Oman deficit and debt set to plunge after COVID-19 shock - IMF

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General view of old Muscat the day after Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said was laid to rest in Muscat, Oman, January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo

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DUBAI, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Oman's fiscal deficit and debt are expected to decline sharply after spiking last year, the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday, as the Gulf state implements a medium-term plan to fix finances hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices.

The fiscal deficit is set to decrease to 2.4% of gross domestic product this year from 19.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, and the country is expected to switch to a surplus in 2022, the IMF said.

"Central government debt rose to 81.2 percent of GDP (in 2020), with financing needs covered by domestic and external borrowing and asset drawdown, but is expected to decline sharply over the medium term," the IMF said in a statement.

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Total government debt is expected to decrease to 70.7% of GDP this year and to decline further until about 47% of GDP in 2026, according to IMF estimates.

Since the oil price crash in 2014, Oman has accumulated large amounts of debt, outpacing a drive to diversify revenue away from oil and reduce spending on its bloated public sector.

But the Sultanate has embarked on a raft of measures in the past year to fix its finances, including the introduction of a value-added tax and the decision to work with the IMF to develop a debt strategy.

The overall economy shrank by 2.8% last year but is expected to rebound to a 2.5% growth this year as a vaccine rollout helps domestic activity and external demand picks up, the IMF said.

($1 = 0.3850 Omani rials)

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Reporting by Davide Barbuscia and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Catherine Evans and Pravin Char

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