Cablegate: Tunisia: 2008 Investment Climate Statement

DE RUEHTU #0069/01 0231344
P 231344Z JAN 08 ZDK





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 STATE 158802

1. Tunisia's 2008 Investment Climate Statement. Topics covered

Paragraph -- Topic
2 -- Openness to Foreign Investment
12 -- Conversion and Transfer Policies
17 -- Expropriation and Compensation
18 -- Dispute Settlement
21 -- Performance Requirements and Incentives
30 -- Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
33 -- Protection of Property Rights
37 -- Transparency of Regulatory System
39 -- Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
44 -- Political Violence
45 -- Corruption
48 -- Bilateral Investment Agreements
50 -- OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
51 -- Labor
54 -- Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade Zones
56 -- Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

Openness to Foreign Investment

2. The Tunisian government actively encourages foreign direct
investment (FDI) and has made attracting FDI a top priority. The
government encourages export-oriented FDI and screens potential FDI
to minimize the impact of the investment on domestic competitors and

3. Foreign investment in Tunisia is regulated by the Investment Code
Law No. 93-120, dating from December 1993. It covers investment in
all major sectors of economic activity except mining, energy, the
financial sector and domestic trade.

4. The Tunisian Investment Code divides potential investments into
two categories: (1) Offshore, in which foreign capital accounts for
at least 66 percent of equity and at least 80 percent of production
is destined for the export market, and (2) On-shore, in which
foreign equity is limited to 49 percent in most non-industrial
projects. (On-shore industrial investment can have up to 100
percent foreign equity).

5. The legislation contains two major hurdles for potential FDI: (1)
Foreign investors are denied national treatment in the agriculture
sector. Foreign ownership of agricultural land is prohibited,
although land can be secured through long-term (up to 40 years)
lease. However, the government actively promotes foreign investment
in agricultural export projects. (2) For onshore companies outside
the tourism sector, government authorization is required if the
foreign capital share exceeds 49 percent and can be difficult to

6. Investment in manufacturing industries, agriculture,
agribusiness, public works, and certain services requires only a
simple declaration of intent to invest. Other sectors can require a
series of Government of Tunisia authorizations.

7. The Government of Tunisia allows foreign participation in its
privatization program and a significant share of Tunisia's FDI in
recent years has come from the privatization of state-owned or
state-controlled enterprises. Privatizations have occurred in
telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, and petroleum
distribution, among others. In 2006, TECOM Investments and Dubai
Investment Group (DIG) purchased a 35 percent stake, valued at US
$2.25 billion, in state-owned Tunisie Telecom. Major FDI has also
entered the financial sector via the partial privatization of the
UIB (Union Internationale de Banques) in 2002 and the privatization
of Banque du Sud, since renamed Attijari Bank, in late 2005.

TUNIS 00000069 002 OF 009

8. There is no evidence of consistent discrimination against foreign
investors either at the time of initial investment or at a later
stage. Tunisia's investment promotion authorities have established
a system of regulations that has received favorable feedback from
the US companies it has assisted. A US investor in electricity
production successfully lobbied for a change in Government of
Tunisia legislation which permitted the investment to proceed.
Another US investor received Government of Tunisia support in a
dispute over the application of Investment Code incentives. A major
"greenfield" investment in manufacturing has been completed and is
operational. The US investor has warmly praised the Foreign
Investment Promotion Authority (FIPA) for its continuing support
from the outset of the project.

9. Nevertheless, there are difficulties, particularly when US
companies have attempted to launch projects in sectors in which the
Government of Tunisia does not actively promote. Until recently the
Government discouraged foreign investment in service sectors such as
restaurants, real estate, and retail distribution, but there are
signs of relaxation of this policy. In particular, FDI in retail
distribution is expanding rapidly. French multinational retail
chain Carrefour opened its first store in 2001, followed by the
entry of French retail company Gant in 2005. There has also been
significant Persian Gulf investment in the real estate sector.
Currently, Tunisian law does not authorize franchising as the rule
but it tolerates, on a case by case basis, labor intensive
franchising projects that could create new jobs. The Government of
Tunisia has announced it is drafting an amendment to its law on
distribution, which could ease restrictions on franchise operations.

