With the global financial crisis, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) experienced its own unraveling of macro-financial imbalances and thus presents an interesting case to analyze the underlying fragilities in federal governments. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the evolution of fiscal policy in the UAE at consolidated and subnational levels in the run-up and after the crisis, and provide pertinent insights about the importance of policy coordination in other federal fiscal systems – and monetary unions, as brought to light by the recent developments in Europe.
In measuring the cyclicality of fiscal balances at the consolidated and emirate level in the UAE, this paper uses the non-hydrocarbon primary budget balance, excluding interest spending and hydrocarbon revenues, investment income of the sovereign wealth fund, scaled by non-hydrocarbon GDP. The cyclically adjusted primary balance is estimated by deducting cyclical components from the actual balance. It is important to correct for cyclical changes because the budget balance tends to vary endogenously according the state of the economy – deteriorating during a bust and improving in a boom. Furthermore, since hydrocarbon revenues are dependent on the erratic behavior of hydrocarbon prices, the cyclically adjusted non-hydrocarbon primary balance is computed, using the elasticity of non-hydrocarbon revenues and primary expenditures relative to non-hydrocarbon GDP, to assess whether fiscal policy exacerbates economic fluctuations in the UAE at the aggregate and emirate levels.
The empirical findings show that procyclical fiscal policies prior to the crisis reinforced the financial sector cycle, exacerbated the economic upswing, and thereby contributed to the build-up of macro-financial vulnerabilities. The paper also sets out policy lessons to develop a rule-based fiscal framework that would help strengthen fiscal policy coordination between the various layers of government and ensure long-term fiscal sustainability and a more equitable intergenerational distribution of wealth.
The lack of fiscal policy coordination among subnational governments complicates macro-economic management at the federal level. Since the UAE has a pegged exchange rate regime and consequently a limited scope to use monetary policy, the burden of macro-economic stabilization falls on fiscal policy. Accordingly, this paper shows that procyclical fiscal policies prior to the crisis reinforced the “financial accelerator” effect, exacerbated the economic cycle, and thereby contributed to the build-up of economic and financial vulnerabilities in the UAE.
The author thanks the editor, Ali Kutan, and four anonymous referees for their constructive comments that led to marked improvements in the paper. This paper has also benefited from helpful suggestions on a previous draft provided by Serkan Arslanalp, Joshua Charap, Kevin Carey, Borja Gracia, Vincenzo Guzzo, Mark Horton, Alfred Kammer, Taline Koranchelian, Ananthakrishnan Prasad, Agustin Roitman, Abdelhak Senhadji and Gabriel Sensenbrenner. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its Executive Board, or its Management.
Cevik, S. (2019), "Policy coordination in fiscal federalism: drawing lessons from the Dubai debt crisis", International Journal of Emerging Markets, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOEM-09-2018-0479Download as .RIS
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