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Cablegate: Tunisian Agricultural Minister Touts Cooperation

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #1221/01 3511108
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 161108Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5817
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TUNIS 001221

SENSITVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG (NARDI AND HAYES)
STATE PASS USTR (BURKHEAD), USTDA (KRESS AND SHAPIRO) AND USAID
(MCCLOUD)
USDOC FOR ITA/MAC/ONE (MASON), ADVOCACY CTR (TABINE), AND CLDP
(TEJTEL AND MCMANUS)
RABAT FOR AG ATTACHE (AHMED)
CASABLANCA FOR FCS (ORTIZ)
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ECON EFIN ETRD FAS ESTH TS
SUBJECT: TUNISIAN AGRICULTURAL MINISTER TOUTS COOPERATION

-------
Summary
-------

1. (U) Recently appointed Minister of Agriculture Abdesselem
Mansour, long a contact of the US Embassy, told the Ambassador in a
December 12 meeting that he will seek to improve cooperation.
Mansour asked for scholarships for Tunisian agricultural engineers
and suggested the two governments explore ways to increase
agribusiness development and investment. The Ambassador stressed US
interest in cooperation on agriculture. He noted current programs
such as the Cochrane Fellowship, touted opportunities for Tunisia
under GSP, and discussed a visit by the new US Agriculture Attache
in Rabat. The Minister highlighted his interest in increasing
exports, particularly to the United States, noting that doing so
fits squarely with a central theme of the GOT's 11th economic
development plan. End Summary.

-------------------
More On Cooperation
-------------------

2. (U) During a December 12 meeting, the Ambassador and recently
appointed Agricultural Minister Abdessalam Mansour explored areas
for cooperation. Early in the conversation, the Minister expressed
an interest in increasing Tunisian agricultural exports to the
United States. The Ambassador responded by noting the recent visit
of USTR Executive Director for GPS, Marideth Sandler, and the many
opportunities that exist for Tunisian farmers under the program.
The Ambassador also offered to ask whether a visit to Tunisia by a
regional USDA phyto-sanitary expert could be arranged.

3. (U) Mansour mentioned that he had helped establish the Tunisian
American Date company in the 1980s, saying he would like replicate
this success as Minister. He also asked for increased access to
scholarships and technical exchanges. The Ambassador stressed the
value of the Cochrane Scholarship program, which the Minister agreed
was useful. The Ambassador also highlighted opportunities offered
by the Trade and Development Agency (TDA), noting the recent visit
here by senior TDA representatives. The Minister expressed a strong
interest. The Ambassador also suggested that a visit to the
Ministry by the recently arrived US Agricultural Attach based in
Rabat would serve to strengthen engagement. The Minister agreed and
offered to assist in organizing it.

--------------------------------------------- -
Current State of Tunisian Agricultural Affairs
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (U) Mansour said Tunisia was making good progress in
strengthening the agriculture sector, as demonstrated by the wide
variety of produce grown here. Many Tunisian staples, such as
tomatoes and onions, are available year-round. Mansour expressed
some concern about the lack of rainfall, noting however that the
problem principally affected the north and central eastern areas.
He underscored the importance of grain and cereal production to the
GOT, and said the government planned to open an institute for
cereals extension in two to three months. He also mentioned that
the GOT is seeking partnerships for the institute. Ambassador Godec
responded by offering to support additional exchanges and to
consider if there are possible US partners.

--------------------------------------
Tunisia - EU Agricultural Negotiations
--------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Mansour said Tunisia is heading into the third round of
talks on agricultural trade with the EU in January 2009. (Note: In
a separate conversation with EconOff, Fabian Seiderer from the EU
Commission confirmed that these negotiations would be a tough slog,
as the GOT is not skilled in engaging the private sector to
determine what goals to pursue. Seiderer went on to add that the
GOT publicly expresses great interest in moving forward but that
behind the scenes they are slow to take action and respond to
offers.)

-----------------------------------------
Biographic Background on the New Minister
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Abdessalam Mansour is an advocate of the free market and
supports strong ties between the United States and Tunisia. Long a
good contact of the Embassy, he remains open to engaging with us,
but now that he is a Minister he can do so only with the permission
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

7. (U) Mansour graduated from the University of Tunis in 1971 with a
BA in Economics and earned a Masters in Agricultural Economics from
the University of Minnesota class of 1974. He began his career as
an engineer for the Ministry of Agriculture. He served as the
economic advisor to the Kuwaiti Economic and Social Development Fund
and later served as the Director of projects for the Tunisian-Saudi
Investment fund. In 1999 he was named as the President of the
Executive Board and Director General of the Foreign Investment
Promotion Agency (FIPA). He also served as an active member of
board of directors of the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Minister Mansour is 59 and hails from Sousse. He is married with
two children and is fluent in English, French and Arabic. His most
recent visit to the United States was in May 2008 to attend a
week-long workshop on small and medium enterprise development in
Kansas City that was hosted by the OECD.

GODEC

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