10. FDI in certain state monopoly activities (electricity, water,
postal services) can be carried out following establishment of a
concession agreement. There are also certain restrictions on trade
activities. With few exceptions, domestic trading can only be
carried out by a company set up under Tunisian law, in which the
majority of the share capital is held by Tunisians and management is
Tunisian. An additional barrier to non-EU investment results from
Tunisia's Association Agreement with the European Union. The EU is
providing significant funding to Tunisia for major investment
projects, but clauses in the agreement prohibit non-EU member
countries from participation in many EU-funded projects.

11. In June, the Ministry of Development and International
Cooperation and the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA)
Tunisia holds an annual investment promotion event, the Carthage
Investment Forum, to introduce the Tunisian investment environment
and its business opportunities to global investors.

Conversion and Transfer Policies

12. The Tunisian dinar is not a fully convertible currency, and it
is illegal to take dinars in or out of the country. Although it is
convertible for current account transactions (i.e. most bona fide
trade and investment operations), Central Bank authorization is
needed for some foreign exchange operations. The Government of
Tunisia predicts full convertibility of the dinar is not likely
before 2009.

13. Nonresidents are exempt from most exchange regulations. Under
foreign currency regulations, nonresident companies are defined as
having: (1) Nonresident individuals who own at least 66 percent of
the capital, and (2) Capital financed by imported foreign currency.

14. Foreign investors may transfer returns on direct or portfolio
investments at any time and without prior authorization. This
applies to both principal and capital in the form of dividends or
interest. US companies have generally praised the speed of

TUNIS 00000069 003 OF 009

transfers from Tunisia, but lamented that long delays may occur in
some operations.

15. There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency that
visitors can bring into Tunisia and exchange for Tunisian dinars.
Amounts exceeding the equivalent of 25,000 Tunisian dinars
(approximately US $19,200) must be declared at the port of entry.
Non-residents must also report foreign currency imports if they wish
to re-export or deposit more than 5,000 Tunisian dinars (roughly US
$4,000). Tunisian customs authorities may require production of
currency exchange receipts on exit.

16. The dinar is traded on an intra-bank market. Trading operates
around a managed float established by the Central Bank (based upon a
basket of the Euro, the US dollar and the Japanese yen). The
dollar/dinar value fluctuates on a daily basis, with the dollar
trading most recently (January 2008) at approximately 1.2 TND. In
2007, the TND appreciated roughly 5 percent against the US dollar
and depreciated 3.8 percent against the Euro.

Expropriation and Compensation

17. The Tunisian government has the right to expropriate property by
eminent domain; there is no evidence of consistent discrimination
against US and foreign companies or individuals. There are no
outstanding expropriation cases involving US interests and such
cases are rare. No policy changes on expropriation are anticipated
in the coming year.

Dispute Settlement

18. There is no pattern of significant investment disputes or
discrimination involving US or other foreign investors. However, to
avoid misunderstandings, contracts for trade and investment projects
should always contain a clause detailing how eventual disputes
should be handled and the applicable jurisdiction. Tunisia is a
member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment
Disputes and is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the
Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

19. The Tunisian legal system is based upon the French Napoleonic
code. There are adequate means to enforce property and contractual
rights. Although the Tunisian constitution guarantees the
independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is not fully
independent of the executive branch. Local legal experts assert
that courts are susceptible to political pressure.

20. The Tunisian Code of Civil and Commercial Procedures does allow
for the enforcement of foreign court decisions under certain
circumstances. Commercial disputes involving US firms are
relatively rare. In cases were disputes have occurred, US firms
have generally been successful in seeking redress through the
Tunisian judicial system.

