OECD Economic Outlook

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The OECD Economic Outlook is the OECD’s twice-yearly analysis of the major economic trends and prospects for the next two years. Prepared by the OECD Economics Department, the Outlook puts forward a consistent set of projections for output, employment, government spending, prices and current balances based on a review of each member country and of the induced effect on each of them on international developments.

Coverage is provided for all OECD member countries as well as for selected non-member countries. Each issue includes a general assessment, chapters summarizing developments and providing projections for each individual country, three to five chapters on topics of current interest such as housing, and an extensive statistical annex with a wide variety of variables including general debt.
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OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2002 Issue 2

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24 Dec 2002
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Twice a year, the OECD Economic Outlook analyses the major trends that will mark the next two years. The present issue covers the outlook to the end of 2004 and examines the economic policies required to foster high and sustainable growth in member countries. Developments in selected major non-OECD economies are also evaluated in detail.

In addition to the themes featured regularly, this issue contains four analytical chapters addressing the following important questions: the deterioration in budgetary positions in most OECD countries, raising the labour force participation of older workers,  the benefits that OECD countries could achieve from undertaking reforms to promote product market competition, and inflation rates in some of the larger, slow-growing economies have not declined sufficiently to offset higher rates elsewhere in the euro area.

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  • A hesitant recovery

    This Outlook is published at a time when the world recovery appears more hesitant and less widespread than expected. Activity bounced back early in 2002 but then lost momentum, in a context of weakening consumer and business confidence. This pattern of fits and starts is not unusual in the initial stages of a recovery but it has been associated with a further deterioration of equity and financial markets, which marks a clear departure from past business cycle experience...

  • General Assessment of the Macroeconomic Situation

    The global recovery is slow and irregular, not unlike some earlier upturns. The seemingly encouraging start early in 2002 was partly of a technical nature, reflecting slower destocking, and momentum weakened in the second quarter. Nonetheless, considerable monetary and fiscal stimulus has been rapidly put in place. It clearly boosted public spending, consumption and housing investment in North America and some European economies through to mid-2002. Reinforced by monetary loosening later in the year, the effects of the stimulus will continue to feed through for some time. The apparent bottoming out of the information-technology downturn is also helping, as is the resilience of growth in most of Asia excluding Japan and in Russia. A fallback into recession is therefore improbable, even though greater geopolitical uncertainty and a further slide in world equity markets have been weighing on confidence in the second half of this year. Overall, OECD GDP growth will not exceed 1½ per cent in 2002 and a broad-based recovery is unlikely to emerge until current uncertainties dissipate, possibly well into 2003. Only in 2004 would the output gap start narrowing.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Developments in individual OECD countries

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    • United States

      The recovery has proceeded somewhat unevenly. While low interest rates and disposable income gains have spurred household spending, much of the bounce-back in GDP in the first half of the year was due to inventory adjustments. Government purchases have also supported demand, but a turnaround in business fixed investment has not yet materialised. Growth appears set to slow somewhat, as the impetus from household purchases wanes with lower equity prices and a stagnant labour market. Later, strengthening export markets and a sharper pickup in investment should underpin a more robust expansion. Inflation is likely to remain quiescent, reflecting persistent slack in product and labour markets, but the current-account deficit may widen further.

      Monetary policy has remained supportive. With recent signs that the labour market is weak and inflation subdued, interest rates should be kept low for the time being. But once the expansion gathers pace, they will need to be raised, moving steadily towards a neutral stance. Fiscal policy has loosened considerably as a result of new spending priorities and tax measures, and renewed restraintwill be needed to re-establish fiscal discipline.

    • Japan

      The economy recovered during the first half of 2002, underpinned by a low level of inventories and a sharp increase in exports. However, these factors have already weakened and, with domestic demand likely to be constrained by flat household incomes, real GDP growth is projected to ease to around 1 per cent during the rest of the year and to continue at that rate in 2003 and 2004. Financial sector strains, the need to issue a large volume of public debt without pushing up interest rates, and the possibility that deflationary forces could strengthen represent major downside risks to the projection.

