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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Tunisia Partnerships Forum


Remarks
The Global Partnership Initiative
George C. Marshall Center
Washington, DC
November 15, 2011

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Welcome

Michael Hammer, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Well, good morning. On behalf of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, I would like to thank you for joining us in this first ever Tunisia Partnerships Forum. I’m Mike Hammer, I am the Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs here at the Department of State. I have been working together with Kris Balderston, whom I hope many of you have met. If you haven’t, make sure you get to meet him. He’s a man of action, makes things happen. He and his dynamic team working together with our office of Public Liaison and Jane Daly who I hear has worked on a lot of the arrangements. They have put together what they hope and I hope what will be a truly historic event and opportunity. This is not a typical conference; it’s the first time we’ve had the opportunity to forge such partnerships to help the people of Tunisia and really show our common interest in moving forward as partners.

I would like to extend a warm welcome and thanks to the Ambassador from Tunisia to the United States, Mohamed Saleh Tekaya, who’s joined us today. Thank you Ambassador. I would also like to thank all of those of you who I understand have come all the way from Tunisia just for this forum. Especially those of you who are leading the local effort, Partners for a New Beginning. Please help me in recognizing Partners for a New Beginning who have been terrific in their commitment to the US-North Africa partnership opportunity

Never before has the U.S. Government convened a forum of this magnitude specifically on Tunisia. As a first of its kind of event, a partnerships forum that is based on local priorities, this forum has been convened in less than a month after Tunisia’s historic elections. Let me tell you that I was sitting in a meeting with Elizabeth, who will speak to you in just a moment, Kris, and a number of other senior members of the State Department when Secretary Clinton suggested, rather passionately in fact, that we needed to have this event. So needless to say we got fast to work and I think she will be pleased to see the tremendous turnout and see the outcome we anticipate from today’s meeting. Secretary of State Clinton has charged all of us here with developing innovative and creative solutions to foster investment in Tunisia.

In September 2011, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister (KEFI) signed a new framework for bilateral cooperation. The U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership, which recognized that you are the best and most genuine exemplars of the benefits of doing business in Tunisia. Let me quote from that document that was released jointly by the United States and Tunisia, “To reinforce our mutual commitment to creating broad-based economic opportunity to Tunisia’s citizens. The governments’ resolve to deepen their cooperation on creating an environment conducive to business and entrepreneurship.” And that’s what we’re following up on today.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation intends to explore how to catalyze significant new American, private-sector investment in Tunisia, including expanding small to medium enterprise lending, franchising, building infrastructure, and developing renewable resources and clean technology in Tunisia. We are committed to developing long-term opportunities for engagement and encouraging investment. We intend for the Tunisia Partnerships Forum to become a platform that will catalyze new conversation following the new connections based on mutual interest. As President Obama has said, the Tunisian people inspired the world when you changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring.

You took another important step with your democratic elections signaling to the world that you intend to create your own future which includes fostering economic opportunity and growth. Secretary Clinton has likewise stated that the United States remains committed to working with the government and the people of Tunisia as they pursue a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic future. Today’s event marks just one step towards demonstrating that commitment. Bringing together those of you with ties to Tunisia and an interest in promoting economic development based on partnership not patronage.

Secretary Clinton often speaks to 21st century statecraft and this is one example of what she means by 21st century statecraft in action. Changes don’t just happen in governments. Change happens through civil society and through engagements such as this. When Secretary Clinton travels she often does what are called Counterviews, where she is interviewed before an audience. She meets with women entrepreneurs and youth leaders. She has made this type of new diplomacy a priority. We don’t just meet with foreign ministries, but we get to know the people of a country, we build relationships and listen to your priorities because that’s where change happens.

That’s where this event comes in. As we build ties, we start with people who have the strongest ties to Tunisia, Tunisian-Americans and other Arab-Americans. We convene the right people from the government and private-sector and look for opportunities to work together. This event is about making introduction and brokering deals, hopefully many deals. It’s about local priorities and creating jobs in Tunisia, which will open markets for American products and create jobs for America as well. It is also about our mutual interest in growing the Tunisian economy and creating opportunities that will show how democratic and free society also benefits from open and accountable economic systems. I hope that you will find this event to be the start of something big, the first of many conversations about Tunisia’s future and the starting point for economic transition.

Today you will explore opportunities for growth and partnership. You will meet with investors and entrepreneurs who will pitch their projects for information, communications technology, tourism, and franchising. And you will learn about the United States Government economic support efforts and public-private programs to motivate investment. It is now my pleasure to introduce Mrs. Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Mrs. Littlefield was appointed by President Obama as OPIC’s 10th President and CEO. In this position, she heads the U.S. Government’s development finance institution. OPIC mobilizes private capital to help solve critical world challenges and in doing so, advances U.S. foreign policy. From 2000 to 2010, Mrs. Littlefield was the Director of the Private and Finance Center at the World Bank and Chief Executive Officer of the Consultive Group to Assist the Poor. Please join me in welcoming Mrs. Littlefield, and have a productive conference.
 