Performance Requirements and Incentives

21. Performance requirements are generally limited to investment in
the petroleum sector or in the newer area of private sector
infrastructure development. These requirements tend to be specific
to the concession or operating agreement (e.g., drilling a certain
number of wells or producing a certain amount of electricity). More
broadly, the preferential status (offshore, free trade zone)
conferred upon some investments is linked to both percentage of
foreign corporate ownership and limits on production for the
domestic market.

TUNIS 00000069 004 OF 009

22. The Tunisian Investment Code and subsequent amendments provide a
broad range of incentives for foreign investors, which include tax
relief on reinvested revenues and profits, limitations on the
value-added tax on many imported capital goods, and optional
depreciation schedules for production equipment.

23. In order to encourage employment of new university graduates,
the government will bear the full cost of the employee's salary for
the first two years of employment, and then a portion of the salary
for the next five years. The government will also pay initial
training costs for new graduates.

24. Large investments with high job creation potential may benefit,
under certain conditions determined by the Higher Commission on
Investment, from the use of state-owned land for a symbolic Tunisian
dinar (less than one US dollar). Investors who purchase companies
in financial difficulty may also benefit from certain clauses of the
Investment Code; these advantages are determined on a case-by-case

25. Additional incentives are available to promote investment in
designated regional investment zones in economically depressed areas
of the country, and throughout the country in the following sectors:
health, education, training, transportation, environmental
protection, waste treatment, and research and development in
technological fields.

26. Further benefits are available for investments of a specific
nature. For example, companies producing at least 80 percent for
the export market receive tax exemptions on profits and reinvested
revenues, duty-free import of capital goods with no local
equivalents, and full tax and duty exemption on raw materials and
semi-finished goods and services necessary for the business.

27. Foreign companies resident in Tunisia face a number of
restrictions related to the employment and compensation of
expatriate employees. Tunisian law limits the number of expatriate
employees allowed per company to four. There are lengthy renewal
procedures for annual work and residence permits. Although rarely
enforced, legislation limits expatriate work permit validity to a
total of two years. Central Bank regulations impose administrative
burdens on companies seeking to pay for temporary expatriate
technical assistance from local revenue. For example, a foreign
resident company that has brought in an accountant would have to
document that the service was necessary, fairly valued, and
unavailable in Tunisia before it could receive authorization to
transfer payment from its operations in Tunisia. This regulation
prevents a foreign resident company from paying for services
performed abroad.

28. Foreign investments and above a certain ceiling require special
authorization. The annual ceiling for foreign investments (without
special authorization) is currently one million TND (about US
$780,500) or three million TND (about US $2.34 million) for
exporting companies. According to the recently announced measures,
companies registered domestically will no longer need permission to
increase their capital and non-residents will be allowed to freely
manage their corporate accounts.

29. For US passport holders, a visa is not necessary for stays of up
to four months; however, a residence permit is required for longer

Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

30. Tunisian government actions clearly demonstrate a strong
preference for offshore, export-oriented FDI. Investors in that
category are generally free to establish and own business
enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity.
Investment which competes with Tunisian firms or on the Tunisian

TUNIS 00000069 005 OF 009

market or which is seen as leading to a net outflow of foreign
exchange may be discouraged or blocked.

31. Acquisition and disposal of business enterprises can be
complicated under Tunisian law and depend on the nature of the
contract specific to the proposed transaction.

32. Disposal of a business investment leading to reductions in the
labor force may be challenged or subjected to substantial employee
compensation requirements. Acquisition of an on-shore company may
require special authority from the Government if it is an industry
subject to limits on foreign equity shareholding (such as in the
services sector).

Protection of Property Rights

33. Secured interests in property are both recognized and enforced
in Tunisia. Mortgages and liens are in common use. Tunisia is a
member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and
has signed the United Nations (UNCTAD) Agreement on the Protection
of Patents and Trademarks. The agency responsible for patents and
trademarks is the National Institute for Standardization and
Industrial Property (INNORPI - Institut National de la Normalisation
et de la Propriete Industrielle). Foreign patents and trademarks
should be registered with INNORPI.

