Interview: Sana Skhiri

How are the public and private sector collaborating to improve logistics processes?

SANA SKHIRI: Over the last five years Tunisia has seen a remarkable decrease in its logistics performance. There are several ways to remedy this situation and the sector is actively working on it, specifically by inviting private operators to collaborate with public institutions. Each segment of the logistics sector, be it marine, rail, road or air, has had the opportunity to report their observations and present solutions to the failures found. Following consultations, public and private operators are now cooperating on infrastructure, regulatory and fiscal matters. The reforms under discussion aim at making procedures more efficient, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each, and making regulations more logical. This is particularly vital for air carriers, as customers rely on them to save time.

Overall, the increased participation of private industry in reforming the operating framework should have positive outcomes. The public sector will benefit from the private sector’s practical experience, and the private sector will be more engaged in large-scale transformation goals. The objective is to ensure that future reforms will be structural, strategic and enforceable.

What factors are contributing to regional growth in the air transport segment?

SKHIRI: Demand for air transit services is growing faster in Africa than in other regions of the world. This can be explained by the type of economic activities on the continent, the way Africa-based companies organise their production processes and the economic ties these players have with foreign partners. Tunisia is no exception to this, as local operators are in high demand for airfreight forwarding services. Specifically, fully exporting companies that employ just-in-time production models, as well as companies working with perishable goods, are generally drawn to airfreight forwarding services. These products must be exported quickly, even more so considering that food goods produced in Africa are rarely processed.

Discussions among airfreight forwarders at the national level have shown that their clients turn to air to reduce transit times, as they are subject to the increasingly short delivery times imposed by foreign partners. Such demand is bound to continue as Tunisia tries to capitalise on its geographic proximity to the European market and react promptly to its needs.

As such, the lack of direct logistics solutions is a risk factor for the Tunisian economy; efficiency is affected and the cost of logistics is higher in Tunisia than it is elsewhere. This has repercussions for the global competitiveness of local industrial enterprises. Given the importance of exports for Tunisia, the Ministry of Transport organises regular meetings with the private sector to propose solutions that lead to reduced logistics costs. In the long run, we hope to convert our advantageous geographic position into a competitive differentiator for the country. Tunisia has the potential to become a transport hub in the Mediterranean.

To what degree does Tunisia’s transport infrastructure effectively serve the sector?

SKHIRI: Tunisia has fallen behind Algeria and Morocco in terms of transport infrastructure. This is largely due to the political upheaval the country has experienced since 2011. Indeed, as a result of the many ministerial changes, the necessary measures were slow to be put in place despite private operators underscoring their urgency. As a result, reforms only began in earnest in 2018. To take advantage of its geographic location and in-demand workforce skills, Tunisia must embark on an all-encompassing reform of its infrastructure that will decongest the existing environment and complete projects that have seen delays. Aside from concerns such as the need for equipment, finance and better managed human resources, we also wish to more efficiently navigate our relationship with the authorities.