Beligh Ben Soltane, Chairman, Tunisian Investment Authority (TIA)

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On improving the investment environment and attracting global players

What are the expected implications of Law No. 47 of 2019, which was adopted in April 2019 to improve the business and investment climate?

BELIGH BEN SOLTANE: A predictable, efficient and stable business environment is essential in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). To this end, the new law is aimed at improving several facets, including transparency, simplification and the efficiency of administrative procedures, investment dispute mitigation and access to finance. 

Its adoption was the culmination of efforts first initiated in 2017. The years that followed the 2011 Tunisian Revolution saw the country’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report decline. In recent years, however, the country has set new targets, with the goal of placing among the world’s top 50 and the region’s top five for the ease of doing business. Sectoral consultations involving public and private players were subsequently conducted at the end of 2018, leading to the drafting of the bill in early 2019 and its adoption in April. Nonetheless, significant steps have been taken in order to improve the business climate. As a result, Tunisia ranked 19th out of 190 countries worldwide on the starting a business category, according to the “Doing Business 2020” report. 

Measures outlined in the legislation directly relate to financing and are intended to facilitate investment by clarifying the process. While it is still too early to assess the impact and benefits that these improvements will have, we are convinced that the new provisions will prevent Tunisia from missing out on investment opportunities. 

How is the process of investing in Tunisia being streamlined?

BEN SOLTANE: The provisions of the new investment framework allow investors to act easily and quickly. Procedures have been simplified, and now TIA facilitates domestic and international project implementation. As such, a committee within TIA will be in charge of centralising procedures, involving the main stakeholders, to ensure fluidity and meeting companies’ objectives successfully.

To this end, digitalisation is one of the most effective levers available, and Tunisia has a strategic interest in successfully implementing such services to cater to the needs of investors. Indeed, digital platforms save time and allow transactions to be traced more easily. The services currently offered on the TIA digital platform are available to handle investments of TD15m ($5.2m) and above. The e-services should be generalised to all investment bodies in the near future. By doing so, the investment journey will be much easier. 

In what ways can the private sector help shape the investment framework? 

BEN SOLTANE: Tunisia regularly resorts to consultative mechanisms in drafting its bills, and Law No. 47 of 2019 was no exception. Indeed, consultations at the end of 2018 sought the participation of public bodies, various federations to represent private companies, and professionals involved with investment, such as lawyers and accountants. By institutionalising the private sector’s involvement in the development and strategic direction of the investment framework, we can increase the usefulness and operability of proposed bills, with the objective to improve business climate in Tunisia.

This is an ongoing process in which TIA has a strategic role to play. Specifically, TIA will supervise investment framework evaluations and coordinate the private sector’s involvement to ensure that any new development meets the needs and expectations of the private sector. This process is taking the form of quarterly meetings to assess and address issues that affect the investment climate. 

How would you characterise the contribution of FDI to national economic recovery?

BEN SOLTANE: Foreign investment has a very important role to play in national economic recovery. There are more than 3480 international companies operating in Tunisia, employing around 386,000 individuals, making it an important reservoir for the country’s economy. The establishment of global firms in Tunisia has broader implications in terms of technology transfer, our balance of trade, as well as the development of interior regions.
However, funding rural development should only be done in coordination with local initiatives and the anticipated Tunisian investment fund. We are striving to achieve more on this side of development. Since 2014 FDI has averaged TD2bn ($694.7m) per year, and we aim to double that in the coming years.

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