The Arab world needs to create 25 million new jobs over the next decade just to maintain current unemployment levels, a new report said on Saturday.
The region has to provide better standards of education, more competition and entrepreneurship and institutional reform, according to the Arab World Competitiveness Report 2011-2012.
Released by the World Economic Forum and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the study says private sector development is essential to creating jobs in the future.
It added that recent developments in the Arab world have heightened awareness of key socio-economic challenges, particularly the need to create employment opportunities for the 2.8 million young people who enter the labour market each year.
"To reduce unemployment, there must be a heightened and sustained focus on the three most disproportionately affected groups – the young, the educated and women," the report said.
It said enhancing overall competitiveness should be part of the reform agenda, with particular attention required on building the private sector, which it said "remains stifled by a business environment that is not conducive to the development of enterprises, healthy competition and entrepreneurship".
The report, which has been published as regional leaders meet in Jordan to discuss economic growth and job creation, added that corruption, a lack of transparency and trade barriers were distorting markets, hindering competition and lowering efficiency.
Additionally, it said low female participation is considered a missed opportunity for economic development in the region.
“Competitiveness-enhancing reforms are needed to fulfil aspirations of Arab citizens and address the key priority faced by the region, which is to create gainful and sustainable employment for the population,” said Børge Brende, managing director, Government Relations and Constituents Engagement, World Economic Forum.
The region maintained solid economic performance over the better part of the last decade, with 5.2 percent GDP growth between 2000 and 2008.
But the global economic crisis and recent events have negatively impacted most economies, outside of a few oil rich states that benefited from rising energy prices, the report said.
“The Arab Spring provides a unique window of opportunity to deliver the wider economic prosperity that MENA citizens are expecting,” said Richard A Boucher, deputy secretary-general of the OECD.
“Governments must respond by focusing first and foremost on generating jobs in the private sector and tackling corruption. We are working to help them do just that.”
He added that the Arab region now must act to leverage the “youth bulge” and introduce the transparent policies and institutions to support increased competitiveness and higher living standards.