Cablegate: Revised Tunisia: 2010 Investment Climate Report
DE RUEHTU #0051/01 0221314
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221314Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7179
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPCIM/CIMS NTDB WASHDC
UNCLAS TUNIS 000051
STATE FOR EEB/IFD/OIA AND NEA/MAG
STATE PASS USTR (BURKHEAD) AND USAID
USDOC FOR ITA/MAC/ONE (MASON), ADVOCACY CTR (TABINE), AND CLDP
(TEJTEL AND MCMANUS)
CASABLANCA FOR FCS (KITSON)
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHER
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EFIN ETRD OPIC KTDB USTR TS
SUBJECT: REVISED TUNISIA: 2010 INVESTMENT CLIMATE REPORT
Sensitive but unclassified; please protect accordingly.
Openness to Foreign Investment
The Tunisian Government actively encourages and places a priority on
attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) in key industry sectors,
such as call centers, electronics, aerospace and aeronautics,
automotive parts and textile manufacturing. The Government
encourages export-oriented FDI and screens any potential FDI to
minimize the impact of the investment on domestic competitors and
Foreign investment in Tunisia is regulated by Investment Code Law
No. 93-120, dating from December 1993, and was last amended on
January 26, 2009. It covers investment in all major sectors of
economic activity except mining, energy, the financial sector and
The Tunisian Investment Code divides potential investments into two
- 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 (with some exceptions for the agricultural
- 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.
The legislation contains two major hurdles for potential FDI:
- 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.
- For onshore companies outside the tourism sector, government
authorization is required if the foreign capital share exceeds 49
percent and can be difficult to obtain.
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.
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, insurance, manufacturing, and petroleum
distribution, among others. Major FDI entered the financial sector
via the privatization of Banque du Sud, since renamed Attijari Bank,
in late 2005. In 2006, TECOM Investments and Dubai Investment Group
purchased a 35% stake, valued at US $2.25 billion, in state-owned
Tunisie Telecom. In July 2008, French company Groupama won a bid to
purchase 35 percent of the Societe Tunisienne d'Assurances et de
Reassurances (STAR) for 70 million Euro (around $100 million). In
2008, the French bank Caisse Gnrale d'Epargne purchased 60 percent
of the Tunisian Kuwaiti Bank (BTK), valued at US $249 million.
Tunisia's investment promotion authorities have established a system
of regulations that has received favorable feedback from established
US companies it has assisted.
Nevertheless, there are difficulties, particularly when US companies
have attempted to launch projects in sectors that 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. Many of these
issues are expected to be addressed in the context of ongoing
negotiations between Tunisia and the European Union over
liberalization of services sector under the EU/Tunisia Association
Indeed, FDI in retail distribution is gradually expanding. French
multinational retail chain Carrefour opened its first store in 2001,
followed by the entry of French retail company Geant in 2005. Until
then, Monoprix, a French grocery franchise, dominated the retail
grocery market. In August 2009, the Tunisian Government adopted a
new law to regulate domestic trade, which includes a new legislative
framework for franchising -until recently franchise status was only
granted to businesses on a case-by-case basis. Thanks to this new
law, franchises now have the ability to set up shop like any other
business serving the Tunisian market. Although some issues still
need to be clarified through the upcoming implementation decree,
such as the details of royalty repatriation, the law will likely
encourage investment, create additional jobs and boost knowledge
transfer. Many Tunisian business groups have already started
looking for international franchisors and are confident the market
exists for franchises to thrive.
Since 2007, there have been numerous announcements of significant
Arabian Gulf company investments in the real estate sector but due
to the international economic crisis, some investments have been
postponed and possibly cancelled. Sama Dubai, which was set to
build the Mediterranean Gate mega-construction project, has halted
their operations. Investment has not come to a complete standstill,
however: Another such investment, the Bukhatir Group's Tunis Sports
City, a sports and recreational complex, is moving forward as
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.
Each year in June, the Ministry of Development and International
Cooperation and the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) hosts
an investment promotion event called the Carthage Investment Forum.