      The resolution of non-performing loans should be accelerated in line with the government’s new goal, accompanied by further structural reforms and if necessary by the direct injection of public funds. Monetary policy should take the lead in dealing with deflation by increasing liquidity further through the purchase of a wider range of financial assets. While the fiscal stance should for the moment remain neutral, it will also need to be sensitive to the speed and scale of the resolution of bad debts. Fiscal policy must now be placed in a medium-term consolidation framework going beyond the government's present plan and incorporating relatively short-term targets for real expenditures.

    • Germany

      Output grew slightly in the first half of 2002, as strengthening net exports more than offset a continuing fall in domestic demand. The recession in equipment investment deepened and private consumption continued to contract. The stronger external contribution to growth was due to a rise in exports but, more importantly, a marked fall in imports reflecting the weakness in domestic demand. While destocking might have reached its trough, growth remains very weak and unemployment is increasing. Growth should pick up in 2003, driven by strengthening exports. As activity broadens in 2004, GDP is projected to grow above potential, at some 2½ per cent.

      The general government deficit is projected to total 3.7 per cent of GDP in 2002 and remain above 3 per cent in 2003. Further expenditure reforms are required to reduce the cyclically-adjusted deficit in a sustainable way, and measures need to be taken to raise the growth path of the economy, notably with respect to improving the functioning of labour markets and streamlining government transfers.

    • France

      After picking up sharply at the beginning of the year, GDP growth slowed to 1.6 per cent in the second quarter. Demand was supported by relatively robust personal and government consumption expenditure, while investment spending and stockbuilding remained weak. Growth has lost momentum during the second half of the year as consumer and business confidence weakened markedly. The slowdown appears to have halted the trend rise in core inflation, while the unemployment rate has remained broadly stable at a level close to its structural rate. Looking forward, growth is projected to remain moderate before slower rates of destocking and a pick-up in external demand prompt a recovery, with output increasing by somewhat less than 2 and 3 per cent in each of 2003 and 2004.

      In its execution, the 2002 Budget represented a substantial easing of fiscal policy, with almost half of the slippage being structural in nature. The draft budget for 2003 does not include well identified measures to redress these overruns, so that the fiscal situation may deteriorate further if cyclical weakness persists. In order to prevent the overall debt from exceeding 60 per cent of GDP and so as to ensure the future sustainability of public finances, especially in the face of rising pension obligations, substantial budgetary savings will need to be found in the near future.

    • Italy

      Growth in the first half of 2002 was minimal, and is expected to have recovered only slightly in the second half of the year. The economy is projected to gather strength during 2003 and in 2004. A pick-up in world trade is likely to boost to exports, while low real interest rates should underpin a revival in domestic demand. Inflation is expected to decline to below 2 per cent by 2004.

      The budget deficit remains high, with the risk that progress on debt reduction will stall. Wage settlements geared to targets and developments at the European level would yield beneficial effects on inflation, employment and competitiveness. At the same time, there is a need to strengthen the underpinnings of growth through more decisive action to liberalise product markets and to improve the functioning of the labour market.

    • United Kingdom

      The economy has weathered the downturn relatively well and the recovery should compare favourably with that of the other major European countries. Strong household demand has been a key element, supported by low interest rates and rising housing wealth. Rapidly growing public expenditure is providing additional support to activity and will continue to do so, being gradually supplemented by growing external demand and a revival of investment.

      Monetary and fiscal policy have provided a stable macroeconomic environment to date. However the current surge in house prices creates a dilemma for monetary policy as to whether to act before any potential bubble becomes a risk to macroeconomic stability. The large increases in public expenditure, needed to address deep-seated structural problems in education, health and transport, are not expected to break the authorities’ fiscal rules. However the government faces a challenge in ensuring that the higher spending is fully translated into better public services.

    • Canada

      After recovering vigorously from last year’s mild downturn, economic activity in Canada seems to have maintained its momentum, in contrast to the United States. Employment growth has remained strong and is set to continue so, albeit at a slower pace. Although some signs of softening have recently appeared, partly connected to global uncertainties, the sustained expansion of consumer demand and a further pick-up of business investment should ensure that any moderation will be mild and short-lived, and growth should return to above potential rates some time next year.

