Strengthening productivity, improving healthcare and advancing the climate transition would boost growth and living standards in Estonia


07/05/2024 - The Estonian economy had been hit hard by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the resulting energy price shock that put the country into recession. Economic activity is now slowly recovering and Estonia faces the challenge to durably return to stronger, more inclusive and more sustainable growth, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Estonia.

The OECD is expecting Estonia’s GDP to contract by 0.4% in 2024, after contracting by 3.1% in 2023, and grow by 2.6% in 2025. The modest recovery will be driven by stronger demand for exports, higher public investment, and lower interest rates. Inflation is poised to ease from 9.1% seen in 2023 to 3.9% in 2024 and 2.1% in 2025. Risks are nevertheless tilted to the downside: weaker than anticipated developments in export markets or worsening geopolitical tensions could undermine the recovery.

The Survey highlights the need for prudent fiscal policy to balance stabilisation of the economy with narrowing the government budget deficit. It notes that fiscal policy provided important support during the pandemic and the global energy price surge. While government debt has risen sharply, it remains the lowest in the OECD, at 19.6% of GDP. Estonia’s expenditures have increased due to higher spending on defence, healthcare and family benefits. A fiscal consolidation strategy for 2024-27 will be hampered by the slow recovery and weak growth prospects.

More progress needs to be made in boosting productivity, preparing the health system for the fiscal pressures of an ageing population and advancing the climate transition. Renewed economic convergence with more advanced economies will require stronger productivity growth. Notwithstanding Estonia’s success in the ICT sector, policies are needed that boost digitalisation, innovation, and skills across firms, including through enhancing cooperation between the public and private sector to raise investment in innovation, given that spending on research and development, at 1.8% of GDP in 2022, remains moderate.

Health and life expectancy in Estonia have improved significantly over the past two decades, but years spent in good health are still among the lowest in the OECD. Avoidable mortality – notably from heart disease and cancer – remains elevated, outcomes for older men and people on low incomes are particularly weak, and regional disparities are still high. In a tight budgetary environment, achieving further improvements in health outcomes against the background of an ageing population will likely require additional funding.

While the Survey finds that the health system is well designed and provides good incentives for the use and allocation of resources, there is scope to improve treatment and prevention, and better prioritise resources. Training more nurses and doctors will help ensure continued access to healthcare for Estonia’s citizens.

Due to its continued reliance on domestic oil shale and increasing emissions in several sectors, the Estonian economy remains carbon-intensive. Accelerating the climate transition – by reducing 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 – will require ambitious decarbonisation across the economy. Policy priorities should include upgrading the electricity grid to accommodate increased renewable energy, efforts to reduce vehicle emissions by introducing the planned vehicle tax, and expansion of public transport.

See an Overview of the Economic Survey of Estonia with key findings and charts (this link can be used in media articles).


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