The purpose of the event is to introduce visiting foreign investors
to the Tunisian investment environment and local business
Conversion and Transfer Policies
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 has publicly committed to full convertibility of the dinar
Non-residents are exempt from most exchange regulations. Under
foreign currency regulations, non-resident companies are defined as
- Non-resident individuals who own at least 66 percent of the
- Capital financed by imported foreign currency.
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
transfers from Tunisia, but lamented that long delays may occur in
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
$19,250) 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 $3,850).
Tunisian customs authorities may require production of currency
exchange receipts on exit.
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). In 2009
(up to November 25), the Tunisian Dinar appreciated 2.8 percent
against the USD and depreciated 3.1 percent against the Euro.
Expropriation and Compensation
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.
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 an arbitration 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
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.
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
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
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.
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. On December 23, 2008, the GOT announced
that it would bear 50 percent of employers' contributions to the
National Social Security Fund (CNSS) during period of partial
layoffs due to the international financial crisis.
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, such as tax breaks and social security assistance;
these advantages are determined on a case-by-case basis.
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
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.
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.
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
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 market or which is seen as
leading to a net outflow of foreign exchange may be discouraged or
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.
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
Protection of Property Rights
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.
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.
The new Customs Code, which went into effect on January 2009, allows
customs agents to seize suspect goods in the entire country for
products under foreign trademarks registered at INNORPI. Tunisian
Copyright Law (No. 94-36, dated February 24, 1994) has been amended
by law No. 2009-33, dated June 23, 2009, and includes literary
works, art, scientific works, new technologies and digital works.
However, 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 and
entertainment CDs/DVDs is widespread.
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
While the Tunisian Government has adopted policies designed to
promote foreign investment, it continues to enact legislation and
implement protectionist measures to safeguard domestic industry.
Some amendments to the Investment Code have substantially improved,
standardized, and codified incentives for foreign investors.
However, some aspects of existing tax and labor laws remain
impediments to efficient business operations.
Tunisia's ranking improved from 73 to 69 of 183 economies regarding
the ease of doing business in the World Bank's Doing Business 2010
report. That said, some bureaucratic procedures, while slowly
improving in some areas, remain 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 sector.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The mobilization and allocation of investment capital are still
hampered by the underdeveloped nature of the local financial system.
Tunisia's stock market "Bourse de Tunis" is under the control of
the state-run Financial Market Council and lists 51 companies. The
Government offers substantial tax incentives to encourage companies
to join the exchange, and expansion is occurring. In September
2009, the stock market capitalization of listed companies in Tunisia
was valued at TND 11.209 billion (US $8.689 billion), approximately
21% of 2009 GDP, up from TND 8.301 billion (US $6.723 billion) in
December 2008. Over the first nine months of 2009, Tunindex, the
stock market's benchmark index, grew by 40.5 percent, up from 28.6
percent growth in 2008 for the same period. 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.
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. Given the current pace of reforms, the
banking sector actually weathered the international economic crisis
and resisted serious adverse effects visible in other countries.
Reform is underway, however. 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-performing loans (NPLs) of commercial banks. The current ratio
of NPLs to total loans is around 15 percent although the
Presidential electoral program, announced in October 2009, targets a
7 percent ratio by 2014. Although in recent years the Government
has undertaken a number of banking privatizations and
consolidations, the Government is the controlling shareholder in 10
of the 20 major banks. The estimated total assets of the country's
five largest banks are about TND 24.482 billion (roughly US $19.83
billion). Foreign participation in their capital has risen
significantly and is now well over 20 percent.
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 listed on the stock exchange are required to publish
semiannual corporate reports audited by a certified public
On June 12, 2009 the GOT passed legislation addressing access to
financial services for non-residents (law No. 2009-64). Financial
authorities aimed essentially to address regulatory gaps in the
existing system by giving an appropriate framework for financial
transactions between non-residents, introducing new financial tools
attractive to foreign investors, defining new rules for monitoring
and supporting the creation of the Tunis Financial Harbor project (a
US $3 billion Bahraini project inaugurated on June 12, 2009 and
envisioned to include banks, real estate firms, investment
companies, commercial centers, housing units and tourism areas). The
code allows non-resident individuals or companies to use financial
products and services as well as perform other relevant financial
operations. Non-resident financial service providers may, in some
cases and under certain conditions, provide services to residents.