Keynote Address


Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO, Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Thank you. Tunisia has inspired a deep admiration from all corners of the world

for sparking the Arab Spring and for how it has smoothly managed the transition that has followed. And although this is the lens through which many Americans and American businesses see Tunisia, the U.S. and Tunisia have a long and rich history of partnership and mutual support dating back over two-hundred years. Tunisia was among the first to recognize the Independence of the United States, and the U.S. and Tunisia concluded one of our very first trade agreements ever in 1799.

As we all know, two weeks ago, on October 23, Tunisia successfully and

peacefully concluded its first democratic elections in more than 50 years. In their

protests and their elections, Tunisians have set an example for the rest of the Arab Spring countries. I believe that Tunisia can also set the economic example for the region, and OPIC is ready and eager to support this.

Many of you are familiar with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,

or OPIC. We are the U.S. Government’s Development Finance Institution. We help

U.S. businesses gain footholds in emerging markets by providing the financing and

risk mitigating tools they need to remove the barriers to investing. With current finance and insurance exposure of about $15 billion, we are diversified in some 100 countries. And we achieve our mission on a self-sustaining basis, earning income for the U.S. Government every year.

At OPIC, we offer loans, guarantees, and insurance to big companies, small

businesses, NGOs, individuals, diaspora entrepreneurs, and foundations investing in

emerging markets. To give you some concrete examples, on the small end we provided over $3.5 million in loans and insurance for a U.S. small business run by a Turkish- American family to convert an historic building into a small hotel in Turkey. At the larger end, OPIC provided a $200 million loan guaranty to Hamma Water Desalination, sponsored by GE Ionics Incorporated, for a reverse osmosis seawater desalination facility that will provide potable water to 25% of the residents of Algiers through a joint venture with the state-owned Algerian Energy Company. And just last week, I approved a loan guaranty of some $50 million to a Tunisian-based private equity firm that will invest in SMEs in the Maghreb region, if approved by our Board. These are just a few examples but they illustrate the range and diversity of OPIC clients.

Immediately after the revolution in Tunisia, I travelled with Secretary Clinton to

Tunisia and Egypt where we met with the interim governments, revolutionary leaders, civil society, and most memorably, the young people. Recognizing an urgent need for private capital to fuel economic growth and job creation, the Secretary announced that OPIC would commit $2 billion to support private sector investment in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Tunisia.

This financing is available to U.S. and Tunisian-American businesses and

entrepreneurs who are seeking to invest in Tunisia and the broader region, especially in key sectors like the three we are highlighting today. In fact, we have already committed about $700 million.

Private businesses are of course what will drive the sustainable, broad-based economic growth and job creation that Tunisia needs most today. So let’s turn to the opportunities in Tunisia.

Tunisia is ripe with opportunities for investors. There are three reasons for this:

Economic prospects, location, and a talented, business-friendly workforce. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Tunisia looks set to stage a faster recovery than the other Arab Spring countries. IMF data have Tunisia growing by 4 percent in 2012 and over 5 percent in 2013, more than any other Arab country that experienced uprisings including Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. So, economic prospects are strong.

Second, Tunisia is strategically located to serve as a regional hub and a platform

for commercial engagement in Libya. It has demonstrated its commitment to its

neighbors by opening its doors to fleeing Libyans during these difficult times. Moreover, Tunisia’s proximity to Europe has caught the eye of many investors in export-focused sectors, even energy exports. Third, Tunisia is a business-friendly country endowed with a talented, highly educated workforce. In a 2009 survey, 80 percent of respondents in Tunisia felt that their city or local area was a good place to start a new business. Of course, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would say their city wasn’t.

Despite these opportunities, Tunisia is not on the radar screen or white boards

of very many U.S. investors. At last count, Tunisia had an impressive 1,300 foreign

investors, but only a mere 75 were U.S. companies. That means that only 6 percent of foreign investors in Tunisia are American.

Today we are focused on four key sectors which have been defined as priorities

by the Tunisian Government and private sector; tourism, franchising, information

communications technology (ICT) and renewable energy. These sectors are Tunisian priorities that are ready for American investments. I will touch briefly on each sector.

Tourism is the primary source of income in Tunisia: Anyone who has ever been

there will quickly understand why. One out of every five Tunisians works directly or

indirectly for the tourism sector. But, the number of tourists coming to Tunisia decreased by half after the revolution, and revenues are expected to decrease further this year by some 50 percent, meaning that many hard-working Tunisians have lost their livelihoods. But, given my own familiarity with Tunisia’s unique charms and location, I am confident that will turn around. Tunisia’s tourism sector powered economic growth and investment prior to the revolution, and there is even more potential for growth today, especially in the U.S. and other relatively new markets. Also, early fears that a victorious Ennahda Movement would impose restrictions on how foreign tourists dress on beaches or on their alcohol consumption have been rejected by the moderate Islamist party who also declared

their support for business-friendly policies.

