Earlier this month, Sfax Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIS) organized the first International Festival of the Olive Oil to link Tunisian olive oil exporters with international buyers and importers. The festival was attended by 115 importers from 11 countries, including Russia, Canada, USA, UK, Brazil, Thailand, South Africa, India, Portugal and France. One hundred buyers were from China.

Russia is a promising new market for Tunisian olive oil; with a new shipping line from Sfax to the Russian port of Novorossiysk making transportation faster. The new Sfax to Russia shipping line began operations on November 2 and will run fortnightly. Tunisian exporters will benefit from a 33-percent discount when transporting food products.

Ridha Fourati, the president of CCIS, highlighted the good reputation of Tunisian olive oil. He said the organization’s aim was to promote Tunisian olive oil through its unique history, varieties and high quality. The festival showcased an exhibition of olive oil products and displayed different stages of olive oil production from collection, and processing to packaging and export.

Omar Béhi, secretary of state for agricultural production touched on inconsistency in Tunisian olive oil. He said efforts were needed to improve the yield, quality and packaging. Béhi spoke of the Tunisian government’s commitment to regenerate olive groves and develop higher yields. The Tunisian government has committed to planting 10 million new olive trees.

Tunisia’s olive harvest for the 2016-2017 season is expected to be 20 percent down on the 2015-2016 season according to the Agriculture, Fishery and Water resources Ministry.

Tunisia’s second largest city, Sfax, was named the 2016 Capital of Arab Culture. Sfax was nominated by ALECSO (the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation) a Tunis-based organization founded in 1970. ALECSO has 22 member states. Sfax is the second Tunisian city to become The Capital of Arab Culture. In 1997, Tunis held the title.

“Culture unites us and brings us together” is Sfax’s chosen theme. Houda Kchaou, one of the event coordinators said, “The aim of this event is both symbolic and historic, is also to promote tourism and encourage investment in the country.”

The event kicked off last summer with the launch of hot air balloons and a flotilla of small boats flying the flags of participating countries. Delegations from 12 Arab countries attended the opening ceremony. Throughout the year over 1,000 guests from the Arab world are expected to descend on Sfax for conferences and meetings. Sfax ends its reign as Capital of Arab culture on March 17, 2017.

Sfaxians hope to see part of the budget earmarked for the associated events directed at solving the city’s pollution problem and modernizing Sfax’s infrastructure. Sfax is a major industrial city where a modern metropolis has sprung up around the traditional medina (old city).

The organizers of the event were accused of corruption and squandering public funds. The executive committee strongly denied the accusations and pledged to present the full budget and financial transactions at a press conference.

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