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|Current account balance/GDP||-6.3||-5.7||-8.8||-8|
|Net FDI (in million US$)||245||188||416||253|
|Credit to private sector/GDP||54.4||63.8||55.1||na|
Weak domestic demand, an unfavourable external environment and political stalemate have held back economic recovery. Following a year of anaemic growth in 2010, the economy showed some signs of revival in early 2011. However, weaker growth in the eurozone has negatively affected Bosnia and Herzegovina’s exporting activity and capital inflows in the second half of the year and the beginning of 2012. Exports fell by 8.6 per cent between Q2 and Q4 of 2011. At the same time, domestic consumption has remained subdued, largely owing to the austerity measures implemented by the authorities in the past two years as well as the weakened contribution from remittances, which are significantly below pre-crisis levels. As a result, overall growth in 2011 was a modest 1.3 per cent. Inflation remains low. The disinflationary pressures that dominated much of the post-crisis period were reversed for a brief interval in early 2012, but inflation has been on a generally downward path since, and it stood at 1.8 per cent in August 2012.
A new Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF was approved in September 2012. The 24-month US$ 520.6 million SBA will provide a buffer against external shocks from the ongoing eurozone crisis as well as an anchor for important structural reforms envisioned in the country's 2012-14 economic programme. The new arrangement follows the expiration of a 36-month SBA, which was put on hold in 2011 due to the political stalemate that left the country without a central government for over 15 months after the October 2010 elections. The authorities are planning a budget deficit of 3 per cent of projected GDP in 2012. The economic programme envisages continued fiscal consolidation accompanied by structural fiscal reforms to safeguard medium-term fiscal sustainability.
The economic outlook for 2012 and 2013 remains bleak. The weak external and domestic environment will constrain growth in Bosnia and Herzegovina this year and beyond. GDP growth is forecast at close to zero per cent in 2012 and only slightly higher in 2013. The economy remains vulnerable on many fronts, not only because the whole region is struggling but also because the internal complexity of the country’s political structure and the poor investment climate are major deterrents to investment.
Limited progress has been made on EU approximation over the past year. In its annual Progress Report published in October 2012, the European Commission (EC) once again urged the country to make greater headway on economic and structural reforms. It highlighted the need for reforms to boost the productive capacity and competitiveness of the economy, including labour market reforms, and to improve the business environment and upgrade the country’s infrastructure. The EC also emphasised the need for reforms in the social benefits system – particularly the high and poorly targeted social transfers – to boost job creation and reduce the high unemployment rate. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only SEE country that has not yet submitted an application for EU membership. In June 2012 the European Union and the Bosnian authorities launched a High Level Dialogue on the Accession Process. However, the results so far have been uneven.
Business environment indicators remain poor. In the 2012 World Bank Doing Business Report, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ranking rose by two places compared with the previous year, mainly due to improvements in the ease of obtaining construction permits. However, at 125th place, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains the lowest ranked SEE country with respect to the overall ease of doing business and it has the second lowest ranking in the entire EBRD region of operations after Uzbekistan. The country continues to perform particularly poorly on construction permits, starting a business, obtaining electricity connections and enforcing contracts.
Some progress is occurring in promoting private sector involvement in transport. In August 2012 the government in Republika Srpska announced an open, competitive tender, based on best international practice, for the concession to the private sector for the design, construction and long-term maintenance of the Doboj-Vukosavlje motorway, a part of the trans-national transport corridor Vc. If successful, this would be the first PPP in the transport sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An agreement was signed for the construction of a new thermal power plant. According to the terms of the agreement, the 300MW Stanari thermal power plant will be built by UK-based EFT Group with financing from the Chinese state development bank, and the project will also entail the expansion of the neighbouring EFT-owned Stanari Coal Mine. The benefits of the project, if fully implemented, are twofold. It will provide a welcome increase in domestic power generation capacity and it will increase private sector participation in the energy sector, which is currently very limited.
The quality of, and access to, broadband services are improving. The market for broadband internet and cable TV services in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nascent and dominated by the three incumbent telecommunications operators which operate within the boundaries of their respective entities. The rest of the market, including cable TV operators which offer broadband services, is highly fragmented and cannot effectively compete against the incumbents. Moreover, access to high-speed broadband is limited outside of the largest cities. Financial support is currently being provided for consolidation of small cable TV operators in the regions so as to allow for wider access to better quality internet and telephony services at more affordable prices. The consolidation in the sector will enable certain service providers to operate across the two entities, which is a rare case in the country today.
Micro and small enterprises (MSEs) are gaining access to more finance and a wider range of financial services. The key providers of finance for MSEs are non-profit microfinance institutions (MFIs), set up as NGOs and focusing on a narrow range of services while benefiting from favourable tax treatment. Since 2008 the microfinance sector has been in decline with gross loans from MFIs falling from €570 million at end-2008 to only €345 million at end-2011. With support from international financial institutions, the sector is being transformed into a commercially sustainable model, fully integrated with the rest of the financial sector, which will give MSEs better access to financial services and should improve transparency and corporate governance in the microfinance sector.
The banking sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains liquid and well-capitalised, but the level of NPLs is rising. Out of the 29 banks that operate across the two entities, 19 are foreign owned. More importantly, the foreign banks accounted for 92.1 per cent of total assets as of the end of 2011. The banking sector was not subject to the large credit outflows to parent banks, and the system remains fairly liquid. However, NPLs have been increasing substantially. In mid-2012 they stood at 12.6 per cent of total loans, compared with 7.1 per cent in 2010 and 5.9 per cent in 2009. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a participant in the Vienna Initiative since 2009.
This is the fourth consecutive Transition Report to be written in the shadow of an economic crisis in the transition region.