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Tunisia - Economy

The economic system that was developed by the newly independent Tunisia was neither liberal nor Marxist. Though it was labeled as socialist by the new leaders, it was not really Marxist and was not propelled by ideological considerations. What emerged in post-colonial Tunisia was an economic system dominated by the state. It became the country's major entrepreneur, employer, and provider. The state used its prerogative of making legally binding decisions to discriminate against the few competing entrepreneurs. The antecedents and contributing factors to this situation are comparable to those in most LDCs: scarcity of private investment capital, little accumulation of wealth, absence of an industrial base, and low technological levels. Moreover, most production and assets were tied up in traditional agriculture.

The state found itself inthe position of having to counteract almost all of these adverse factors to achieve adequate economic growth. As in other LDCs, the state was seen as the only force capable of raising funds for investment capital through taxation, customs, and foreign loans. Also, unlike Tunisia's private entrepreneurs, the state was not adverse to risk taking.

These factors contributed to the Tunisian population becoming increasingly economically dependent on the national government. It expected the state to take economic initiatives, both in providing basic needs and services and in taking a leading role in building the economy.

The transition to limited political pluralism and an open market system inthe 1980s was preceded in the early 1970s by the lifting of some discriminatory restrictions against private entrepreneurs. Active encouragement of private businessmen resuscitated private enterprise and improved export performance. However, the private sector continued to be limited by the state's domination of the industrial and services sectors.

Tunisia's economy has emerged from rigid state control and is now partially liberalized. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Tunisia's prudent economic policies, coupled with World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) support, have resulted in stable growth with healthy exports, a strong tourism sector, and favorable climatic conditions for agricultural production.

Economically and commercially, Tunisia is very closely linked to Europe. Tunisia signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which went into effect on January 1, 2008. The agreement eliminates customs tariffs and other trade barriers on manufactured goods, and provides for the establishment of an EU-Tunisia free trade area in goods, but not in agriculture or services; trade negotiations in these areas are ongoing.

Manufacturing industries, producing largely for export, are a major source of foreign currency revenue. Industrial production represents about 31.5% of GDP. It primarily consists of petroleum, mining (particularly phosphates), textiles, footwear, food processing, and electrical and mechanical manufactures. Textiles are a major source of foreign currency revenue, with more than 90% of production being exported. The Government of Tunisia, working with the European Commission and other partners, has implemented several programs to upgrade the capacity of key industrial sectors to remain competitive while the country gradually opens to trade with Europe and other regions.

Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange, representing about 11.57% of hard currency receipts ($2.572 billion), as well as an important sector for employment. In 2009, 6.9 million tourists visited Tunisia, hailing largely from Europe and North Africa. While the influx of tourists represents a boon to the economy, Tunisia's large diaspora (about 1 million) also makes a positive and significant contribution. In 2009, remittances from abroad reached 2.652 billion dinars (approximately $1.965 billion), or roughly 4.51% of Tunisia's GDP and 7.25 % of the country's foreign currency earnings (TND 11.687 billion, or U.S. $9.583 billion).

The country is a net importer of hydrocarbon products. Domestic crude production is 91,380 barrels per day, but refining capacity is only 34,000 barrels a day. Proven reserves are in the region of 400 million barrels. Tunisia has one oil refinery on the north coast in Bizerte and in May 2006 awarded a tender to Qatar Petroleum for a second at La Skhira, near Gabes. Natural gas production is currently about 3 million tons oil equivalent. Proven reserves are about 65.13 billion cubic feet, two-thirds of which are located offshore.

The United States and Tunisia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in October 2002 and follow-up TIFA Council meetings were held in October 2003, June 2005, and March 2008. Although TIFAs could serve as precursor agreements leading to bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), little progress has been made toward generating the necessary reforms required to engender an FTA. In 2004, Tunisia signed the framework agreement for a multilateral trade agreement with Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, known as the Agadir Agreement. The Agadir Agreement creates a potential market of over 100 million people across North Africa and into the Middle East.

The government still retains control over certain "strategic" sectors of the economy (finance, hydrocarbons, aviation, electricity and gas distribution, and water resources) but the private sector is playing an increasingly important role. Tunisia is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is publicly committed to a free trade regime and export-led growth. In August 2010, the Government of Tunisia passed a law opening the Tunisian economy to foreign franchises in the sectors of retail/distribution, tourism, automotives, and training. Tunisia must approve franchising in other sectors, such as food service and real estate, on a case-by-case basis.

The Government of Tunisia is beginning to take a more proactive stance on intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement and education. Tunisia's recent intellectual property rights law is designed to meet WTO TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) minimum standards and there is ongoing collaboration between the United States and Tunisian governments to promote public awareness of these rights.

The Central Bank is moving from direct management of the financial sector toward a more traditional supervisory and regulatory role. Commercial banks are permitted to participate in the forward foreign exchange market. The dinar is convertible for current account transactions but some convertible dinar/foreign exchange account transactions still require Central Bank authorization. Total convertibility of the Tunisian dinar is probably still some years away, though the Government of Tunisia has publicly pledged full liberalization by 2014.

Tunisia has a relatively well-developed infrastructure that includes six commercial seaports and seven international airports. Eight Arab and foreign groups were shortlisted for the construction, financing, and exploitation of a deep water port project at Enfidha (approximately 100 miles south of Tunis).

Average annual income per capita in Tunisia is over $3,851. On July 1, 2010, the minimum monthly legal wage for a 48-hour week was raised to TND 272.480 ($179.56) and for 40 hours to TND 235.040 ($154.89).

While Tunisia's growth rate has averaged 5% over the past decade, its development goals require an average 6%-7% growth rate. In 2009, real GDP growth was 3.1% and inflation was 3.7%, down from 5.1% the previous year. According to official figures, Tunisia has 13.3% unemployment, but it is generally believed to be much higher in some regions. Despite the present low rate of population growth, a demographic peak is now hitting higher education and the job market. Tunisia has invested heavily in education, and the number of students enrolled at university has soared from 41,000 in 1986 to over 357,472 in 2009. Providing jobs for these highly educated people represents a major challenge for the Government of Tunisia.



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