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Regional partners pledge billions in help for Tunisia

Representatives from some 40 countries are being offered the chance to participate in some $30 billion worth of projects in Tunisia

Image Credit: Reuters
Beji Caid Essebsi (centre), French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (right) and Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani attend the opening of international investment conference in Tunis yesterday.
Gulf News

TUNIS: Qatar said it would provide $1.25 billion (Dh4.58 billion) in aid to shore up Tunisia’s post-revolution economy as regional and Western partners pledged extensive financial backing at an investment conference on Tuesday.

The money from Qatar, announced by the emir, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, is the biggest single offer of aid to Tunisia since a 2011 uprising ushered in a democratic transition but also years of economic uncertainty and weak growth.

Saudi Arabia’s state development fund is to give Tunisia $800 million in loans and aid, the vice-president of the fund said at an investment conference in Tunis on Tuesday. Yousuf Bassem said the money would include $500 million in soft loans, a $200 million fund to support exports and $100 million of aid.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) said it would lend Tunisia 2.5 billion euros (Dh9.74 billion, $2.65 billion) by 2020, while the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development said it would give $1.5 billion in soft loans over the same period. Kuwait is to lend $500 million and Turkey said it would deposit a $100 million zero-interest loan at Tunisia’s central bank.

Representatives from some 40 countries are being offered the chance to participate in some $30 billion worth of projects as Tunisia tries to reverse a decline in foreign investment since its 2011 uprising.

Tunisia is also expecting to sign deals worth some 10 billion Tunisian dinars (Dh15.9 billion, $4.3 billion) to finance economic projects during the conference, said Khalil Abidi, a senior Tunisian official.

The North African country has been lauded as the sole political success story of the Arab Spring for its democratic transition, but it has made slow progress on economic reform.

Labour unrest and militant attacks have hit investment and tourism, and unemployment is high, especially among the young.

Corruption and cronyism are widespread, and parts of the interior remain severely marginalised.

“Tunisia has been passing through a very particular phase and requires a level of support that it would not normally need,” Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi told the conference.

Shaikh Tamim called the conference “an example of how to support a promising experience and to avoid the worst”.

Foreign partners have previously said they are willing to provide aid and loans, but Tunisia has complained that pledges are not always fulfilled. Securing long-term economic investment has been more of a challenge.

Prime Minister Yousuf Chahed’s government says an investment law approved in September can help revive the flow of foreign capital. The law reduces bureaucracy, limits taxes on profits, and eases restrictions on transferring funds out of the country.

Under pressure from international lenders, Chahed’s government is also pushing a package of measures in its 2017 draft budget aimed at cutting public spending and raising new revenue to reduce the deficit.

But the move risks provoking a new wave of social unrest, with several sectors either holding strikes or threatening to do so over proposed new taxes and a public salary freeze.

Tunisia recently cut its 2016 growth forecast to 1.5 per cent from 2.5 per cent. Its fiscal deficit for next year is projected to be 5.4 per cent of GDP.