Last Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker arranged a meeting between the Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, government officials, and American business leaders. The meeting would go on to be an open dialogue on how best to strengthen Tunisia’s economy and translate its successful political transition of 2011 into sustainable economic progress.
Declining industrial activity has slowed Tunisia’s economic growth to 1.7 percent this year, discontinuing the average 2 percent growth it experienced all through the four quarters of 2014. The North African country is also reportedly under pressure from international lenders to cut down subsidies on basic foods and fuel in order to create the fiscal space for economic growth. However, doing so right now might severely escalate the already rising social tensions.
It is against this seemingly unattractive economic backdrop that the business roundtable was set up barely two months after Secretary Pritzker’s March visit to Tunisia in order to better understand the challenges facing the country’s economy. Four fundamental reforms were subsequently identified during the discussion: reforming the investment code to spur greater foreign and domestic business investment in the country; restructuring and re-capitalizing the banking system; imposing greater efficiency and predictability in the tax and customs systems; and adopting a strong public-private partnerships law.
Following the discussions, Pritzker highlighted the importance of the Tunisian government’s efforts in adopting critical reforms that will increase commercial opportunities, enhance the investment climate, and improve the business environment. “This event is intended to give you… and your economic cabinet an opportunity to lay out your vision for Tunisia and your plan for how to realize that vision, as well as to hear from American business leaders.”
She emphasized that Tunisia is of great geopolitical significance to the U.S but the private sector makes decisions based on their assessment of where they will get the best return on investment. Investors need to understand Tunisia’s business plan, the government’s long-term approach to security and prioritization of economic sectors, she noted. “This is an opportunity to tell American businesses what makes Tunisia worth the risk and investment, why invest in Tunisia today, what can these companies expect now and in the future?”
By Emmanuel Iruobe