Economic Analysis
Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Population 8.8 million
GDP per capita 2,651 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2019 2020 2021 (e) 2022 (f)
GDP growth (%) 5.9 -3.9 1.2 4.0
Inflation (yearly average, %) 3.7 4.9 3.6 4.5
Budget balance (% GDP) -4.4 -9.0 -7.1 -6.0
Current account balance (% GDP) 20.1 13.2 22.2 21.0
Public debt (% GDP) 40.0 48.9 45.5 49.0

(e): Estimate (f): Forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Abundant natural resources: ore (gold, copper, silver, nickel, cobalt), hydrocarbons (oil, gas), agricultural products (coffee, cocoa, palm oil), wood and seafood products
  • Plans to develop new gas fields and build liquefied natural gas production units (P'Nyang, Papua, Pasca A, Pandora), as well as new mines (Wafi-Golpu)
  • 15% of the world's tropical rainforests
  • Financial support from multilateral and bilateral partners
  • Member of the Commonwealth and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum

WEAKNESSES

  • Highly exposed to natural and climatic disasters
  • Weak infrastructure network (roads, electricity, health)
  • Weak budgetary resources (15% of GDP)
  • Economy dependent on commodity exports (90% of total exports, more than one-quarter of value added locally, but 1% of budgetary revenues)
  • Significant governance shortcomings: corruption, red tape delaying gas and mining projects, ambiguous land laws
  • Low literacy rate, lack of skilled labour, rural poverty, tribal conflicts
  • Difficulties in accessing foreign exchange

RISK ASSESSMENT

Mining recovery to drive growth

Papua New Guinea's (PNG) economy began to recover in 2021, albeit slowly, after tax and monetary support kept it from contracting for two consecutive years. It will continue to suffer the effects of the pandemic in 2022, as the country remains highly exposed to the virus: the vaccination rate did not exceed 1% in October 2021 and is not expected to reach 60% until 2023. Rising cases forced the government to impose new restrictions in October 2021, which will probably be maintained until the beginning of 2022. New measures may be introduced later, and while household consumption is expected to rebound, it may still be constrained by the climate of uncertainty. As a result, growth is expected to come mainly from the recovery of mining activity (10.3% of GDP in 2019). Activity at the Porgera gold mine is expected to resume upon completion of negotiations between the government and Barrick Niugini Ltd on the distribution of profits under the new lease, scheduled for early Q2 2022. In energy, PNG will focus on expanding natural gas extraction and liquefaction capacity through projects with foreign partners, while maximising its own interests. Natural gas already accounts for more than a third of PNG's exports. The agricultural sector, which employs 85% of the population, mostly informally, and accounts for a quarter of GDP (2019), is expected to grow in 2022, as are fishing and forestry. Accordingly, the economy will rebound, but without reaching its pre-crisis level.

 
At the end of 2021, the central bank was sticking with its accommodative monetary policy: the key interest rate, the Kina Facility Rate, was 3%, down from 5% in March 2020, and reserve requirements for commercial banks were set at 7%, compared with 10% previously. With inflation expected to rise slightly, policy could be tightened.

 

Fragile fiscal situation, but current account surplus maintained

After widening in 2020 owing to the closure of the Porgera gold mine and the arrival of the pandemic, the public deficit narrowed in 2021 on the back of increased revenues, but remains extremely large. The government is planning to correct the imbalance and is counting on revenues to rise by more than expenditures to achieve this. The increase in revenues is expected to come from mining, thanks to the resumption of activity at Porgera and boosted capacity. The government also plans to increase non-commodity tax revenues (80% of revenues) by introducing a bank tax and a telecommunications tax for firms with a large share of the domestic market. However, this will not be enough to generate a budget surplus. Consequently, public debt is expected to continue to grow. It has tripled in less than a decade, with a considerable increase in bilateral debt, especially to China. The country is increasing the share of its external financing, giving priority to multilateral concessional debt, given the high cost of domestic debt (8.5% interest rate on average). The share of external debt in total debt has been rising steadily since 2017 and made up almost the same percentage as domestic debt in 2021.

  
In 2021, higher prices for the main exported commodities (gold, liquefied natural gas, wood) drove a significant improvement in the current account surplus. The resumption of investment-related imports, coupled with less favourable commodity prices (gold), could lead to a marginal deterioration in the trade and current account surpluses in 2022. In June 2021, foreign exchange reserves stood at a comfortable level, equivalent to 8.6 months of imports, and should continue to increase in 2022.

 

Government faces health and separatist challenges

James Marape's government is facing the COVID-19 crisis as well as the question of independence for Bougainville. The result of a November 2019 non-binding referendum held in this autonomous region (98% in favour of independence) led to negotiations between the government and the province. Ishmael Toroama, a former secessionist military commander, was elected president of Bougainville in August 2020. He has proposed a two- to three-year timetable for resolving the independence issue. The government is reluctant for Bougainville to become independent for fear of losing the province's resources (copper reserves). Parliamentary elections will be held in June 2022.

 

Last updated: February 2022

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