Middle East and North Africa support him. They are of the view that the IMF should play a more active role in promoting job growth and strengthening private sector development.

Meeting with Strauss-Kahn at a town hall meeting broadcast live by BBC Arabic on April 4, 2019, a group of university students also called for broadening the representation of developing and emerging market countries in the IMF to enhance the institution's effectiveness.

Talking with 35 students from eight countries, as well as viewers and listeners across the region, Strauss-Kahn said youth unemployment was a crucial issue in all countries, including for university graduates.

The solution lies in the linkage of improved business environment and educational systems focused on providing needed job skills. "The less restrictive regulations are, the more (business) will come," he said. "And the more you have a good business environment with universities providing the skills you need, the more (business) will come."

The discussion on the program "Talking Point', was held in Amman, Jordan. It was the centrepiece of the IMF Middle East Youth Dialog, a Fund initiative to engage young people directly on the issues of greatest concern to them.

The Youth Dialog allows young people to interact among themselves and put questions and comments to IMF staff using social media, IMF sources said.

Students from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates were selected from university roundtables held in each country to participate in the Amman town hall.

In addition, young people from many other countries across the region put questions by phone, SMS, email, videophone, and satellite connection from such countries as Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Morocco.

"You are the future leaders of your countries," Strauss-Kahn said. "It is important for us to have your opinion about this multilateral institution because it is your institution."

On the issue of IMF governance, the students questioned the role of advanced economies in the Fund, and called for developing and emerging market countries to have a larger voice. Strauss-Kahn said that this is a major issue for the institution, but also pointed to changes underway since 2008 to better reflect the weight of the developing countries in the global economy.

He also addressed the selection of IMF management by saying, "I may be the last European as Managing Director for a long time. It is probably the right time for candidates from developing countries as Managing Director."

It is estimated that the region's work force will grow rapidly over the next decade, reaching 185 million, which would be 80 percent larger than the workforce at the turn of the century. With unemployment and underemployment already high across the region, the problem is expected to only worsen.

Addressing this challenge - made more difficult by the global crisis - requires sustainable and equitable economic growth, good financial management, and labor market reforms.

During his visit to Jordan, the Managing Director also met with King Abdullah II, Prime Minister Samir Rifai and Central Bank Governor Umayya Toukan to discuss the economic situation in Jordan and the region.

The IMF Youth Dialog is built around an online forum that enables a broader audience of young people across the region to communicate their views of economic issues with each other and IMF staff. The website - in Arabic, English, and French - offers discussion boards, blogs, videos, and accounts of the university roundtables.

The Jordanian economy has proven resilient to the global financial crisis, thanks to sound economic management and prudent supervision and regulation of the country's financial sector, Strauss-Kahn said.

"However, as a very open economy with strong trade links with the region and the rest of the world, the Kingdom has been affected by the global and regional economic slowdown. Output growth is expected to pick up to about 4 percent in 2010, reflecting slowly-recovering global and regional conditions."

He welcomed the authorities' plans to press ahead with intended fiscal consolidation to reduce vulnerabilities related to the high level of public debt, and the slowdown in external grants.

"We agreed that recent monetary easing to stimulate domestic demand has been appropriate, given the slowdown in the allocation of bank credit to the private sector in 2009. I supported the monetary authority's resolve to remain watchful for emerging inflationary pressures.

The IMF chief said: "Looking beyond the immediate task of managing the impact of the global financial crisis, I welcome the authorities' plans outlined in their National Agenda, involving the implementation of political, economic, and social reforms designed to facilitate the transformation of the Kingdom into a highly-competitive, knowledge-based economy."

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