Interview: Abdelbasset Ghanmi

In what ways have legal and regulatory changes helped Tunisia make headway in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI)?

ABDELBASSET GHANMI: The total volume of FDI in 2018 rose by 28.6%, to stand at TD2.7bn ($937.8m). These levels are close to those seen in 2010. A significant share of investment is directed towards the extension of existing business activities. We consider this to be an example of the increasing confidence that operators have in Tunisia’s business climate. Furthermore, the Transversal Law for the improvement of the business climate, passed in April 2019, aims to improve Tunisia’s attractiveness as a destination for investment. Another of its goals is to improve the country’s position in international rankings by streamlining administrative procedures for businesses and simplifying the legal environment.

What improvements can be made to cross-border trade in order to successfully leverage Tunisia’s geographic location?

GHANMI: Tunisia continues to pursue international economic cooperation, consolidating progress already made in facilitating international trade. For example, Tunisia joined the COMESA free trade area in 2019 and has collaborated with ECOWAS in several sectors since 2017. It is also negotiating with the EU, its main economic partner, to implement a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

Continuing to improve the efficiency of cross-border trade is paramount to sustaining our previous successes. To this end, there are several development projects under way: a new regulatory system enshrining the principles of transparency, good governance and the fight against corruption has been rolled out; the Radès Port is being upgraded; new maritime and air routes to Africa are being explored; and logistic zones in Bouchamma, Zarzis and Bir Mcherga are also currently under consideration.

How are investment promotion agencies cooperating to meet the needs of investors?

GHANMI: FDI plays a growing role in the socio-economic development of the country, and institutional cooperation is key to attracting it. There are various agencies and entities that make up the investment ecosystem. This allows for a better understanding of the specific and distinctive sector-level characteristics of investment, such as the division of roles between the facilitating agencies and investment promotion agencies, which make it possible to best meet the needs of investors.

In order to maximise the visibility of our country on the international scene, however, investment promotion activities must dovetail with a number of other sector entities. Tunisian investment bodies coordinate for this reason, especially in the case of major marketing undertakings such as fairs, seminars and other events that promote the country as a destination for investment. This coordination is part of a long-term strategy for our promotional activities and is supported abroad by Tunisian diplomatic networks, associations and other relevant bodies.

To what extent are human resources a priority for attracting foreign investment?

GHANMI: The quality of human resources is considered a necessary condition for foreign investment, and it is one that we must seek to improve. Since gaining independence Tunisia has devoted significant effort to the development of education. Consequently, human resources became one of the country’s strongest assets.

In the context of increased competition for attracting foreign investment and the importance of transitioning towards higher value-added activities, our priority is to match the talent pool with the needs of the economy. Thus, we are working to develop training centres dedicated to such activities.