      The budget surplus has declined significantly and is expected to remain modest in coming years, leaving limited room for new spending. The monetary stance is still expansionary. With the economy already close to full capacity and core inflation near the top of the target range, a gradual but steady monetary tightening will be required to keep price pressures under control.

    • Australia

      The economy continued to perform strongly in the first half of 2002, as buoyant domestic demand more than offset the weakness of exports. With monetary conditions remaining supportive and the global environment expected to improve, economic growth is projected to remain robust, despite the current farm drought and a likely downturn in the residential property sector. The labour market may improve further, while the combination of wage moderation and sizeable productivity gains will help keep labour costs and inflation under control.

      The favourable economic outlook should permit a more neutral setting of monetary and fiscal policies, to lock in price stability and ensure budget balance over the economic cycle. Further decentralisation of wage bargaining should help to lower the still high structural unemployment, while reform of the income support system should aim at strengthening the incentives of welfare recipients to participate in gainful employment.

    • Austria

      Economic activity has been slowly picking up since the end of 2001. However, the expansion has mainly been supported by firmer export growth, as domestic demand has remained weak and imports have fallen. Growth should firm from mid-2003 as world trade recovers, but unemployment is unlikely to begin falling before 2004.

      The general government budget, which was balanced in 2001, is likely to be in deficit this year by about 1½ per cent of GDP, and improve only marginally in 2003. A durable path towards a balanced budget requires both the full implementation of planned fiscal consolidation measures at all levels of government and the replacing of one-off revenue measures with lasting savings.

    • Belgium

      Economic growth is largely determined by international demand conditions and is likely to remain weak until early 2003. Thereafter growth is projected to pick up to 2¾ per cent in 2004 in line with a recovery of export markets. Underlying inflation is likely to fall to 1¾ per cent, reflecting lower increases in unit labour costs.

      Fiscal policy has sought to offset the cyclical deterioration in the budget position and sustained consolidation will be required over the coming years to keep debt reduction on track.

    • Czech Republic

      Growth has slowed to about 2½ per cent in 2002, essentially reflecting a slowdown of external demand as private consumption has remained robust and public consumption increased strongly. Falling food prices and an appreciating currency have contributed to a marked decline in inflation. The big drop in tourism receipts in the aftermath of recent floods can be expected to be reversed and the pace of expansion is projected to pick up in 2003 and 2004, following a broadening recovery in western Europe.

      The fiscal policy stance has loosened excessively this year and should be tightened. International competitiveness has remained weak, despite strong disinflation and even though the authorities have managed to limit exchange-rate appreciation in the face of massive foreign direct investment inflows. A determined pursuit of structural reforms is needed to improve the performance of the domestically-owned corporate sector, increase trend productivity growth and bolster international competitiveness.

    • Denmark

      Denmark is already enjoying a recovery in private consumption and stronger exports. The pace of activity is projected to pick up gradually as the international situation improves and firms regain sufficient confidence to increase investment and expand employment. But unemployment is already lower than its structural rate and labour shortages accompanied by accelerating wages could re-emerge as the expansion quickens.

      The authorities continue to steer a prudent fiscal course, and the "tax freeze" should help to constrain public consumption growth in the face of strong upward pressures. Recent initiatives to get more people into work and reduce reliance on benefits are welcome, and further reforms to boost participation should be pursued.

    • Finland

      Output growth continues to be volatile, with a surge in the second quarter mainly due to exports. As international demand picks up, GDP growth should reach 3 per cent next year, in line with potential, and may exceed it in 2004. If the export recovery is delayed there is a risk of labour shedding and weakening domestic demand, which until now has held up reasonably well.

      The general government account has remained in surplus. However, slippage against fiscal targets needs to be addressed, especially given a rapidly ageing population. In this context, the recent agreement on pension reform, which increases incentives to work longer and provides adjustments to reflect increasing life expectancy, is welcome. Further improvements in the labour market will require additional reform of the tax and benefit systems to raise work incentives and increase demand for low-skilled workers.

    • Greece

      Following a brief slowdown in 2002, growth is projected to recover to around 4 per cent in 2003 and 2004, reflecting buoyant domestic demand and stronger export demand. This should lead to a further decline in the still-high unemployment rate. Inflation is expected to decelerate over the projection period, influenced by lower food and energy prices. Inflationary pressures remain, though, because of the strong cyclical position of the economy.