OPIC has established considerable expertise and a successful track record in the

tourism sector. We have financed or insured the construction and operation of hotels and resorts from Afghanistan to Anguilla, from the green zone in Iraq to the banks of the Nile in Egypt. In fact, OPIC’s very first project in Tunisia, in 1974, was with the ITT Hotel Corporation of Tunisia for a Sheraton Hotel.

OPIC’s financial products are well-suited to this sector. Our long-term, patient

financing and our ability to finance large amounts of $250 million or more are well suited for large projects like the construction of a hotel. We have also developed products like long- term subordinated debt to support investments in energy efficiency, which can have a huge effect on a hotel’s bottom line.

As I have discussed with the Tunisian Minister of Finance Jalloul Ayed, new

international standard hotels could increase both business and tourism in Tunisia,

supporting thousands of local jobs. Furthermore, an internationally-recognized American brand like Hilton or Marriot is invaluable to setting the stage for business travelers and tourists. The sector can also benefit from U.S. experience in developing business plans that maximize tourism dollars.

Second, there is high-demand for new American franchises in Tunisia. Recent

changes to the franchising legislation have opened up a new market to foreign investors and now, franchise models are growing slowly but surely in Tunisia.

But, the purchase of a franchise requires significant upfront capital. Because

many small, local entrepreneurs can’t access the credit they need to make this type of investment, franchises are out of their reach. To address this, OPIC is collaborating with the State Department to pursue the establishment of a franchisee lending program. This debt facility could provide working capital to Tunisian franchisees interested in working with American, European and Tunisian franchisors. We are currently seeking partners for this facility and attempting to secure the grant assistance that would be necessary to cover its operating costs.

Third, there is significant potential in Tunisia in information communications

technology. Tunisia already has one of the most developed telecomm infrastructures in North Africa. There is a 3G mobile network that covers some 95 percent of the population. A nationwide fiber optic backbone, coupled with some of the lowest broadband prices in Africa, has supported rapid development of the internet sector. Tunisia also boasts higher-than-average rates of internet usage and more than double the world average of Facebook users. These statistics are fitting of a country that taught the world about the power of the internet and social media in fuelling revolutions.

OPIC can support investments in ICT in Tunisia not only through traditional

financing and insurance, but through support for private equity investment funds. In

2009, President Obama announced in Cairo that the U.S. would launch an investment fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. So we issued a call for proposals and less than a year later, the OPIC Board approved $305 million for four investment funds specifically targeting the growth of technology in MENA. However, the events of the Arab Spring have made it increasingly difficult for these funds to raise the private capital required before they can start lending and before OPIC can disburse. To address this, OPIC is developing an insurance product that can mitigate the risks U.S. investors face in OPIC-supported investment funds. OPIC is also taking the message of the importance of investing in MENA on the road. For example, this week in Silicon Valley OPIC is hosting a forum for investors on the many attractive investment opportunities in the MENA region.

Lastly, renewable resources is another sector in Tunisia that looks promising for

investors. Currently, Tunisia generates less than 1 percent of its electricity through wind and solar – but the Tunisian Government knows this has to change. They recently proposed the $2.6 billion “Tunisian Solar Plan,” a public-private partnership with the goal of substantially enhancing the renewable energy sector by 2016. Notably, this plan calls on private investors to increase Tunisia’s overall installed renewable capacity through large- scale wind and solar projects. Estimates suggest that renewable capacity will increase from its current level of below 200 megawatts to 1100 megawatts by 2020. This won’t be easy, but this is a promising initiative by the Tunisian Government and a great opportunity for investors.

So now, having touched on the key sectors, let me tell you how you can partner

with OPIC. We work primarily with U.S. businesses. These often aren’t the Fortune 100 companies because these large corporations are able to finance their investments off their own balance sheet. Instead, we work mainly with small and medium sized businesses. This past year, nearly 90 percent of our committed projects – by number – involved small and medium sized businesses. We also increasingly partner with NGO’s, diaspora entrepreneurs, and foundations. Here are 4 things we look for in a project: significant U.S. involvement, private capital, a financially sound business plan, and a project aimed at sustainable development.

In closing, Tunisia is one of the oldest friends and allies of the United States and

a model for the region. It is home to a wealth of investment opportunities in tourism, franchising, ICT, renewable energy and other sectors, but U.S. investors are seriously underrepresented. Whether you are a large company or a Tunisian-American entrepreneur, as long as you have a viable project, OPIC can offer the tools and financial products that make investments feasible and attractive.

