Bil­lions pledged for Tu­nisia

Kuwait to give $500m in loans over 5 years

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Tu­nisia won pledges of bil­lions of dol­lars in fi­nan­cial sup­port at an in­vest­ment con­fer­ence yes­ter­day aimed at re­viv­ing the coun­try’s strug­gling econ­omy. Nearly six years af­ter its Arab Spring rev­o­lu­tion, Tu­nisia hopes the meet­ing will help it tackle chal­lenges in­clud­ing high un­em­ploy­ment, low growth and a tourism sec­tor ham­mered by mil­i­tant at­tacks. The two-day “Tu­nisia 2020” con­fer­ence aims to put the North African na­tion “back on the in­vest­ment map of the Mediter­ranean”, of­fi­cials said.

“Tu­nisia faces ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances and needs ex­cep­tional sup­port,” said Pres­i­dent Beji Caid Essebsi. “The suc­cess of the demo­cratic project in Tu­nisia... serves the in­ter­ests of the re­gion and can help strengthen se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity re­gion­ally and glob­ally,” he said. More than 2,000 busi­ness, fi­nance and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from 40 coun­tries are at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence, in­clud­ing of­fi­cials from global lenders such as the World Bank.

The gov­ern­ment is seek­ing bids on 140 ven­tures from in­fra­struc­ture and agri­cul­tural projects to hi-tech schemes - worth roughly $32 bil­lion. At the con­fer­ence’s open­ing ses­sion, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al-Thani pledged $1.25 bil­lion to “sup­port the Tu­nisian econ­omy and strengthen its process of de­vel­op­ment”. Kuwait said it would lend Tu­nisia $500 mil­lion over the next five years, while Canada and Al­ge­ria also pledged fi­nan­cial sup­port.

The Euro­pean In­vest­ment Bank (EIB) said it would lend Tu­nisia €2.5 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. Turkey said it would de­posit a $100 mil­lion zero-in­ter­est loan at Tu­nisia’s cen­tral bank.

French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls said the French De­vel­op­ment Agency (AFD) would in­vest “at least €250 mil­lion ($265 mil­lion) ev­ery year” in Tu­nisia, a for­mer French colony. That is on top of an aid pack­age France an­nounced last year to pump a bil­lion eu­ros ($1.06 bil­lion) into Tu­nisia’s econ­omy by 2020. “We want to go fur­ther,” Valls said, adding that France has “duty and a re­spon­si­bil­ity” to sup­port Tu­nisia, and called on Europe to “live up to ex­pec­ta­tions”.

The Tu­nisian gov­ern­ment says the con­fer­ence is part of a charm of­fen­sive aimed at at­tract­ing pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment to rein­vig­o­rate growth and cre­ate jobs. The meet­ing came as French auto gi­ant PSA said yes­ter­day it would open a fac­tory in Tu­nisia to pro­duce Peu­geot pick­ups for the lo­cal mar­ket. PSA and its Tu­nisian part­ner Stafim said they will pro­duce 1,200 ve­hi­cles a year from 2018. But with around 15 per­cent of its work­force un­em­ployed as of spring 2016, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, Tu­nisia needs much more in­vest­ment in or­der to stave off so­cial un­rest. Many of its job­less are young grad­u­ates who have seen the hope of the Arab Spring dis­si­pate.

Prime Min­is­ter Youssef Cha­hed’s gov­ern­ment took of­fice in Au­gust in place of an ad­min­is­tra­tion heav­ily crit­i­cized for its eco­nomic man­age­ment. That fol­lowed a cat­a­strophic 2015 in which at­tacks claimed by the Is­lamic State group killed 59 for­eign vis­i­tors and 13 Tu­nisians. The at­tacks dealt a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the tourism in­dus­try, which in 2010 em­ployed 400,000 peo­ple and rep­re­sented 10 per­cent of Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct.

Strikes and so­cial un­rest have also hit strate­gic sec­tors in­clud­ing phos­phate min­ing. In Jan­uary, Tu­nisia faced its big­gest so­cial un­rest since the rev­o­lu­tion. Cha­hed told AFP last week that Tu­nisia de­served sup­port and that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity “should in­vest in Tu­nisian democ­racy”. The In­ter­na­tional Monetary Fund ap­proved a $2.9-bil­lion loan to Tu­nisia in May to help im­ple­ment eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial re­forms. The Euro­pean Union also an­nounced a dou­bling of its fi­nan­cial sup­port in 2017 to $318 mil­lion.

Essebsi will head to Brus­sels to­day and to­mor­row for an EU-Tu­nisia sum­mit. In­com­ing UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res told yes­ter­day’s con­fer­ence that Tu­nisia had not yet re­ceived enough eco­nomic sup­port. “The suc­cess of Tu­nisia re­quires a strong econ­omy,” he said. “For the pri­vate sec­tor, in­vest­ing in Tu­nisia is an in­tel­li­gent de­ci­sion.” — AFP

TUNIS: Tu­nisian Pres­i­dent Beji Caid Essebsi (cen­ter), Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Ha­mad Al-Thani (left) and French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls at­tend the open­ing cer­e­mony of “Tu­nisia 2020”, an in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment con­fer­ence, yes­ter­day.— AP

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