On November 15, the U.S. Department of State will convene a one-day Tunisia Partnerships Forum. A unique approach is being taken in the design of this event: every step of the planning is based on the desired outcome of creating revenue-generating deals that will benefit both Americans and Tunisians by fostering job creation and economic opportunity.
Three sectors have been identified by the Tunisian government and private sector as priorities for this gathering: tourism, trade, and information communications technology (ICT).
The morning session will be hosted at the U.S. Department of State. The afternoon sessions focus on the three target sectors, and will be hosted in Washington, DC by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Franchise Association, and IBM. Evening receptions will follow.
A select group of investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and business people from across the U.S. and Tunisia have been invited to the forum. The event is built around several Tunisian businesspeople who will be in Washington for the event, along with a number of marquee Arab-American business leaders and investors, major U.S. corporations, philanthropists, and others interested in deepening business ties based on the local priorities outlined by Tunisians.
Nine months after their revolution toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime, the Tunisian people exercised their right to freely choose a Constitutional Assembly that will re-write their country’s constitution. Tunisia’s revolution was partly triggered when a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi sacrificed himself in December 2010 to protest the Ben Ali regime and the lack of economic opportunities in Tunisia. Interviewed by the Reuters News Agency on October 23, Bouazizi’s mother said Tunisia’s elections were a “moment of victory for my son, who died defending dignity and liberty.” In a statement released the same day as the October 23 elections, President Barack Obama congratulated the “millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring.” President Obama further pledged that the U.S. is committed to helping Tunisia move “toward a democratic future that offers dignity, justice, freedom of expression, and greater economic opportunity for all.”
A number of indicators exist to make Tunisia a candidate for investment by the U.S. private sector. Tunisia has a solid record of progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals. According to the World Bank, Tunisia grew at 5 percent average annual growth in GDP over 1997-2007, placing the country among the leading performers in the MENA region (average 4.3 percent). With a highly educated population and a strategic location, Tunisia is well placed to become a regional hub and a platform for commercial engagement in Libya and other countries in the region. Tunisia’s tourism sector was a driving engine of growth and investment prior to the revolution, and is well-positioned to realize greater profits thanks to the country’s increased visibility and the potential for growth in the American market. The sector can also benefit from U.S. experience in developing business plans that maximize tourism dollars.
There is high-demand for new American franchises in Tunisia and the products and services these businesses bring will create new opportunities in many sectors.
In 2010, Embassy Tunis organized a road-show entitled “Doing Business with the U.S.,” where one of the key takeaways was that many Tunisian companies lack concrete knowledge about exporting to other markets, such as the U.S. In a similar vein, we believe that Tunisia is a good place for U.S. companies to invest and do business, but many U.S. companies are not knowledgeable about opportunities in Tunisia. 75% of Tunisia’s exports go to Europe, but those same products would serve the American market as well.
A brief look at the agenda shows that this forum is different. It is not about talking at you or lecturing to you. It is about getting results through networking, business leads, and candid discussions. There will be pitch sessions from entrepreneurs and investors, and a marketplace showcasing U.S. Government and private sector programs that support economic growth in Tunisia.
In each sector, five entrepreneurs and investors from the U.S. and Tunisia will present the work they are doing through a five minute pitch where they will identify needs and leads. Similar conversations will happen informally throughout the day and during the afternoon roundtables, but the individuals selected for these sessions will have a unique opportunity to present their business and investment ideas so they can be matched with others.
There will also be a marketplace featuring information about U.S. Government economic support efforts and public-private programs to catalyze investment.
In September 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tunisian Foreign Minister Mohammed Mouldi Kefi signed a new framework for bilateral cooperation, the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership. This forum will begin to fulfill one of the main objectives of the joint declaration, which reads:
To galvanize the interests of potential investors in the Tunisian market, the Governments intend to undertake events that link potential investors to the Tunisian diaspora who are, indeed, among the best and most genuine exemplars of the benefits of doing business in Tunisia.
Prior to the forum, a concerted effort is underway to connect potential partners to begin orchestrating partnerships. Along with a number of individual matches that will be made based on potential synergies, the Secretary of State’s Global Partnership Initiative and the Arab American Institute will host calls on November 10 for an open discussion on each of the three target sectors.
Secretary Clinton has often said that the U.S. is “adopting a model of development based on partnership, not patronage.” Through the Tunisia Partnerships Forum, the State Department seeks to catalyze a new conversation following the Tunisian election based on mutual interests. We aim to continue these efforts on a sustained basis in order to develop long term relationships that deepen business ties between Tunisia and America.
Final invitations for the forum have already been sent out and the nominations process is now closed. If you are interested in future partnership forums, please email the Global Partnership Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.