Regarding financial products, the code distinguishes between two
types: securities and financial contracts. Both must be issued in
Tunisia or negotiated on a foreign regulated market member of the
International Securities Commissions Organization.
Concerning financial services providers, the code established two
categories of status regarding activities: banking (deposits, loans,
payments and exchange operations, acquisition of capital in
operating companies or companies in current creation) and investment
services (reception, transmission, orders execution and portfolio
management). Non-resident financial entities, namely lending
institutions authorized to act as banks, investment companies and
portfolio management companies are considered by the code
non-resident investment service providers.
Among the conditions required, non-resident financial service
providers must present initial minimum capital (fully paid up at
subscription) in convertible currency equivalent in dinars to 25
million for a bank (US $19.25 million), 10 million (US $7.7 million)
for a financial institution, 7.5 million (US $5.775 million) for an
investment company and 250,000 (US $192,500) for a portfolio
Competition From State Owned Enterprises
Since the implementation of the IMF Adjustment Program in the end of
1986, Tunisia has undertaken many reforms aimed at limiting the
State's intervention in economic activities in the domestic market.
These reforms have centered on:
- Re-structuring of the national economy as part of the program for
the comprehensive upgrading of private and public enterprises.
- Trade liberalization through the removal of import and export
licenses, dismantling customs duties on imported goods in line with
the Tunisia's international commitments (especially within the World
Trade Organization and the European Union), and establishing
bilateral and/or multilateral free-trade agreements with Arab
countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Libya and Algeria.
However, imports of the most basic products such as cereals, sugar,
oil and steel have remained under the control of State-Owned
Enterprises (SOE) due to their socio-economic impact and to protect
- Providing incentives to the private sector through a unified
investment code for public and private enterprises, reforms in
financial and tax systems, trade policy reforms, and privatization
in a number of sectors, such as telecommunications.
SOEs are active in many sectors and compete alongside private
enterprises (such as the telecom and insurance sectors). However,
SOEs retain monopoly control in other sectors considered sensitive
by the government, such as railroad transportation, water and
electricity distribution, postal services and ports logistics. In
these companies, senior management is appointed by the GOT and
reports to the respective minister. The board of directors is
mainly formed by representatives from other ministries and public
shareholders. Like private companies, SOEs are required by law to
publish independently-audited annual reports whether their capital
is publicly traded on the stock market or not.
Tunisia does not have a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
Corporate Social Responsibility
The concept of corporate social responsibility is developing
progressively through governmental campaigns but has not yet taken
firm hold in Tunisia. The most successful campaigns to date have
focused on preserving the environment, energy conservation and
To date, most corporate social responsibility initiatives come from
foreign multinationals that incorporate Tunisia into worldwide
campaigns. Examples include supporting an educational program
related to children's nutrition, supporting a clean water
initiative, and creation of a program aimed at discouraging
emigration of skilled workers from Tunisia. Such programs are
viewed favorably by the GOT.
Tunisia is a stable country, and incidents involving
politically-motivated damage to economic projects or infrastructure
are extremely rare. In April 2002, al-Al-Qa'ida 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.
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
targets. In February 2008 Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed
responsibility for kidnapping two Austrian tourists along Tunisia's
southern border with Algeria. They were released in Mali in
September, reportedly after payment of a ransom.
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 dropped from 43
in 2005 with a CPI score of 4.9 to 65, in 2009 with a score of 4.2.
At the regional level, Tunisia is ranked 8th among MENA countries,
before its direct competitor, Morocco (10), and its neighbors
Algeria (11) and Libya (15). According to the TI Corruption Index
scale, a score of ten indicates extremely little corruption and a
score of zero means very serious corruption.