34. Tunisia's patent and trademark laws are designed to protect only
owners duly registered in Tunisia. In the area of patents, US
businesses are guaranteed treatment equal to that afforded to
Tunisian nationals. Tunisia updated its legislation to meet the
requirements of the WTO agreement on Trade-Related aspects of
Intellectual Property (TRIPS). Copyright protection is the
responsibility of the Tunisian Copyright Protection Organization
(OTPDA - Organisme Tunisien de Protection des Droits d'Auteur),
which also represents foreign copyright organizations. New
legislation now permits customs officials to inspect and seize goods
if copyright violation is suspected.

35. Tunisian Copyright Law (No. 36/1994) has been updated to cover
new technologies, but its application and enforcement have not
always been consistent with foreign commercial expectations. Print
audio and video media are considered particularly susceptible to
copyright infringement, and there is evidence of significant retail
sale of illegal products in these media. Illegal copying of
software/CDs/DVDs is widespread.

36. Although the concept and application of intellectual property
protection is still in the early stages, the Government is making an
effort to build awareness and has increased its enforcement efforts
in this area. These efforts have led a major supermarket chain to
halt the sale of pirated audio and video goods. A US
government-backed initiative, operated by the Department of Commerce
in conjunction with United States Patent and Trademark Office
(USPTO) provides training for Tunisian officials in the field of IPR
regulation enforcement. The Government of Tunisia has announced
that new IPR legislation is being drafted which will improve
enforcement capabilities and strengthen punishment for offenders.

Transparency of Regulatory System

37. The Tunisian government has adopted policies designed to promote
foreign investment and to prepare Tunisian industry for free
competition with foreign markets. Although the 1994 amendment to
the Investment Code substantially improved, standardized, and
codified incentives for foreign investors, some aspects of existing
tax and labor laws remain impediments to efficient business

TUNIS 00000069 006 OF 009

38. Bureaucratic procedures, while slowly improving in some areas,
are cumbersome and time-consuming. Foreign employee work permits,
commercial operating license renewals, infrastructure-related
services, and customs clearance for imported goods are usually cited
as the lengthiest and most opaque procedures in the local business
environment. Investors have commented on inconsistencies in the
application of regulations. These cumbersome procedures are not
limited to foreign investment and also affect the domestic business

--------------------------------------------- -----
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
--------------------------------------------- -----

39. The mobilization and allocation of investment capital are still
hampered by the underdeveloped nature of the local financial system.
Tunisia's financial markets only finance roughly 8 percent of
Tunisia's economy. Tunisia's stock market has begun to attract more
investment in the past several years, but the number of companies
listed remains low at just 50. In 2007, the stock market's
benchmark index, Tunindex, gained 20 percent after gaining 44
percent in 2006. Capital controls are still in place. Foreign
investors are permitted to purchase shares in resident firms
(through authorized brokers) or to purchase indirect investments
through established mutual funds.

40. The banking system is considered generally sound and is
improving as the Central Bank has begun to enforce adherence to
international norms for reserves and debt. Recent measures include
actions to strengthen the reliability of financial statements,
enhance bank credit risk management, and improve creditors' rights.
Revisions to banking laws tightened the rules on investments and
bank licensing, and increased the minimum capital requirement. The
required minimum risk-weighted capital/asset ratio has been raised
to 8 percent, consistent with the Basel Committee capital adequacy
recommendations. Despite the strict new requirements, many banks
still have substantial amounts of non-performing or delinquent debt
in their portfolios. The Government has established debt recovery
entities (societes de recouvrement de creances) to buy the non- or
under-performing debt of commercial banks. There is no public
information available on the success of this measure.

41. In recent years, the government has undertaken a number of
banking privatizations and consolidations. Even after recent
privatizations, the government is the controlling shareholder in 10
of the 20 banks. The estimated total assets of the country's five
largest banks are about US $10 billion. Foreign participation in
their capital has risen significantly and is now well over 20

42. Credit is available locally to foreign investors, but some
industry observers assert that there exists a well-established
collusion among the principal banks to set common interest rates.

