The Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf face a budget reckoning and risk squandering their $2 trillion dollars in financial wealth within 15 years as oil demand nears peak levels, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Global oil demand may start falling sooner than expected, putting a strain on the finances of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which accounts for a fifth of the world's crude production, the IMF said.
Without decisive economic reforms, the richest Middle Eastern states could exhaust their net financial wealth by 2034 as the region becomes a net debtor, the fund projects. Within another decade, their total non-oil wealth would also be exhausted, the IMF said in the report prepared by a team of its Middle East and Central Asia specialists.
'Countries in the region need to think long-term and strategically because the oil market is changing structurally both from the demand and the supply side,' Mr.Jihad Azour, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, said.
Economic reforms already under way in some countries need to accelerate, he said. Development plans need to shift spending and job creation from governments to the private businesses and develop more non-oil sources of income more quickly.
GCC countries would have to be more aggressive in their pursuit of an economic transformation to preserve their current wealth. 'If we stop here, it's not enough,' Mr. Azour said.
International oil companies and producing states have come to recognize that alternative energy sources, alongside greater efficiency, are already eroding demand. While Gulf producers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are developing new industries in preparation for a post-oil era, they're not moving quickly enough to avoid running out of cash, the IMF said.
Gulf oil producers sharply increased budget spending from 2007 and until 2014, when crude plunged. Despite patchy reforms, they haven't fully offset the drop in oil revenue with spending cuts, leading to deficits that have eroded wealth, according to the report.
Regional governments will likely need to cut spending further, save more and introduce broad-based taxation to make ends meet, the IMF said.