As President Obama said about the MENA region before the Arab Spring, “many

young people have a solid education, but closed economies [have left] them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas,” but have nowhere to take them. Tunisia is forging its path to a future where this description no longer applies. And we are ready to help investors seize this opportunity. Thank you.



Kris Balderston, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Thank you Elizabeth, very much and Jackie will be here throughout the morning, so she has answers to these questions, too. And I’m Kris Balderston, I’m the Secretary’s Special Representative for the Global Partnership Initiative. And I’m happy to be here today and welcome to everyone. I’m really glad Elizabeth keynoted this morning because she started her speech rattling a lot of the advantages which we’ll hear with investing in Tunisia and we’ll hear a lot about that as the day goes on, but also I think with Jackie and Elizabeth here, you’re seeing an OPIC that really is very creative and flexible. They’re moving forward very quickly on ideas so I would really take advantage of it. And Mike Hammer, I would just like to note, it is not insignificant that he is still here today because one of the keys of this forum is our first effort, it’s not the end, we need to be getting the word out about these investment opportunities and Mike is here with his big shop and helped us organize this because we need to get the word out. That is extraordinarily important and he, too, is a very creative soul, I’ve known him since the Clinton White House days.

I think it’s also very significant that we are having this session in this room in the George Marshall building. By the way, if you’ve checked your Blackberry’s they don’t work because we purposely made sure that you can’t use your Blackberries because it’s not accessible. But it’s very significant that we’re here because of George Marshall who is the creator of the Marshall Plan and was a creative problem solver. I mean, I always look back, I always remember Bill Clinton, we were in the White House and when things got really bad he would go down to the basement and there’s this part, do you remember Mike, this part where the British had burned the White House, had tried to burn the White House down. He’d always go down to go touch that charred piece of the wall to say it doesn’t get any worse than that. We can solve anything. And I think this room is the same. It doesn’t get any worse than what happened in Europe after WWII; 50 percent of the housing in Europe was destroyed, transportation systems were destroyed, huge starvation rates, the agricultural system had broken down. All during the coldest winter in 100 years in Europe. All of this happened and George Marshall went into action and created a plan. And I think that if, you know I was at the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan recently and there was a lot of talk of creating a Marshall Plan, but the new Marshall Plan, I would say, would be a Marshall Plan of partnerships, something our office is really promoting, and something that we’re promoting today.

I think that it’s very important to not look at these partnerships as just money, it’s network building, it’s technology, it’s sharing information, it’s educational exchange, and you know money is very important and these programs are very important, but I would encourage you to get out there and talk to a lot of people. Our office, the Global Partnership Initiative, uses after working for Secretary Clinton for 11 years, after working in the Senate and the State Department, her favorite phrase would be “power to convene.” And it’s not just convening and getting together but convening around problems. We call it “active convening,” trying, to solve our problems.

I should also mention that we’ve heard from two speakers from the U.S., but the Ambassador from Tunisia is here today and after spending time with him I have to tell you, there is equal creativity on the side of Tunisia. There’s a great opportunity here and if you didn’t think the Secretary was into this, unfortunately she’s in Asia today and can’t be with us, but as Mike knows, we’ve been to more than one meeting where she will just say, “Tunisia, Tunisia, Tunisia, I want to see action, I want to see us getting involved” so she’s very, very focused on trying to get something done.

Today’s program, we’ll go through it, but I wanted, because this is a convening session, I wanted to point out a few people that you must get to know while you’re here today. Shelly Porges, front row, Global Entrepreneurship Program. You have to talk to Shelley, because this is new creation of new jobs. OPIC, we talked to Jackie and Elizabeth’s here, NEA, anyone from NEA here today? Great. And EEB, we have Jose in the back, Patrick Hidalgo up in the back row, MCC Bruce Kaye, right here in the front row, Thomas Debass from our office, he’s doing our diaspora project and getting involved with Tunisian diaspora, USAID, up here in the back, you really have to get to know people, and I also want to mention two flagship programs that the Secretary has been promoting in our office. Partners for a New Beginning, is Tony here? And Mickey is here, really get to talk to Mickey, creating a lot of networks in North Africa and the Middle East, and Thomas Debass, we created for the Secretary the first ever diaspora forum, in 220 years that’s hard to believe, but 52 billion, million? Thomas? Billion dollars in remittances, all in Thomas’s bank account (laughter). He’s walking out the exit. Thomas helped us create IdEA, International diaspora Engagement Alliance, which is a program to try to organize our diaspora, because we do have 62 million first and second generation Americans.

Today, I would like to invite our next panel up, I’m excited to introduce them for a conversation about opportunities for growth partnerships in Tunisia. Jose Fernandez, why don’t you come on down here. Jose is our Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs and has been very active on the diaspora, helped create the Bridge Program to facilitate these remittances. His Excellency Mohamed Saleh Tekaya, the Ambassador from Tunisia to the United States, who again is very creative. Nourredine Zekri, the Director General of the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency, and this will all be moderated by Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times. Welcome.

