Q: You have stated that this is the best moment to invest in Tunisia since 2011. Why do you believe that?
A: In the past eight years of our transition to democracy, we have gone through a learning phase. We have worked on many levels, we’ve had several government changes [six different heads of government since 2011], as happens when a country goes from one system to another. Now, Youssef Chahed is the longest standing prime minister we have had since 2011, which is important in terms of stability – it sends the right signals.
We have gone from less than 1% economic growth between 2015 and 2016 to nearly 2% in 2017, with a 3% target for 2018. We should get close to that, and we are aiming towards 5% by 2020. We have worked a lot on security. We had our unfortunate share of tragic events in 2015, and we had to overcome that. Now we are working on the country’s image, [telling people] how things have improved since then. We are witnessing a record year in tourism, with about 8 million visitors expected, and this is a vote of confidence – we put a lot of hard work into that, into infrastructure, marketing, security.
Besides, foreign investors are still here, we have had a 20% growth in FDI this year so far. Between 2011 and 2014 we experienced a transition towards democracy. After eight years, we believe it’s the best time to invest as we have political and social stability.
Q: The government is emphasising the development of a public-private partnership [PPP] programme to attract investment. What are its specifics?
A: We are working on all the engines of growth; all sectors are important, from tourism to agriculture, manufacturing and technology. We selected 33 projects worth roughly $5bn. Investor and consumer confidence in Tunisia is back, and they are key ingredients for economic stability. Today we have regained the confidence from both local and international investors. PPPs are big projects, primarily infrastructure oriented. The programme is sponsored by the International Finance Corporation [IFC] and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [EBRD] – that’s also a vote of confidence to the programme's quality and seriousness.
Q: How will you provide the long-term stability needed for a PPP programme to be successful?
A: We are working with global institutions such as the IFC and the EBRD to get the assistance to make sure we are doing it right. We are looking at success stories around the world – Jordan, for example – to adopt the best practices. We need to make it happen. We can’t fully finance our economy through the budget, we need private partnerships with local and international investors. No emerging market has succeeded in going to another level of prosperity on its own with its own financial resources. That is the case in Tunisia. We need the technical and financial involvement of international players to raise levels across the board.
Q: Tunisia may still be perceived, from a security perspective, as a tricky place in which to do business. How are you trying to change these perceptions?
A: Typically, sensational news stories are the ones that stick in people’s minds, hence we encourage people to come and visit the country. As many as 8 million tourists in 2018 means a lot; we encourage British people to come and see, and then invest. We do mean business. We live in a highly competitive world, there is no reason why hundreds of companies from the EU are doing business in Tunisia, but not very many from UK. It’s not a language barrier, it’s more about the mindset, the perception – we need to work on that.