Business delegates attending the Tunisia Investment Forum in mid-June 2012 were assured that despite the socio-political challenges that continue to affect Tunisia, the country’s economy has displayed strong signs of recovery and its business climate is rapidly improving.
Ezzedine Saidane, CEO of Directway Consulting, said: “For the first time since January 14, 2011, the Tunisian economy has shown positive growth compared to 2010. Things have to get slightly worse before they get significantly better. We seem to have touched the bottom, and the economy is now showing serious signs of rebound, and we [are set to] generate new investments…and new job opportunities.”
More than 1500 participants from the local and international business community attended the forum, which was hosted by Tunisia’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA). Speakers highlighted the problems that the post-revolution government must tackle urgently.
“The number one challenge in Tunisia right now is safety, security and stability,” said Mohamed Malouche, president of the US-based association, Tunisian American Young Professionals. Indeed earlier that week, a night time curfew was imposed after a man died in a riot that broke out following protests by conservative Salafi Muslims against an art exhibition that they deemed insulting to Islam. Nevertheless Mr Saidane said: “We are in the process of converting Tunisia’s short-term challenges to a longer-term opportunity, and we hope you will benefit from the opportunities this country is generating now.”
According to estimates from United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, more than 3000 foreign companies currently employ 325,000 people in Tunisia. The FIPA conference was the government’s latest bid to reassure investors of its ongoing support of their presence. In an interview with fDi Magazine, Alaya Bettaieb, the secretary of state to Tunisia’s minister of investment and international co-operation was confident that Tunisia remains a competitive destination for FDI into the continent.
“Today the statistics show FDI into Tunisia, in terms of volume and number of companies, is increasing smoothly compared to 2011,” said Mr Bettaieb. “There has been an increase of about 20% to 30% [of FDI]. We still receive a lot of investors coming into Tunisia, who see that the solution to their problems is located [here]. [For example], Spain, after Greece, is one of the most affected countries [in the eurozone]. There are problems at home for Spanish companies, so they are going abroad to seek solutions. I believe that Tunisia can really be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
When questioned about the implications that the continued social unrest could have on FDI, Mr Bettaieb was quick to highlight that these were positive signs of an evolving democracy, where Tunisians were practising their freedom of expression and human rights, which were previously barred under the old regime.
“There is a consensus today between the different political parties. By the end of this year, the elaboration of the constitution will be finished, and I believe that…by March 2013 Tunisia will have [an] election,” said Mr Bettaieb. “The revolution gave birth to the first ever elected government, and the first ever elected parliament. International observers present in Tunisia note the democratic process is progressing well…and it is considered irreversible.”