      Further efforts to control primary government expenditure are required to reduce the still high debt-to-GDP ratio and ensure fiscal sustainability. Recent reforms of the social security and tax systems are steps in that direction. More rapid progress in addressing the remaining structural rigidities in the labour market, a faster opening of network industries to competition and bold reforms in public administration would help towards the convergence of incomes to European Union levels.

    • Hungary

      GDP is likely to expand by more than 3 per cent in 2002 led by strong domestic demand. Although competitiveness has weakened and the net contribution from trade has become strongly negative, the growth impulse will carry over to 2003, when international recovery will add further stimulus.

      Ongoing fiscal loosening is putting pressure on monetary policy. Fiscal policy needs to be tightened substantially, both to forestall overheating and to allow monetary policy to be more supportive of competitiveness so as to avoid undue deterioration of the foreign balance and a negative impact on foreign direct investment inflows. Labour market reforms should support employment adjustments in the government sector and encourage business sector demand for low-skilled labour, in order to provide a boost to Hungary’s low employment rate.

    • Iceland

      With robust export growth largely offsetting the contraction in domestic demand, the economic downturn has been milder and shorter than expected. It has, nevertheless sufficed to correct the sizeable external deficit and high inflation that had emerged in recent years. Improved fundamentals have allowed some monetary easing and set the stage for a gradual recovery.

      As inflation has moved well within the target band, further interest cuts might be warranted. However, steady monetary tightening will probably be required later in the projection period when the output gap is expected to close and major investment projects are likely to get underway. Public spending discipline will be crucial to offset the fiscal effect of both tax cuts and infrastructure expenditure related to those projects.

    • Ireland

      Growth in the first half of this year was underpinned by an unanticipated surge in public consumption and strong exports, both of which should fade. Nonetheless, output growth is projected to pick up gradually from 3½ per cent this year to 4½ per cent in 2004, supported by private consumption and a recovery of investment. Inflation is projected to edge down, but if wage growth fails to decelerate there would be a further loss of competitiveness and slower growth.

      The government needs to move quickly to bring the rapid growth of public employment and consumption under control so as to maintain needed improvements to infrastructure without increasing the budget deficit. The recommended rise in public sector wages should only be granted against commitments to improve work practices. There is no room for another national wage agreement based on tax cuts.

    • Korea

      Buoyant private consumption has fuelled a recovery from the 2001 slowdown. With a pick-up in external demand, output growth of around 6 per cent is projected to continue through to 2004. The unemployment rate is below 3 per cent and, though inflation has stabilised at around 3 per cent, a double-digit hike in wages and a sharp increase in housing prices are raising concerns about the outlook for inflation.

      Given the pressures emerging in the labour and real estate markets, it will be necessary to reverse gradually the decline in short-term interest rates that occurred in 2001 in order to achieve the medium-term inflation target of 2½ per cent. The privatisation of government-owned banks is important to promote corporate restructuring and to cover at least part of the cost of financial-sector restructuring. A prudent fiscal policy will be needed to absorb the remainder of such costs.

    • Luxembourg

      GDP is expected to grow at well below potential in 2002 for the second consecutive year, as this small and open economy specialised in financial services has been hard hit by the fall in asset prices and sluggish manufacturing activity in Europe. These adverse external shocks are cushioned to some extent by relatively robust domestic demand, which has been boosted by tax cuts and substantial increases in public investment. A pickup in external demand and stabilising financial market conditions should lead to a marked acceleration in growth as from the end of 2003.

      As economic conditions improve, the government should seek to raise the cyclically-adjusted budget balance to be prepared for the fiscal impact of population ageing.

    • Mexico

      Activity bottomed out in the first half of 2002, but the recovery is still hesitant and seems likely to become well-established only in 2003, when private domestic demand is projected to pick up. Inflation is expected to slow further. The current account deficit, which has narrowed in 2002, is expected to widen gradually as activity gains momentum.

      Economic policies were tightened in 2002, in the context of a weaker peso and stalling disinflation. This stance needs to be maintained to keep disinflation and fiscal consolidation on target and retain market confidence. Implementation of the structural agenda, including the electricity and tax reforms, would reduce business uncertainty and improve growth prospects.