The Economic Agenda Opportunities for Growth and Partnerships
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Well good morning, and first off on behalf of the Financial Times let me say thank you very much to the State Department for asking us to be involved here to today, it’s a great pleasure and a privilege to be on such a distinguished panel here this morning. As everyone else in this room, with all the events in Tunisia see with great interest, at the time I happened to be living in Beijing and I can assure you it was a very, very interesting place to watch all that happening in Tunisia. So it’s incredibly exciting to be here this morning talking with members of this panel.

What we’re going to do this morning for this first session is really set up some of the issues for discussions later on today. We’re going to be talking later on today about some of the more specific issues of franchising, tourism, and ICT, so we’re going to try and set up the broader discussion, the political-economic business context. And so what I’m going to do is, I’m really just going to ask some questions to our panelists, try and get them to discuss some of these issues and then hopefully I can get a little bit of time towards the end to be able to open it up to questions from the audience.

Maybe if I could first really ask a simple question to the Ambassador about the economic situation. Revolutions are fantastic business for newspapers but not such great business for business. Especially in a country where tourism is one of the great driving forces. So maybe if you could just give us a general snapshot of where things stand now. How bad did it get in the immediate aftermath of the revolution of this year, and if it is coming back, how quickly is it coming back now?



Mohamed Selah Tekaya, Tunisian Ambassador to the United States

Than you very much. At the outset I would like to express my thanks to the State Department for organizing this important event. It is indeed an historic event. This is the beginning of a, I hope, a longstanding partnership between our two countries and I appreciate the presence of so many distinguished representatives of the business community from the United States, from the Arab-American diaspora, also from the Tunisian diaspora. And I would like to pay special tribute to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the interest and the enthusiasm that she has shown for Tunisia and for the success of the transition of Tunisia to democracy. President Obama has been the first to salute the revolution in Tunisia. He was the first also to congratulate the people of Tunisia on the holding of its first free, transparent, and credible elections. And today’s event is really, I consider it as a powerful display of that support for Tunisia, for its transition to democracy, for jobs, for growth, and for economic opportunity. And I would like also to thank Assistant Secretary Hammer and Mrs. Littlefield for the kind words that they have said about Tunisia. We appreciate that very much.

Tunisia has embarked now on a transition to democracy. It has just held elections on the 23rd of October for the Constituent Assembly, which will be in charge of writing a new constitution for the country, which will hopefully reflect the aspirations of its people. And after the elections, a new government is going to take over. Negotiations are going on right now to form that government and that government is going to have to manage great expectations, great economic expectations and social expectations. The revolution in Tunisia has created certain difficulties for the country and challenges and I think that those difficulties are unavoidable. As transition in other counties has shown. But we think that the Tunisian economy has suffered a great deal from the events that proceeded the revolution and the events that took place right after the revolutions.

There was also a security challenge because of the disturbances and because of the certain acts of violence that took place but we think that that situation we were able, the interim government had been able to stabilize the situation. The economy needs further efforts. We think that despite the losses it has incurred because of the revolution and also because of the loss of trade with Libya, our first partner of trade in the region, but I think that with the determination of the people of Tunisia and with the support of Tunisia’s friends and partners we will be able to overcome those economic difficulties.

You know that transitions do present challenges and difficulties and sometimes problems. But they do present further opportunities, more opportunities than problems. And the interim government has prepared a national development plan, and that plan presents a number of reforms in all sectors, in the economic sector, the finance sector, the banking sector, and other sectors. And the next government, which will be in place, will have to consider that plan and see what is best for the country. So the overall situation in Tunisia is not as bad as it used to be, as it was a few months ago. But I think that the elections are a signal of the success and the success of the elections are a signal to the people of Tunisia and to the international community that Tunisia is on the right track and that the next stage will offer further economic, political, and social opportunities.



Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Assistant Secretary Fernandez, maybe I can ask you to comment on this issue, looking at Tunisia from afar. We heard some quite optimistic projections earlier on about growth rates for the next few years in Tunisia. Are you very confident there’s going to be a quick rebound from the events of this year, in terms of the economy?


Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs

Thank you. Good morning everyone. Look I think that there’s no doubt that the Tunisian economy suffered as a result of the revolution, that’s natural, but I think the projections that we’re seeing are in the 2-4, 5 percent range for 2012, obviously that’s subject to all sorts of variables. The question is if that’s sufficient to meet the aspirations of the people. You’ve got a serious unemployment problem, I’ve been in Tunisia now three times, and one of the things that struck me from day one is you have youth unemployment. In some cases, the more educated the young people were, the harder it was for them to get a job. So I think you’ve got a country with great potential, a very educated workforce, wonderful location being at the crossroads in the Middle East, being next to Libya, having the connections to Europe, it’s been seen as a great platform. So we believe the potential is there. And as you talk to Ministers in the transition government, they are aware of the opportunities and they were very interested in trying to promote opportunities in the tourism sector, in the franchising sector, and in the ICT sector. And those, I think, are potential growth areas and part of what we want to do is to help the Tunisian people and Tunisian government connect to U.S. companies that see the opportunity and it’s not simply an altruistic reason, I think that there are opportunities for U.S. businesses. There are opportunities for U.S. businesses to do what they do well and that’s sell their products and make investments and hopefully turn a profit. So we see it, if it works, we see it as a win-win situation. The potential is there I think, but it’s going to take now some good investments and some good economic policies.


Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Nourredine Zekri, you’re the Director General of the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency in Tunisia, if you could tell us a little bit about where the attitude towards investment is in the country right now. Has it taken a huge hit, is there still a lot of lack of confidence about the situation in Tunisia, or are you seeing signs that that’s beginning to turn around now?


Nourredine Zekri, Director General, Tunisian Foreign Investment Promotion Agency

Thank you very much, let me first introduce myself, I am the Director General of FIPA, and I just want to invite all the businesses here to have contact with us and to answer your question, as Mr. Ambassador said, he is right, there has been a big decrease in investment and this is due to the stability, the situation, the social state and so on. But what is important to mention here is that the companies that are working in Tunisia, they did not leave Tunisia. We had some companies that left Tunisia but it is the small companies. The big companies had always confidence in the business environment and even in the ten months of 2011 we had, lets say, 80 percent of FDI has been implemented in 2010. That means that we have 120 new companies coming during this period and we recorded 135 expansions of companies operating already in Tunisia. But we believe that this revolution and what happened maybe will present and will offer more opportunities. As you know, we have 3,000 foreign companies, maybe 85 of them are coming from Europe. So these are SME’s coming from Europe that are joining the business environment in Tunisia. But Tunisia wasn’t able to attract foreign multinationals because as you know, there was a matter and a question of lack of transparency, I mean in the press and the privatization, there was not enough transparency, so that’s maybe limited the investment from U.S. There seems to be investment from Britain, from Scandinavian countries, and now, we notice that after the revolution, these countries are really coming to Tunisia. They are really eager to come to Tunisia and we have a big number of visits during these ten months.

What is helping is that I think that the roadmap of the political side is now clear. We succeeded in the election, now the government is really launching signals that it will keep with office, will keep with development of tourism, with FDI, you know that our economy is really relying on FDI, on tourism, and on exports. So please know, I am in government, there will be in place those who will maybe jeopardize these kind of assets. So in all the parties there is now consensus about the economic roadmap and all the parties, they are insisting that they will give more importance to FDI, to tourism, and to exports. So we are lets say a small country and we will rely on our integration in the region and this revolution will offer to us I think the opportunity to diversify our portfolio and I would like here to thank of course the American government and the American institutions. They came many times to Tunisia, we received a delegation from the government from the institutions and even from some investors and of course we can notice that there is a big involvement and a big feeling of citizenship about our Tunisian compatriots. The diaspora here in the States, they are really involved and they show their involvement and they tried to help their country, and we believe that with their involvement we can build a bridge between the American and the Tunisian companies. I think that our hopes are really very high in developing business with American companies.


Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Let me ask you a specific question about the political climate around investment. You just had these historic elections which went very well but one thing that did catch a lot of people’s attention was that the biggest party came out as an Islamist party. As you mentioned, tourism is a huge part of the economy, it’s a long way for America but there a lots of British people who like to go to Tunisia and drink a lot and don’t wear too many clothes and generally behave rather badly in lots of ways. Now the leaders of this party have given some comments saying that they’re fine with that, they understand that tourism is important to the economy. But how comfortable, how confident can investors be in the tourism sector that a new government won’t try and clamp down on some of the things that happen in the tourist industry will not actually change things substantially?


Nourredine Zekri, Director General of FIPA

Thank you for this question. Let me just mention that Tunisia has been a touristy country for more than now 20 years or maybe more. So that is tradition, that is habit, and Tunisia showed that there is never in Tunisia big changes. I mean people they are flexible, they are pragmatic, this is in the interest of Tunisia, and I don’t see any, in government, even if it is pro-Ennahda which is Islamist, which is moderate Islamist, I guess, and that’s what they are now saying and this is I think in the interest of the country. So there is no party, there is no government who will come and who won’t gather all the conditions to succeed. So as is said, maybe 1/5 of the people working are in the Tourism sector so I think it is a big sector for us and it is not really about tourism, even the kind of the Tunisia society is a society which is open to Europe, so I think even if now we have with 40 percent of the elections, the wealth of our country is that we won’t have only one voice, we won’t have only one choice. So we’ll have diversity, we’ll have democracy, and I think that all of the decisions will be set up within a democratic society. With all the parties.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Ambassador maybe I can turn it over to you. We’ve heard several mentions already about the Tunisian diaspora. I imagine a large part of your job is engaging and outreach to the diaspora. Could you just tell us a little more about the diaspora here in the U.S. and what sort of things can the Tunisian government and the American government do to engage the diaspora and to promote business and economic links with Tunisia?


