Cablegate: Minister of Transportation On Open Skies, Maritime


DE RUEHTU #0040/01 0191718
P 191718Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 09 TUNIS 890
B. 09 TUNIS 829

Sensitive but unclassified; please protect accordingly.


1. (SBU) In a January 19 courtesy call by the Ambassador,
Minister of Transportation Abderrahim Zouari confirmed
Tunisia's willingness to negotiate an Open Skies Agreement,
proposed signing a bilateral maritime cooperation agreement,
and agreed in principle to host a port visit by the U.S.
Coast Guard. Zouari, accompanied by the Directors General of
Maritime Transport, Civil Aviation, Financing, and External
Relations, lauded past cooperation between the U.S. and
Tunisia on transportation issues. Zouari mentioned the
Enfidha sea and airport projects and reiterated his vision of
Tunisia as a regional transport hub for the Mediterranean.
End summary.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
Maritime Issues: USCG Visit, Maritime Cooperation Agreement
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

2. (SBU) Minister of Transportation Abderrahim Zouari, in a
January 19 courtesy call by the Ambassador, lauded the
longtime cooperation between the United States and Tunisia.
He referenced many successful visits of U.S. delegations,
including a United States Coast Guard (USCG) visit in January
2005 and a U.S. Trade and Development Agency visit in
November 2008. (Note: the USTDA visit was to be the initial
step toward a port feasibility study for a Tunisian port
infrastructure project. The project fell through when the
Government of Tunisia pulled the plug shortly after the USTDA
visit. End note.) Zouari described in length the Enfidha
airport and seaport projects, and noted that the airport was
already operational and that two companies were set to begin
construction on the deep water sea port (ref a) shortly.

3. (SBU) The Ambassador referred to several diplomatic notes
sent by the Embassy regarding a port visit by the USCG under
the auspices of the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security
Act. To date, the GOT has not responded to the request for a
visit, despite notification that non-responsiveness will
eventually result in Tunisia's placement on the Port Advisory
List -- a move that would subject any vessel having visited
Tunisia during its last five ports of call to additional
scrutiny. Zouari, as well as the Director General of the
Merchant Marine and Ports, Mokhtar Rachdi, noted they would
welcome a USCG visit and would be in touch about details.
Zouari also noted he would like Tunisians to visit U.S. ports
as well. In November-December 2008, a Tunisian National
Commission conducted port visits and inspections and they
went well, added the Minister.

4. (SBU) Minister Zouari said it was Tunisia's wish to
negotiate a bilateral maritime cooperation agreement.
Tunisia has such agreements with 25 countries, including
eight European countries, and is looking to take advantage of
its strategic position on the Mediterranean to become a
regional transshipment hub and direct competitor to Tangiers.
Rachdi added they were looking to attract Asian and American
vessel traffic to the Enfidha deep water port (to be built
next to the existing Enfidha International Airport). The
agreement, according to Rachdi, would comprise ports,
security, and ecological issues. The Minister said a draft
text of such an agreement would be forthcoming.

Ben Ali's Wish for Open Skies

5. (SBU) Zouari said President Ben Ali wanted Tunisia to have
fully open skies by 2011, and that the GOT was currently
negotiating with the EU and Canada in this respect. He said
the "decision had been taken" on Open Skies with the United
States as well. Hamadi Ben Khalifa, Director General of
Civil Aviation, was also present at the meeting. He
acknowledged the receipt of the model Open Skies agreement
sent by the Embassy in September 2009, and said the GOT was
in the process of reviewing it. Zouari added that a New
York-Tunis-Rome route would be profitable for the tourism
sector. He also noted Tunisair was going to take delivery of
new aircraft in 2012 that would be used to fly this route.

6. (SBU) Ben Khalifa also took the opportunity to highlight
Tunisia's strides in civil aviation. He said Tunisia sat on
the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO), which had conducted its last inspection in Tunisia in
November 2008. He said Tunisia fared well in the inspection,
and worked closely with ICAO on issues of national security
and terrorism. He noted the GOT held regular interagency
meetings under the auspices of the National Security and
Safety Commission, headed by the Minister of Transport.

7. (SBU) Zouari said the aeronautical industry was a growing
sector in Tunisia, with over 46 companies currently
manufacturing components here. He noted the opening of the
Airbus plant and said Boeing was also identifying land for
purchase to build a factory. (Note: Boeing's Middle East
and Africa Sales Executive denies the company has any plans
to build a factory in Tunisia. End note). Zouari identified
Morocco as the biggest competitor in this sector, and added
that a Boeing investment would be an important signal in
attracting other companies to Tunisia.

EU and Asian Financing

8. (SBU) Also present at the meeting was the Ministry of
Transport's Financial Affairs Director, who is in charge of
coordinating credits, preferential financing, and grants for
the transport sector. He noted most financing came from
France, Spain, and Japan, at favorable terms such as 0.2
percent interest with a 7-10 year grace period. For 2010 in
the railway sector alone, Tunisia had received close to $700
million. He asked why the U.S. was not able to grant
commensurate support, adding that it could have benefits for
companies furnishing materials, such as General Motors. He
characterized Tunisia as an "emerging economy" that relies on
such preferential financing schemes to consolidate the
transport sector.


9. (SBU) The courtesy call on the Ministry of Transport was
attended by the highest Tunisian officials in charge of sea,
air, and land transport. This provided an opportunity to
discuss the Coast Guard visit and the Open Skies agreement
directly. There was a disconnect between praise for the 2005
USCG visit and the Ambassador's need to raise the visit
requests deflected since last year; we will continue to
follow-up. On Open Skies, the good news is that the GOT says
it is willing to sign an agreement, but the lack of details
only confirms a vague timeline of one to two years for
negotiations to begin. This is the first we have heard about
a proposed Maritime Cooperation Agreement, and we look
forward to seeing the GOT's draft text. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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