Diversification effects of energy subsidy reform in oil exporters: Illustrations from Kuwait

For oil exporters, energy subsidy reform and economic diversification are critical policy responses to recent fundamental changes in the global oil market and oil price declines, yet the relationship between them is little understood. This article investigates linkages between energy subsidy reform and accelerating economic diversification away from hydrocarbons in a low oil price environment, using illustrations from Kuwait. It employs an economy-wide, general equilibrium model with oligopolistic industrial structure, the first of its kind for an economy in the Middle East and North Africa, that embodies unique elements of the country’s economic structure—oil dependence; public sector dominance; subsidies; sovereign wealth funds; industrial collusive pricing behaviour; and guest workers. The article argues that, contrary to common popular discourse, Kuwait’s economy has a diversified economic base, but this base fails to diversify export or government revenue needed for economic sustainability. Results show that weak economic diversification in oil exporters with a similar economic structure is not primarily due to “Dutch disease,” as dominant in the literature, but to economic constraints and distortions that impair structural change and exacerbate overdependence on hydrocarbons. Labour and competition reforms relax some constraints, achieving large efficiency gains that extend economywide and can expand non-energy tradable sectors. The analysis has important policy implications. First, the potential role of pricing regulation in small economies in moderating economic impacts of negative oil shocks. Second, in oil economies characterized by pervasive oligopolies, microeconomic reform can be a channel to achieve efficiency and better diversification effects of subsidy reform.

Shehabi, M. (2020). Diversification Effects of Energy Subsidy Reform in Oil Exporters: Illustrations from Kuwait. Energy Policy, 123, 110966. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2019.110966.

By: Manal Shehabi


Journal Article