With the economic development community stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. 

Tunisia, like its neighbouring North-African countries, has had fewer coronavirus cases than many European countries, but its government has still implemented social distancing restrictions. Abdelbasset Ghanmi, CEO of Tunisia’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (Fipa-Tunisia), tells Taha Ahmed how it’s adjusting and what IPAs should be prioritising.

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Q: How’s life in Tunisia right now?

A: People can still move under authorisation, but my team and I are working from home most of the time. We have been containing the health emergency in Tunisia, as only a few people have been infected. Nonetheless, the switch to home working has not been easy.

Q: What’s it been like for Fipa-Tunisia in the last few weeks? 

A: All of our promotion activities, conferences and trips have been postponed or cancelled, so our priority has been retaining and working with existing clients to react to this situation. We’re seeing a sense of urgency among foreign companies because they face problems with their suppliers, so we have set up crisis support that is available 24/7 to provide updates on the situation. It primarily deals with food and healthcare, as these industries are authorised to continue to operate as usual. But we also offer companies in other sectors the chance to operate, as long as they apply for their own authorisation. 

Q: How has Fipa-Tunisia adjusted on a more strategic level?

A: We are reviewing our promotion strategy and will be focusing on digital promotion, using social media and our website. We are really adapting our way of doing things, including the adoption of new technologies such as geo-mapping and virtual reality. We will strengthen virtual lead generation activities and will invest more in technology because we don’t believe we’ll be able to go abroad in the next few months. We have also implemented a new customer relationship management (CRM) system to ensure the follow-up of our accounts. 

Q: What do you see in the mid-to-long-term? 

A: I believe this crisis will be an opportunity for Tunisia as many companies will be looking to nearshore operations and we can leverage our proximity to Europe. We can attract more investment in specific industries in which Tunisia has a competitive advantage and we are reviewing the list of priority sectors according to these new circumstances. Tunisia can be a good partner for big markets in Europe, the Middle East and neighbouring countries in North Africa. The most important thing is to prepare for life after Covid-19 and be ready for the recovery, because there will be strong competition for investment and we are already thinking how to be more aggressive to highlight the assets our country has and focus on the sectors and the activities in which Tunisia has comparative advantages over our competitors.

Q: How has this crisis affected you as an individual? 

A: We may be safe at home but the big concern for us is the problems our partners are facing, because we believe that foreign countries based in Tunisia are partners and not just investors.

Abdelbasset Ghanmi is CEO of Tunisia's Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (Fipa-Tunisia).

If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.