    • Netherlands

      After stagnating in 2002, real GDP growth is set to recover only slowly. The economy will receive positive impulses from exports and stockbuilding in 2003 but growth will be limited by a loss in competitiveness and by fiscal tightening. Unemployment is projected to rise, leading to somewhat lower wage increases, but the labour market will remain relatively tight. Inflation is projected to fall to 2 per cent by 2004, reflecting lower import prices and a decline in unit labour costs.

      Sustained wage moderation is essential to restore competitiveness, especially in view of the risk that pension fund losses might necessitate a further increase in contribution rates. Incentives to work need to be strengthened, while higher expenditure on education, which is relatively low in comparison with other OECD countries, as well as on innovation, could contribute to better overall performance.

    • New Zealand

      Activity in the first half of 2002 was exceptionally strong, as the flow-through effects of high export prices fuelled domestic demand. But this stimulus has weakened markedly, and growth is likely to have fallen substantially in the second half. The pace of expansion should pick up again next year and into 2004 in line with global recovery, though not so much as to lead to overheating.

      This mild slowdown, with the new less-aggressive inflation target, should stay the central bank’s hand until a robust recovery is clearly in place. After that, interest rates would need to rise only slightly to return monetary conditions to neutral. The fiscal stance remains appropriate but there are substantial challenges to maintaining surpluses over the medium term. Expenditure slippage may also be harder to resist now that the government has not renewed its three-year spending cap.

    • Norway

      Despite some easing of activity, bottlenecks have persisted. Monetary conditions are tight and profits have been squeezed, but tax cuts and solid pay rises continue to boost consumption. Mainland output growth could strengthen from 1½ per cent in 2002 and 2003 to 2½ per cent in 2004. The unemployment rate is expected to stabilise at 4 per cent with inflation remaining subdued.

      The authorities should not ease fiscal policy beyond the room for manoeuvre provided by the new fiscal guideline and should offset spending overruns by expenditure cuts elsewhere. Pension reforms are needed urgently to safeguard the long-run sustainability of public finances.

    • Poland

      Output grew by only 0.6 per cent in the first half of this year. Although volatile, recent data suggest a recovery is under way. As a result, GDP growth is projected to continue to firm, reaching about 3 per cent in 2004. With unemployment at about 20 per cent of the labour force and a substantial output gap, inflation is expected to remain broadly stable in both 2003 and 2004.

      Substantial reductions of nominal interest rates and the decline in the currency have eased monetary conditions, but policy remains tight and further cuts are required. In order to improve the policy mix, general government spending needs to be reduced as compared with the levels proposed in the 2003 draft Budget. Such a step also appears necessary to prevent debt levels from breaching constitutional limits.

    • Portugal

      Real GDP growth decelerated further in 2002 to below ½ per cent, reflecting weak exports, sluggish private demand and cutbacks in government investment. A gradual export-led recovery is projected for 2003. By 2004, with private investment reviving, GDP growth could approach potential, at around 2½ per cent, but still leaving a large output gap. In this context, inflation is expected to ease, while remaining higher than the European Union average.

      Fiscal consolidation will have to be pursued forcefully, despite the weak outlook, requiring strong measures to limit government spending, including tight control of the public payroll and structural reform in social spending areas.

    • Slovak Republic

      Strong domestic demand has enabled Slovakia to maintain buoyant growth during the past two years despite global weakness. However, the current account deficit has been uncomfortably large. A pick-up in export demand is now projected to sustain growth at around 4 per cent through 2004, resulting in a modest decline in unemployment, and a narrowing of the current account deficit.

      It is essential that the new government reform the social security and social welfare systems in order to improve work incentives and reduce the budget deficit. Fiscal consolidation would also increase the scope for the central bank to cut interest rates further. Pushing ahead with privatisation will also be important in enhancing efficiency and in generating capital inflows.

    • Spain

      Economic growth slowed considerably in the first half of 2002, reflecting weaker household spending and sluggish foreign demand. Despite subdued activity, inflation has accelerated and the differential with the euro area remains high. Stronger exports should revive domestic demand, lifting GDP growth to 2½ per cent in 2003 and above potential in 2004.

