Ridha Saidi: Tunisia – An emerging industrial nation with international relations

Tunisia entered a crucial phase of its contemporary history with the Jasmine Revolution of 2010/2011, which amazed the world with its calm and peacefulness.

The country is now living in the rhythm of a real transition to democracy. The key foundations of this are the principles of the rule of law, respect for public and individual freedoms and the protection of universal values such as human rights. Tunisia is making great strides in this direction. This can be seen most no­­­tice­­ably in the organisation of elections to the national assembly to draw up the new constitution. These were held under trans­­­parent and democratic conditions and pursued the goal of writing a new constitution to protect the rights and freedoms of all Tunisian men and women. At the same time, Tunisia is making ef­­­forts to reach a consensus, so that a clear road map for the forthcoming large political events – most notably the next presidential and parliamentary elections – can be drawn up.

Although the democratic transition is moving forward smoothly, complete suc­­cess is only possible if efforts are also made at sustainable economic develop­­ment which can meet the expectations of young Tunisian men and women: rising income, job creation and improved living conditions for all social groups. One im­­­portant issue for Tunisians is a focus on the development of the country’s interior, which suffered from marginalisation for many years, even though it offers both workers and natural resources.

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On this basis, the government is paying a great deal of attention to reforming the national economy and organising it in a more efficient and diverse way, so that it can become more competitive. Alongside measures taken by the state itself, investment from home and abroad also plays a vital role in the country’s development.

In cooperation and consultation with all the parties involved, the government has therefore begun to prepare the outline of a comprehensive programme of reform. This is intended to create the foundation for investment, stable governance and the transparency of the measures, while the institutional system will be modernised in line with internationally proven methods. These measures will improve the perform­­­­ance of public administration and the quality of the services they provide.

The reform of the legal system which has been initiated is part of a strategic vision which incorporates the interests and ex­­pectations of all the parties involved and takes into consideration dialogue with all parties, institutions, businesspeople, national organisations, charities and funding sources, civil societies and other inter­­ested parties.

Alongside these initiatives, fast progress is being made towards reforming the banking sector, which will help both to strengthen its capacity and to develop and change the financial system for invest­­ments and initiatives. The strategy defined for the sector is in keeping with the require­­ments and emphasises the necessity of involving the areas in the country’s interior and the potential and quality of life there.

National consensus and dialogue between all political, economic and social powers in the most important issues is our top priority. This is the only way to guarantee constructive rapprochement while taking into account the priorities for Tunisia and its citizens.

The sustained positive trend is characteristic of our country. The production cycle in the various fields of the economy will therefore return to its normal speed in next to no time. But the Tunisian eco­­nomy is set to become even more dynamic, open, competitive and investment-friendly. The in­­crea­­se in foreign investment in Tunisia in 2012 was a direct result of these circumstances.

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The country was ranked top among African countries in the league table for fair competition in the annual classification made at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This assessment was also recently corroborated by the Doing Business Report 2013, in which Tunisia came 50th among 185 locations, ahead of all other North African countries. The increase in the number of companies being founded by foreign investors is further proof of the faith being put in the country. The number of visits to Tunisia by foreign business delegations has reached a record high – further proof that the country is an outstanding location for businesspeople and investors.

Even in the early 1970s, thousands of international companies were flooding into Tunisia to improve their competitive­­ness. Thanks to its advantageous infrastructural substance, Tunisia follows world­­wide industrial development in real time. Today, the textile industry and mechanical engineering, energy, automotive and aircraft construction sectors have made the country the most important exporter to
the EU south of the Mediterranean. Re­­­gardless of whether they are making pre­­­mium-quality clothing or extremely com­­plex high-tech products, Tunisian workers react to orders quickly and appropriately for the requirements.

With their outstanding talents and their passion for technological innovations, Tu­­nisia’s people have always been the country’s greatest asset, shaping a business culture over generations which has been famous for over 3000 years.

Tunisia is therefore investing in education, schooling and further training in order to provide the labour market with the skills it needs and strengthen the spirit of initiative, creativity and innovation. At the same time, research institutions and technology centres such as the eminent Tunis Telecommunications Techno­­­logy Park are being promoted and orga­­nised in a more varied way, in order to allow them to develop new potential for business and creativity.

However, access to new markets is also key for competitiveness. Tunisia has made an important step forward in the integration process, especially within the PAN-EURO-­MED zone, as a first step towards the glo­­bal markets. The country is a member of the WTO and FTA agreements and is in ongoing negotiations with the EU, Turkey, Morocco and Jordan. An FTA with the USA is also under discussion.

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Tunisia stands out thanks to relatively low production costs: well-trained specialist staff at competitive labour costs, fully-equip­­ped property, reasonable rents, low ener­­­gy prices for industry, com­­mercial zones with easy access to export markets. Attrac­­tive regulatory systems further consolidate Tunisia’s strengths.

Furthermore, Tunisia is currently completing the foundation of a national investment agency whose main remit will be to coor­­dinate the activities of the various econo­­mic stakeholders and to develop a clear investment strategy which takes the re­­gional investment benefits into account.

One key item of progress is the legal framework for the various options for cooperation between the public and private sectors, which gives investors a clear overview of diversified investment options and partnerships.

The Tunisians see the development of the regions in the country’s interior, which have suffered from marginalisation and youth unemployment for many years, as their greatest challenge. The government has made reform and revision of investment incentives a top priority, in order to structure these in a more efficient and diversified way and thus to become more competitive. The new investment code will also contain additional activities which have not been taken into account before.

Tunisia’s recent acceptance into the OECD and the treaties signed on good governance and the prevention of corruption and bribery are far-reaching signals and send an especially positive message about the trustworthiness of Tunisia as a location.

We are confident that the principles of good governance and transparency, taking the infrastructure particularly into account, will strengthen Tunisia’s ability to generate new investment, especially in the country’s interior and in the technology sector.

Tunisia is open for visitors and investments. It is looking to the future full of hope and inviting you to join it!

 

Saidi-KopieRidha Saidi was born in 1962 in Menzel Bourguiba, Tunisia. The former Minister delegated to the Prime Minister in charge of economic and social affairs holds an engineering degree from the École nationale d’ingénieurs de Tunis (ENIT) and a Master degree in Quality Manage­­ment and Productivity. He served as chair­­man of the northwest district of the Tunisian Electricity and Gas Com­­pany (STEG).