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. Some analysts believe corruption, or the perception of
corruption, has affected domestic investment rates.
The Government's recent efforts to combat corruption have
concentrated on ensuring that price controls are respected,
enhancing commercial competition in the domestic market, and
harmonizing Tunisian laws with those of the European Union. Since
1989, the public sector is governed by a comprehensive 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 states certify not to participate in corrupt practices.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between Tunisia
and the United States was signed in 2002 and three TIFA Council
meetings have taken place, most recently in March 2008. 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 taxation.
Tunisia has concluded bilateral trade agreements with approximately
81 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 Turkey.
OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
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.
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 14.1 percent (although this is
considerably higher in some regions). The figure does not include
many who are underemployed.
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
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 on August
3, 2009, although negotiations on sectoral wages are still underway.
The official minimum monthly wage in the industrial sector is
225.160 TND (about US $173.37) for a 40 hour week and 260.624 TND
(about US $200.68) for a 48 hour week.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Trade Zones
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.
However, companies do not necessarily have to be located in one of
the two designated free trade zones to operate with this type of
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 Investment Code.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
Total foreign investment during the first 10 months of 2009 was TND
1.77 billion (US $1.36 billion), which represents a 36.4 percent
drop (when calculated in USD, the drop is 39.55 percent) compared to
the same period last year. This decline in foreign investment is
the result of 34.4 percent decrease in foreign direct investment
(TND 1.7 billion (US $1.3 billion) down from TND 2.6 billion (US
$1.36 billion), and a 63.72 percent drop in portfolio investment
(TND 70.7 million (US $54.43 million) down from TND 194.9 million
(US $157.869 million). Over the third quarter of 2009, foreign
investment in portfolio was marked by an ongoing withdrawal of
foreign investors from the Tunis Stock Market as well as flat volume
of transactions on their behalf. This withdrawal was likely due to
the liquidity squeeze in foreign financial markets. The downward
trend in FDI is attributable to a drop in investment flows for the
sectors of energy and services as well as well as the effect of the
international economic crisis. Some decline is attributable to a
delay in disbursement of the investment announced by the
Divona/Orange France Telecom consortium, which won the third telecom
operator license valued at TND 257.251 million (US $198.08 million).
Although this investment occurred during 2009, the consortium only
disbursed a first tranche, TND 92 million (US $70.84 million), in
August and has yet to disburse the rest.
Over 2,966 foreign or joint capital companies are operational in
Tunisia and employ 303,142 people. Foreign investments generate
about one-third of exports and one-fifth of total employment. In
recent years, however, FDI in real estate, infrastructure, and the
energy sector has been a significant source of growth.
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. The
largest single foreign investment was Turkish company TAV's 550
million euro (US $792 million) construction of the Enfidha
International Airport, which is operating on a 40-year concession.
Major foreign presence in other key sectors includes
telecommunications and electronics (Lucent, Lacroix Electronique,
Sagem, Alcatel, Stream, Siemens, Philips, Thomson), the automotive
industry (Lear Corporation, Draxlmaier, Valeo, Toyota Tsusho,
Pirelli), food products (3 Suisses, Danone) and aeronautics (Zodiac
Aerospace, Eurocast, SEA Latelec).
Major US company presence in Tunisia includes: Citibank, Cisco,
Coca-Cola, Crown Cork, Eurocast (a joint venture with Palmer),
Hewlett-Packard, Johnson Controls, Lear Corporation, Pioneer Natural
Resources, Microsoft, Pfizer, Sara Lee (represented in Tunisia under
the name of Essel Tunisie/DBA), and Stream. JAL Group, 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 over 4,600, is now the largest US employer in Tunisia.
Over the past few years, Pioneer Natural Resources continued to
expand its oil and gas drilling and production operations in
Tunisia, bringing its total investments in Tunisia to approximately
US $160 million.
Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA)
Central Bank of Tunisia
General Information about Tunisia
Tunisian Industrial Promotion Agency
Bizerte Free Trade Zone
Zarzis Free Trade Zone
National Statistics Institute (INS)