      From 2003 onwards, all levels of administration have to aim at a budget in balance or surplus. Given the uncertainty about the final budgetary impact of the personal income tax cut planned for 2003, the government will have to control expenditure tightly to avoid a deterioration in the cyclically-adjusted balance. Reforms of the wage bargaining system should aim at establishing a closer link between wage and productivity growth, which should help in reducing the inflation differential with the euro area.

    • Sweden

      A recovery is well underway in Sweden, although output growth has remained below its potential rate in 2002. Growth of around 2½ to 2¾ per cent in the next two years could close the output gap and turn it positive by 2004. Prospects are nevertheless sensitive to developments in the information and communications technology sector and in the labour supply, since an already tight labour market is generating inflation pressures.

      Interest rates will need to be raised in 2003 as activity gains steam. Although the general government financial surplus remains substantial, greater efforts are needed to rein in the surge in expenditure on sickness benefits and disability pensions. Policies to increase effective labour supply would help to curb pressure on wages.

    • Switzerland

      The slowdown in activity continued in conjunction with the slackening of the external environment and the appreciation of the franc. GDP growth, which was close to zero in 2002, should however pick up and reach around 1½ per cent in 2003, thanks to the international recovery and to an expansionary monetary policy. The improvement in the economic situation is unlikely to result in a fall in unemployment before mid-2003, while inflation could ease to less than ½ per cent.

      The very accommodating stance of monetary policy is appropriate and should be maintained until the recovery is firmly established. But a more expansionary fiscal policy is hardly advisable, and would not be consistent with the new debt containment rule, which implies a stable cyclically-adjusted balance. There is a need to boost potential growth and this requires a more efficient factor utilisation, which should be stimulated by enhanced competition.

    • Turkey

      The Turkish economy is recovering unexpectedly quickly, following the worst recession in decades. Real growth of close to 4 per cent is likely in 2002, with inflation slowing to below its target of 35 per cent by year-end. Given renewed lira weakness since mid-year, achieving next year’s 20 per cent inflation target appears problematical, especially if the pace of growth were to strengthen further. However, with real interest rates also higher and policies set to remain tight, growth should be contained between 3½ and 4½ per cent in 2003 and 2004.

      A strong and credible government following the 3 November elections, able to carry through the current stabilisation programme, is key to any lasting improvement in Turkey’s creditworthiness. A decline in the sovereign risk premium to reasonable levels is critical to achieving fiscal sustainability and low-inflation growth.

    • Developments in Selected Non-member Economies

      A marked pickup in real GDP growth in the Asian economies during the first half of 2002 was sparked by a recovery in manufacturing exports to the United States, reinforced by strengthening regional domestic demand. Trade within the region is also being boosted by the ongoing shift of regional production facilities to China. Despite the recovery in 2002, domestic demand in several economies is vulnerable to downside risks arising from continued internal financial strains and other structural problems. In China, these problems are likely to lead to a progressive weakening in domestic demand and real GDP growth in coming years unless further reforms beyond those now officially planned are undertaken.

      Economic growth in South-East Europe and the Newly Independent States, whose trade is mainly linked to European countries, has benefited little from the recovery in the United States but continues to be underpinned by a strong expansion in internal demand. Real growth is expected to remain robust in 2002, at around 4 per cent both for Russia and for the region. For Russia, growth of this order may be sustainable in the medium-term, mainly as a result of better management of Russia’s large private enterprises and improved macroeconomic policies. However, a stable macroeconomic environment still depends critically on effective and prudent management of budgetary and foreign exchange windfalls stemming from current high oil prices, so that major current account and fiscal imbalances are avoided if oil prices weaken.

      The problems of Argentina and Brazil, and their spillover to neighbouring economies, have led to a weak economic performance of South America in 2002. In Brazil, real GDP has been stagnant, due in part to the political uncertainty surrounding the October elections. Argentina’s crisis may be bottoming out, although the signs of recovery are fragile. Economic recovery is conditional on a smooth political transition and maintenance of prudent macroeconomic policies in Brazil and progress on reforms in Argentina.

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