Tunisian President Celebrates 90th Birthday by Hosting 2020 Conference

2020 was not Tunisia's first attempt at luring international investors. In 2014 Tunisia hosted 'Invest in Tunisia' which failed to seduce foreign money.

By Julie Al-Zoubi
Dec. 13, 2016 06:44 UTC

Tunisian pres­i­dent Beji Caid Essebsi turned 90 as he opened Tunisia’s 2020 con­fer­ence on November 29. The con­fer­ence aimed to attract $60 bil­lion in for­eign invest­ment in Tunisia. Since the Jasmine Revolution, in 2011 around 500 for­eign com­pa­nies have left Tunisia due to dis­rup­tion caused by protests and sit-ins.

Tunisia 2020, which ran from November 29 – 30, was an attempt to reboot for­eign invest­ment in Tunisia. Foreign invest­ment fell from $3.5 bil­lion in 2010 to $2 bil­lion in 2015. In his open­ing speech, Essebsi said, Tunisia has been pass­ing through a very par­tic­u­lar phase and requires a level of sup­port that it would not nor­mally need.”
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2020 was not Tunisia’s first attempt at lur­ing inter­na­tional investors. In 2014, Tunisia hosted Invest in Tunisia’ which failed to seduce for­eign investors.

A new invest­ment law was passed in September to make for­eign invest­ment in Tunisia eas­ier. The law will relax bureau­cracy and ease restric­tions on trans­fer­ring funds out of Tunisia. Under the new law, for­eign com­pa­nies will enjoy tax-free prof­its on major projects for 10 years.

Tunisia has been crip­pled by strikes over the past five years. In September, Tunisia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Othman Battikh con­tro­ver­sially spoke out, call­ing for an end to protests and sit-ins. Every sec­tor of the work­force from teach­ers and taxi dri­vers to lawyers has resorted to strikes. The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) called for a gen­eral strike on December 8 against pro­posed wage freezes in the 2017 bud­get.

The Tunisian econ­omy was dealt a sharp blow by ter­ror­ist attacks in 2015. Tourism slumped fol­low­ing 20 deaths at the Bardo Museum and 37 tourists los­ing their lives in the Sousse beach mas­sacre.

The Tunisian Government declared a state of emer­gency in November 2015 fol­low­ing a sui­cide attack on a bus in Tunis. The state of emer­gency has con­tin­ued and will be in place until January 19, 2017.

The first day of the con­fer­ence saw $8 bil­lion pledged in loans and aid. The funds came from regional and west­ern part­ners includ­ing France, Canada, Qatar, Kuwait, Switzerland, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Much of the fund­ing came in the form of loans rather than the desired invest­ment. According to eco­nomic ana­lyst Ezzedine Saidane, A large amount were for loans for projects. We didn’t hear that much about invest­ments.” Saidane added, Loans are fine but they are also going to deepen Tunisia’s debt.” Tunisia’s invest­ment min­is­ter Fadhel Abdelkefi agreed, We don’t need loans as much as we need invest­ments.”

2020 show­cased two olive oil projects seek­ing invest­ment: €7 mil­lion was sought to fund a project which would bring much-needed jobs to Kasserine. The enter­prise would pro­duce organic and non-organic olive oil. Funding would be used to plant 100 hectares of olive trees and build a mod­ern pro­cess­ing and pack­ag­ing unit.

A sec­ond project aimed at pro­mot­ing Tunisian olive oil to inter­na­tional mar­kets sought €80 mil­lion to plant 10,000 hectares of olive groves and build a pro­cess­ing and pack­ag­ing unit. This busi­ness would cre­ate 2,500 jobs in Beja, Bizerte, Jendouba, Kasserine, Le kef and Siliana.

Unemployment in Tunisia stands at around 15.5 per­cent with higher rates among youths and in rural areas.

Tunisia 2020 was attended by heads of states, inter­na­tional insti­tu­tions and busi­ness peo­ple from 70 coun­tries. The con­fer­ence aspired to pro­mote Tunisia as an attrac­tive busi­ness des­ti­na­tion and bring in fund­ing for invest­ments.

Essebsi became Tunisia’s first freely elected pres­i­dent in December 2014. His elec­tion raised con­cerns among many that Tunisia would return to the old estab­lish­ment. Essebsi had served under ousted pres­i­dent Ben Ali and held the posi­tion of Interior Minister dur­ing Habib Bourghiba’s pres­i­dency.

Essebsi became the third old­est head of state in the world dur­ing Tunisia 2020. It remains to be seen if the con­fer­ence attracted enough new for­eign invest­ment in Tunisia to get the coun­try back on its feet.


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