Durably buoyant growth in 2024
Following on from a clear upturn in 2023 driven by the improved health situation, the reopening of the economy and high commodity prices, growth will remain strong in 2024, driven mainly by the natural resources sector. Exports of natural resources will remain buoyant, with global demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG), which accounts for more than a quarter of total exports, remaining strong and prices still high due to limited global supply. The outlook for gold exports is also positive: the reopening, scheduled for the end of 2023, of the Porgera mine, which ceased operations in 2020, should boost gold production in 2024. Other exports will be boosted by increased competitiveness thanks to an expected weaker currency in 2024.
Public and private investment will be driven by infrastructure projects, notably the "Connect PNG" programme (a vast road transport development plan announced in 2020) and the Papua LNG production site (developed by TotalEnergies, Exxon Mobil and Santos), the construction of which is due to start in 2024. Inflation will continue to fall gradually, thanks to moderation of fuel and food prices. Easing inflation, together with favourable conditions in the extractive and construction industries, which will encourage job creation and wage increases, will provide a slight boost to household consumption (around 50% of GDP). However, household consumption will continue to be restricted by lower public spending on households, a persistently high poverty rate (around 40% in 2022) and the limited influence of other sectors on the agricultural sector, which employs 85% of the population, mainly informally.
Consolidating the budget and maintaining the current account surplus
The public deficit, which was considerably widened by the pandemic in 2020, will continue to shrink in 2024. The increased pace in gold mining and the continued strong performance of the gas sector will boost public revenues. Added to this is the state’s growing role when negotiating resource exploitation projects, which has enabled it to reap greater benefits. Public spending will continue to moderate, notably the end of exceptional measures to support household purchasing power (free school fees, temporary abolition of taxes on foodstuffs and fuel, etc.) and a cap on the public wage bill. However, a significant proportion of public spending will continue to be ploughed into ongoing development projects (Connect PNG, in particular) and investment needs in human capital. The current account will continue to show a large surplus, driven by LNG and gold exports, as well as the improved competitiveness expected from the depreciation of the kina. In spite of this, the surplus will fall slightly as imports increase owing to the need for capital goods to implement natural resource development projects.
The country will benefit from an Extended Credit Facility of $918 million over three years, granted by the IMF in March 2023 to support its reform programme. The facility will strengthen foreign exchange reserves, while at the same time moving towards greater flexibility in the kina, which is currently heavily overvalued, and greater autonomy for the central bank. Although below the 60% ceiling, public debt is made up of a significant proportion of short-maturity securities (treasury bills), creating a slight refinancing risk. In 2024, public financing will therefore continue to shift towards a growing share of bilateral and multilateral donors as domestic sources of financing become increasingly costly. Against this backdrop, fiscal consolidation, which will also affect state-owned enterprises, will be of the utmost importance.
Persistent risk of social unrest
After dealing with the pandemic and against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, Prime Minister James Marape was returned to office following the legislative elections in July 2022, but not without some tension. The country, which is historically known for its tense elections, was once again the scene of electoral fraud and violence that led to the deaths of 55 people. However, the Prime Minister's party, PANGU, emerged stronger with a comfortable victory (39 seats won by his party and 77 by its broad ruling coalition, out of the 110 at stake) and an 18-month period (until February 2024) excluding any motion of no-confidence. This means that the unpopular reforms surrounding the IMF credit facility will not meet with any real resistance. The absence of an effective national opposition should enable the Prime Minister to remain in office in 2024, but he will still have to deal with local, environmental and land disputes over decisions relating to the exploitation of natural resources in a highly fragmented society. In addition, the question of the independence of the island of Bougainville will remain. The result (98% in favour of independence) of the non-binding referendum held in November 2019 in this autonomous region has given rise to negotiations between the government and the province. But the government remains reluctant to grant independence to the province given its copper reserves. Last, on the geopolitical front, Marape will continue to forge closer ties with Australia, which has been working to build a special relationship since 2019, notably through the development of projects in key areas (telecommunications, port activities, etc.).