Tunisia is at a standstill, stuck between a democratic transition that has not met the expectations of the population and an economic development undermined by politics and its excesses as arbitrary as they are irrational. The result: a lost decade, during which attempts to pull the country out of its economic slump – annual GDP growth was close to zero over the period 2011-2020 – were exhausted in fruitless political squabbles. And Tunis does not seem to be at the end of its troubles, because to the post-July 25 economic myopia is added the protectionist threat, the standard of a populism powerless to find the paths of prosperity.
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The temptation seems great, for some political leaders, to criticize or question the free trade agreements with Tunisia’s main trading partner, the European Union (EU). It would be naive and misleading to claim that one can improve the economic situation, create jobs and attract investment by isolating Tunisia from the European commercial giant. The argument often used is that it is necessary to make it more difficult to access foreign products in order to protect domestic industries and jobs. of European competition in particular, which would make it possible to respond to the strong requests for support made by the sections of the population particularly affected by the economic crisis. This argument is illusory and counterproductive.
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Thus, import restriction measures through the application of non-tariff measures provided for by the Tunisian authorities are arbitrary, not notified to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and contrary to the spirit of the trade agreement with Tunisia. EU. This is the case, for example, of the revision of the reference value serving as the basis for the calculation and payment of duties and taxes. The same is also true for the measures taken to levy 10% of the value of imported goods, which handicap European companies that export and create jobs in Tunisia.
These import restriction measures come on top of the substantial increase in customs duties which has affected certain European exports since January 1, 2022, and are causing concern on both sides of the Mediterranean. Brussels deplores a “technical import control system in place […] complex and not very transparent, which does not appear to be based on a risk analysis and represents a significant barrier to entry”. And to add: “The obligation to import directly from the factory without passing through the distributors and to submit the invoice of the factory to obtain the import authorization fundamentally calls into question the commercial relations and contractual between economic partners and will be prohibitive. »
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Furthermore, ” […] each import operation [doit] be authorized in advance by the competent department, [ce qui] corresponds to a non-automatic import licence. This is not in line with Tunisia’s bilateral commitments with the[UE] nor with [l’OMC]as raised in the context of the restrictive measures put in place in 2020 for the import of cheese and chocolate, unfortunately still in force”.
A limited domestic market
With more than half of Tunisia’s trade going to European Union countries, the latter is the country’s leading trading partner. The much decried trade deficits in fact represent the price of an industrial dynamism for which export to the EU provides an essential outlet, because the Tunisian domestic market cannot suffice for it. The problem is therefore not so much to protect Tunisian industries on a domestic market which will quickly show its limits – even and it can relieve the currency balance in the short term – rather than push them internationally, which is what free trade agreements are essential for.
Our economy is characterized by a strong international orientation
In this context, the priority objective of our economic policy is to improve the framework conditions governing the access of our products to third-party markets. This involves, on the one hand, placing our economic players on an equal footing with their main competitors as regards access to foreign markets and, on the other hand, ensuring that this access is, as far as possible, stable and free from hindrances.
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The Tunisian domestic market being limited, our economy is therefore characterized by a strong international orientation. That is to say that our prosperity depends largely on trade in goods and services as well as international investment. The constant improvement of access to foreign markets is therefore a fundamental objective of Tunisia’s foreign economic policy.
Our industrial companies have begun a real, albeit timid, take-off, which must be encouraged and not inhibited by arbitrary measures aimed at temporarily relieving the national budget. Thus, for its salvation, Tunisia will have to move from a cashier, wait-and-see economy to a market economy, which will allow it to develop and diversify more actively its participation in international trade and global value chains (GVCs), to stimulate growth and job creation.
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Tunisia’s integration into international trade will increasingly take place through its participation in GVCs, a phenomenon reflecting the rise of transnational distribution and supply networks that fragment production processes with the aim of make the most of the complementarities between economies and thus benefit from unlimited demand and innovation throughout the supply chain.
However, this challenge only has a chance of materializing if we realize that the market economy is not an evil, that profit is not a defect and that globalization is not necessarily a danger. It is therefore essential to tell the issue of GVCs, openness to trade and regional integration in a different way and to ensure that these factors together constitute rather a source of wealth and a prelude to justice social.