43. In the last five years regulatory and accounting systems have
been brought more in line with required international standards.
Most of the major global accounting firms are represented in
Tunisia. Tunisian firms quoted on the stock exchange are required
to publish semiannual corporate reports audited by a certified
public accountant.

Political Violence

44. Tunisia is a stable country and incidents involving
politically-motivated damage to economic projects or infrastructure
are extremely rare. In April 2002, al-Qaeda took responsibility for
at an attack at the synagogue on the island of Djerba that claimed
20 victims, 14 of them German tourists. This resulted in a
significant reduction in the number of European visitors in the
immediate aftermath of the attack, but the sector has now recovered.

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In December 2006 and January 2007, Tunisian security forces
disrupted a terrorist group, killing or capturing many individuals
who reportedly planned to carry out acts of violence in Tunisia.
The US Embassy in Tunis was reportedly among the group's intended


45. Tunisia's penal code devotes 11 articles to defining and
classifying corruption and to assigning corresponding penalties
(including fines and imprisonment). Several other legal texts also
address broader concepts of corruption including violations of the
commercial or labor codes, which range from speculative financial
practices to giving or accepting bribes. Detailed information on
the application of these laws or their effectiveness in combating
corruption is not publicly available. There are no statistics
specific to corruption. The Tunisian Ministry of Commerce publishes
information on cases involving the infringement of the commercial
code, but these incidents range from non-conforming labeling
procedures to price/supply speculation. The print media report
abuses of fiduciary authority by public officials only on rare
occasions. Anecdotal reports from the Tunisian business community
and US businesses with regional experience suggest that corruption
exists, but is not as pervasive as that found in neighboring
countries. After several years of steady improvement, Tunisia's
ranking on Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Index has
dropped from 43 in 2005 to 61 (out of 179 countries) in 2007 with a
score of 4.2. According to the TI Corruption Index scale, a score
of ten indicates extremely little corruption and a score of zero
very serious corruption.

46. Most US firms involved in the Tunisian market have not
identified corruption as a primary obstacle to foreign direct
investment. Some potential investors have asserted that unfair
practices and corruption among prospective local partners have
delayed or blocked specific investment proposals, or there has been
an appearance that cronyism or influence peddling has affected some
investment decisions.

47. The government's recent efforts to combat corruption have
concentrated upon ensuring that price controls are respected,
enhancing commercial competition in the domestic market, and
harmonizing Tunisian laws with those of the European Union. The
public sector is governed by a comprehensive 1989 law designed to
regulate each phase of public procurement and established the Higher
Market Commission (CSM -Commission Superieure des Marches) to
supervise the tender and award of major government contracts. The
government publicly supports a policy of transparency and has called
for it in the conduct of privatization operations. Public tenders
require bidders to provide a sworn statement that they have not and
will not, either themselves or through a third party, make any
promises or give gifts with a view to influencing the outcome of the
tender and realization of the project. Pursuant to the US Foreign
Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the US government requires that
American companies requesting US government advocacy support with
foreign governments sign an undertaking not to participate in
corrupt practices.

Bilateral Investment Agreements

48. A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between
Tunisia and the United States was signed in 2002 and two TIFA
Council meetings have taken place. A Bilateral Investment Treaty
between Tunisia and the United States took effect in 1991. A 1985
treaty (and 1989 protocol) guarantees US firms freedom from double

49. Tunisia has concluded bilateral trade agreements with

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approximately 60 countries. In January 2008, Tunisia's Association
Agreement with the EU went into effect eliminating tariffs on
industrial goods with the eventual goal of creating a free trade
zone between Tunisia and the EU member states. In addition, Tunisia
is signatory of the multilateral agreements with the Multilateral
Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). Tunisia has signed the
Agreement on WTO, bilateral agreements with the Member States of the
European Free Trade Association (EFTA), bilateral and multilateral
agreements with Arab League members, and a bilateral agreement with

OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

50. OPIC is active in the Tunisian market and provides political
risk insurance and other services to a variety of US companies.
OPIC supports private US investment in Tunisia and has sponsored
several reciprocal investment missions. The 1963 OPIC agreement
with Tunisia was revised and signed in February 2004.