Mohamed Selah Tekaya, Tunisian Ambassador to the United States

Thank you. The revolution in Tunisia has created momentum for the relations between the two countries and also for the role of the Tunisian diaspora in the United States. People know that after the revolution democracy will be developed, there will be transparency, there will be accountability, there will be the rule of law, and that whoever invests will be sure that his rights are protected and that the climate of business in Tunisia will be prosperous climate, will be a climate that attracts investors and that attracts businessmen. The Tunisian diaspora is really looking forward to invest in Tunisia. And many of them have been in contact with the embassy and we have received many of them over the past few weeks and months. These are people who want to do something for the country because they want their country to succeed in its transition to democracy and they want to contribute to prosperity in their country. And we have a vibrant diaspora here in the United States and you have many examples of them here. You have the Young Tunisian American Professionals, you have the Tunisian Community Center, you have many other individuals who are businessmen but who did not have the desire in the past to do something in Tunisia because they were afraid of corruption, they had many fears. I think those fears are lifted now and the atmosphere in the country is welcoming atmosphere.

What the United States can do, and I really do appreciate the fact that the United States is organizing this event to encourage Tunisians to invest in their country. I think this is really a testimony to the support that Tunisia would like to get from other countries, too. Because it is not easy to tell people to go invest in other countries, invest here first. What we would like to see is a mutually beneficial partnership. Tunisians can invest in their country, they can create jobs in their country and they can create jobs here, too. I think what we look for is a partnership that in the end is beneficial for the Tunisians who live here as well as for Americans.


Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Assistant Secretary, if I can turn over to you, the revolution which famously started with a fairly humble fruit vender setting himself on fire, which exposed political dissatisfaction but also highlighted the issue of the entrepreneurial poor in that country. Is that going to be the key going forward, finding ways to unleash the business potential like that fruit vendor, and if so, what are the things that the United States can do to help that process along?
 

Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs

Thank you. Entrepreneurship is one of the critical areas that we have been supporting in Tunisia and throughout North Africa. As you heard, we have a Global Entrepreneurship Program, we have been reaching out to entrepreneurs in Tunisia. In fact we just had a delegation that just came back two weeks ago from Tunisia and was composed largely of diaspora, Maghreb diaspora members. They went to Morocco, Algeria, and ended up in Tunisia. And in Tunisia, all 16 of them, and again most of them were from Silicon Valley diaspora members, people who have been very successful in this country and want to go back to their countries of origin and start new industries, start new companies. They met with about 100, 150 entrepreneurs in Tunisia, they talked about mentorship, they had business plan competitions, they had kids in universities coming up to them with business plans, there were deals that were being done by Tunisian investors, so entrepreneurship is going to be a critical part of what we do, not the only thing that we do on the economic front and it’s got a couple of pieces that work well with some of the things that you’ve heard about and that you will hear about. A large component of Tunisian entrepreneurs are women and we are going to look to try and promote women’s entrepreneurship.

You hear Elizabeth Littlefield talk about what OPIC wants to do with the financing front. One of the hardest things that entrepreneurs need is funding. You can have a great idea but you need to turn that idea into practice and OPIC, which is as you’ve heard is a profit-making institution. They make money for the American people, but they also promote investment. They can help, on the entrepreneurship front they can help. On the women’s front, and I think it all ties well, so yes, entrepreneurship is going to be an important part of what we do, not only thing and I would urge you to talk to people like Shelley and others on entrepreneurship because we’d like to have more delegations, we’d like to have more links between U.S. entrepreneurs, not necessarily Tunisians, but anyone who wants to invest in the country between U.S. entrepreneurs and local entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of talent there, a lot of highly educated, highly motivated young people and not so young at times as well, who are looking for a chance and I think there are great opportunities. Again Tunisia is not simply about the 10 million person market but about a regional opportunity as well. We in our Bureau and with our colleagues in the State Department are going to do all we can to try and promote that.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Thank you for that. Mr. Zekri, maybe you’d like to take up on that point. Is entrepreneurship going to be the key in going forward in Tunisia and is the main obstacle getting seed money to these young people with business ideas who haven’t been able to take them forward in the past?
 

