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ISLAMABAD: The region should keep investing in technology infrastructure especially in the 5G as it could be one main driver for growth and mitigating the impacts of current pandemic, said Jihad Azour, Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s Middle East and Central Asia Department.

This he stated, while addressing a virtual panel on mitigating the long-lasting impacts from COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa, organised by the IMF in collaboration with the Policy Center for the New South and The National.

Azour said that Covid crisis was different from the previous all crisis where livelihood of people affected immediately.

Recognizing the issues is not the only solution but important is how to translate it into action otherwise, it will only remain an idea. He further said that increased use of technology is risk but this could be mitigated and can become major driver for growth. Digitization help kids to remain in education, while they were not able to go to school and many activities stayed alive.

He further said that region should keep investing in technology infrastructure, and currently happening in GCC, the investment in 5G is fast.

It is very important to use technology as a tool to reduce the gap. One is education where technology can reduce the gap. Developing through technology accesses those who even before the crisis could not receive enough quality education. Access to talent could be a big advantage that the countries aspire to get, the IMF official added.

Second, the technology could be used to make market attractive and there is a need to move from cooperation to partnership. Markets in the region are fragmented and the traditional way of cooperation in the region is not most affective any more. "We need to move to partnership to grow the size of market and technology cannot be confided to geographic", Azour added. He further said Arabic footprint in the technology still not to the level in the region that it should be. This is not a typical crisis and should not use typical approach.

The typical approach in the region is each will work at its own and do programme without consulting private sector.

The region which has 12 countries could not reach the FDI level before the 2008 position. We need to be open to private sector as only private sector could create enough jobs to fulfill the aspirations of the population, he added.

He further said that social safety should be the top priority to save people, and for this, governments should reallocate from expenditure even if they do not have space. The IMF official continued that certain activities and sector have been disrupted. He said that tourism was highly affected. This is acceleration because the technology is moving very fast. He said that this was not a new trend but was accelerated by the crisis.

It is also important to recognise quickly the nature of crisis and to react fast and accelerate growth to recovery through a set of actions.

Rania Al-Mashat (Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt), Karim El Aynaoui (President, Policy Center for the New South), and Alain Bejjani (Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim) also addressed at the virtual panel.

Speakers said that the unprecedented economic crisis that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to inflict long-lasting damage to economies in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly given the region's pre-existing vulnerabilities.

But with the right mix of policies, countries can mitigate widespread damage and put themselves on a path to building stronger, more resilient and inclusive economic futures.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020