51. Tunisian labor is readily available. Tunisia has a labor force
of approximately 3.5 million and a national literacy rate of about
75 percent. About 90 percent of the work force under 35 is
literate. The official unemployment rate is under 14 percent
(although this is considerably higher in some regions). The figure
does not include many who are underemployed.

52. Nearly 80,000 new jobs must be created each year to keep
unemployment at current levels, while sustained annual GDP growth of
about 7 percent would be required in order to make significant
inroads into the chronic unemployment figure. The structure of the
workforce has remained stable over the past 20 years (19 percent
agriculture, 32 percent industry, and 49 percent commerce and

53. The right to form a labor union is protected by law. There is
only one national labor confederation, the General Union of Tunisian
Workers (UGTT - Union General des Travailleurs Tunisiens). The UGTT
claims about one third of the labor force as members, although more
are covered by UGTT-negotiated contracts. Wages and working
conditions are established through triennial collective bargaining
agreements between the UGTT, the national employers' association
(UTICA - Union Tunisienne de l'Industrie, du Commerce et de
l'Artisanat), and the Government of Tunisia. These agreements set
industry standards and generally apply to about 80 percent of the
private sector labor force, whether or not individual companies are
unionized. The most recent wage agreements were completed in 2006
and are valid through 2008. The official minimum monthly wage in
the industrial sector is 208 TND (about US $173) for a 40 hour week
and 240 TND (about US $200) for a 48 hour week.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade Zones

54. Tunisia has two free trade zones, one in the north at Bizerte,
and the other in the south at Zarzis. The land is state-owned, but
the respective zones are managed by a private company. Companies
established in the free trade zones, officially known as "Parcs
d'Activites Economiques," are exempt from most taxes and customs
duties and benefit from special tax rates. Goods are allowed
limited duty-free entry into Tunisia for transformation and
re-export. Factories are considered bonded warehouses and have
their own assigned customs personnel.

55. However, companies do not necessarily have to be located in one
of the two designated free trade zones to operate with this type of

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business structure. In fact, the majority of offshore enterprises
are situated in various parts of the country. Regulations are
strict, and operators must comply with the 1993 Investment Code.

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

56. Total FDI in Tunisia is estimated at about US $19 billion. It
has contributed to the creation of over 2,765 companies and
approximately 268,000 jobs. Foreign investment in manufacturing
industries producing for export has long been the major generator of
jobs in Tunisia and has a large share of FDI. In recent years,
however, FDI in real estate, infrastructure, and the energy sector
has been significant and growing. In 2006, FDI totaled about US
$1.1 billion or US $3.5 billion including the receipts from the
partial privatization of state-owned Tunisie Telecom.

57. Tunisia's largest single foreign investor is British Gas, which
has developed the Miskar offshore gas field (US $650 million) and is
investing a further US $500 million for new development. Major
foreign presence in other key sectors include telecommunications and
electronics (Lucent, Alcatel, Ericsson, Siemens, Sony, Philips,
Thomson, Huawei, ZTE), the automotive industry (Lear Corporation,
Isuzu, Pirelli, Fiat, Idec), and food products (Nestle, Danone,

58. Major US company presence in Tunisia includes: Citibank,
Coca-Cola, Crown Can, Eurocast (a joint venture with Palmer),
ExxonMobil, Ford, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Johnson Controls,
Lear Corporation, Merck, Microsoft, Pfizer, Sara Lee (represented in
Tunisia under the name of Essel Tunisie/DBA), Stream, and Sylvania.
EVOL, originally part of an Italian-owned group producing safety
footwear for the export market, was recently purchased by US
investors and, with a staff of 4,000, is now the largest US employer
in Tunisia. In 2007, Pioneer Natural Resources expanded oil and gas
drilling operations in Tunisia, bringing its total investments in
Tunisia to roughly US $165 million.

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