| The inflation rates in most ESCWA member countries were, in general, at internationally acceptable levels in 1996. The rates in the more diversified economies, however, tended to be considerably higher than those reported for the GCC countries. For example, Jordan's inflation rate, estimated at 6 per cent, was the lowest among the more diversified economies but was still higher than the highest rate, 4 per cent, reported (for the United Arab Emirates) among the GCC countries.|
Estimates indicate that the region's exports increased by 15 per cent during 1996, while imports increased by 9 per cent. The GCC countries' exports, which are estimated at $117.4 billion and which accounted for 89 per cent of the region's total exports, witnessed a 16 per cent increase in 1996. Meanwhile, the ESCWA member countries with more diversified economies recorded an estimated increase of exports of 5.6 per cent. The region's imports are estimated to have increased from $93.3 billion in 1995 to $101.8 billion in 1996. Preliminary estimates regarding the region's current account balance indicate that the overall deficit decreased significantly, from $8.7 billion in 1995 to $1.4 billion in 1996, mainly owing to a better trade balance resulting from higher oil exports.
Total external debt of ESCWA member countries, excluding Iraq, is estimated to have dropped by around 4 per cent, to $175 billion in 1996 from $182 billion in 1995. This drop was caused partly by rescheduling and forgiveness of parts of the debt of a number of member countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, and partly by repayment of debt by others, such as Kuwait.
Most stock markets in the ESCWA region performed better in 1996 than many emerging markets in other developing regions. While the aggregate index of the markets in other developing regions was estimated to have dropped by around 8 per cent in 1996, that of stock markets in the ESCWA region was estimated to have risen by around 12 per cent. The improved economic performance of most ESCWA member countries in 1996 was reflected in a rise in activities in their respective stock markets. Moreover, the rise in overall liquidity in the economies of most ESCWA member countries enabled many corporations to approach the stock market to raise private capital.
The inflow of foreign direct investment to the ESCWA region remained very limited, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia receiving the bulk of such inflows. Member countries have recently started creating a more conducive investment climate by promulgating new investment laws and adopting measures that aim at attracting private foreign and local investment.
The achievements of women in the ESCWA region in education, health and employment have been encouraging, compared with the 1970s. However, their participation in public life, power-sharing, decision-making and politics has been below aspirations. Inasmuch as legal awareness and the empowerment of women are concerned, much more is needed to overcome existing hurdles, alleviate poverty and/or achieve self-reliance, financial independence and security, in its broadest sense.