Industrial and commercial zones are a central economic promotion instrument for the Tunisian government. In order to maintain existing businesses and provide incentives for the settlement of foreign enterprises, a well-developed infrastructure and demand-oriented services are essential for these sites.
As a bridgehead, Tunisia provides positive prospects for foreign investors. German companies enjoy a good reputation in Tunisia and are warmly welcomed. The infrastructure that is required for a business to settle here is either already in place or is being further expanded. On the one hand, high unemployment remains an unsolved problem that causes social tensions, particularly among young people. On the other, many employed adults are well-qualified, and wage levels are comparatively low. Tunisia is looking to change its image as a low-wage country and is seeking a connection to large industrial nations in production and development processes. At the same time, the country has the most developed healthcare system in North Africa and is planning to continue to expand the service sector. Consequently, Tunisia sees itself as a bridge between Europe and the French and Arabic-speaking countries of Africa.
Businesses willing to invest in the regions of the country with weaker infrastructure enjoy exclusive benefits. But it is important to analyse the situation carefully for projects in the country’s interior. In this case, intensive exchange with companies that are already in the area is recommended. Contacts that have proved to be useful for research and gaining information are listed in the annex.
Concentration of companies – optimisation requirements in planning and management. Half of the around 5,800 industrial and production companies with more than 10 employees are located in one of the 158 industrial and commercial zones throughout the country. The industry enjoys a high status in the country: a total of 500,000 employees are employed in the manufacturing (secondary) industrial sector. The industry share of the gross national product amounts to around 35 per cent.
Nevertheless, the infrastructural challenges and service problems in the industrial zones remain serious in many places. German investors should therefore pay particular attention to efficient management and a basic range of overarching services when choosing their location. The overall situation with regard to industrial and commercial enterprises has to improve in the years to come, so that business establishments remain attractive for foreign investors. The current system of management through self-administration is only effective enough to guarantee the maintenance of the infrastructure and the provision of all required services for some industrial and commercial zones. Furthermore, there are environmental problems that are mainly caused by sewage and waste disposal.
Market potential: services and infrastructure in existing and new commercial zones. At the same time, market potential for foreign businesses is on the rise, for instance for specific services within the existing industrial and commercial zones, which can be developed in cooperation with Tunisian businesses. Examples of this include the establishment of canteens or waste disposal. Further opportunities result from the planning of up to 120 new industrial and commercial zones by 2014. The legal framework for transparent tendering is currently being created so that European companies can also participate in the development of new infrastructures.
Economic, environmental and social strengthening of commercial zones.
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supports the emerging Tunisia on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in planning and sustainably improving the management structures of industrial and commercial zones – in economic, environmental and social aspects. In the process, it relies on the cooperation of the self-administration bodies borne by the companies. These have come together in a national umbrella organisation which represents the interests of the individual members towards the administration and political bodies. In its political partners, especially the Tunisian Ministry of Industry, GIZ relies on employee training and structural consultancy.
Significant success and dynamic development. The efforts are paying off: the actors generally agree that the management of industrial and business areas has become apparent after years of shadowy existence. Moreover, it is receiving great attention and is now experiencing dynamic development compared to previous years. The topic has also aroused political interest: four governors are actively engaged in the establishment of local management associations. Important statistical information about the condition of the infrastructure and the satisfaction of investors is available for the first time. Guidelines for the establishment and management of industrial and commercial zones have been created and businesses received support in the establishment of new management associations. Over 50 per cent of industrial zones now have a management structure. But the direct effects can also be seen and measured. Thanks to a learning-by-doing approach, over 220 measures were implemented in 27 industrial and commercial zones. 30 of them can be attributed to social aspects. These range from childcare to the development of street lighting and access to public transport to medical or financial services within the commercial zones. A total of 40 environmental protection measures are carried out in 15 industrial and commercial zones. These include improved waste disposal, the establishment and maintenance of green areas, and the repair and maintenance of the sewage system.
Greater decentralisation of responsibilities and more systematic follow-ups will be essential in the future in order to ensure demand-based management and development of existing and new industrial and commercial zones. Specific approaches are currently being developed, taking all decision makers into account, from the local to the national level.
Outlook. If Tunisia succeeds in finding a path to democracy after the political upheaval, positive economic development will take root in the medium and long term. The government has ambitious goals and is looking to expand the industrial and commercial zones so that new companies can settle and create jobs. GIZ will primarily focus on the sustainably structured planning of this project and will thus have a direct influence on the management structures which arise.
Economic development in Tunisia has many facets – one of them is actively strengthening the management of existing and future industrial and commercial zones from an environmental, economic and social point of view.