Nourredine Zekri, Director General of FIPA

Thank you. I think if we take the 3,000 companies that are in Tunisia, we find as I was saying that SME’s are the integral part and 85 percent are coming from Europe. And this is because there were mechanisms in order to encourage partnership between Tunisia and between European, mainly French and Italian businessmen. So I think what is happening now with OPIC, with USAID, and with all the institutions, I think it really helps with Tunisian businessmen, Tunisian businesspeople, to go through partnership with American companies. We know that the 71 or 72 companies that are in Tunisia from the U.S. are coming mainly from Europe because of the proximity so they are coming to Tunisia to improve competition. What we look for now is to encourage entrepreneurship because the government is not able now to create 750 employment. So we have to encourage companies to set up their own businesses. And the last visit of the American delegation was very important because it was decided that three or four companies have been selected and are coming here to Tunisia in order to be trained. So we need these ideas and I think that also the Minister of Finance announced that we will have two important tools. One is the CDC and the other is the Generational Fund. And these tools will help create partnership because you are right, one of the problems in Tunisia before the revolution, young people would have a big number of graduates, they have ideas, but the big problem is the financing of their project. So that’s why I believe that the American institutions, the U.S. Government, can help Tunisia in this matter.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Ambassador, maybe if I could raise with you the issue of corruption. One of the biggest concerns I know a lot of American companies thinking of investing in a country like Tunisia would have is that the previous government almost became a poster child for a very extravagant form of crony capitalism. How confident can you be that Tunisia under a democratic government will not actually recreate the same kind of crony capitalism with big deals going to insiders.
 

Mohamed Selah Tekaya, Tunisian Ambassador to the United States

I think that democracy is the proper climate for investment, the proper climate for doing business as long as there are rules that everybody respects and I think that it will give assurance to people to invest and to do their business. Proper rules I think, transparency and the rule of law, these are guarantees to prevent abuses, guarantees to fight corruption. I think that the people of Tunisia are mature enough now to make the government accountable. They are mature to follow what the government implements as policy and they want to see that what is in the laws is respected and implemented.
 

Nourredine Zekri, Director General of FIPA

If I may, thank you very much, when thinking about corruption, I would like to mention that corruption in Tunisia, even if we look to the ranking of Tunisia in the transparency report, I think that corruption in Tunisia is not within the institutions. I mean, the companies coming from Europe, they never face corruption. Neither in customs or in the administration. The corruption that we had in Tunisia, these were in big projects for privatization. So it is limited in one cluster, which is the President and his family and relatives. But it is not a phenomenon in Tunisian society and maybe the American companies that are operating in Tunisia can confirm this, so I think this kind of corruption, with democracy, will disappear. So it is important maybe to mention that it is not like some other countries when you can find corruption in all the steps.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

About to open it up to questions on the panel in just a second, but maybe if I can just ask one final question, abuse my position to put you on the spot here Ambassador, you have been getting a lot of assistance from the American government, what more can they do to help your country in this moment that they’re not doing at the present?
 

Mohamed Selah Tekaya, Tunisian Ambassador to the United States

The American government has shown that has been steadfast from day one. Of course, we do understand that there are many mechanisms that the Administration has been looking for in order to help Tunisia and have been really doing a serious effort to explore these opportunities. There is, of course, there are rules and there are certain constraints, there are budgetary constraints, we do understand that and there are also, there are Administrative, lets say, Administrative ways to fulfill certain promises, that is Congress, there are certain initiatives that go from the Administration to Congress and Congress has to adopt, to discuss and adopt these initiatives. It’s like the Tunisia Enterprise Fund, loan guarantees, so we do respect that situation. But we think that the Administration, and the Congress, are doing their best in order to help Tunisia. What we want is to keep up, to continue those efforts, to accompany Tunisia and its efforts to succeed in its transition to democracy. To create jobs because unemployment, job creation is the top priority for the country, to help us develop inland areas, regional development, to help our students come to the United States to learn, to exchange experiences, we would like to see more students come to the United States to benefit from the science and technological development in this country. We want our universities open to exchanges between universities and students. We want our companies to have more opportunities, such as this one, to mingle with American companies, to learn from each other, and to explore joint-ventures and business opportunities. We also hope that the United States, which helped Tunisia with the G8, the United states was very supportive of Tunisia in the G8, we hope that the United States takes over the presidency of the G8, it will maintain that support and will develop it and it will be the voice of Tunisia in the G8. But we are confident that the United States will do that. There are many ways that the United States can help us. I think that the next presidency of G8 is really a good opportunity to mobilize the international community for Tunisia.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Thank you for that Ambassador. We have a few minutes left if there are some questions from the audience. I’d like you to tell us who you are when you ask your question, I’m afraid you’ll have to shout out quite loud so we can hear you. First question down here in the second row please.
 

-Unmiked Question-
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Thanks very much for that question. Just in case anyone didn’t hear it, the question was that the financial system is too narrow and shallow in Tunisia to actually provide real funding to potential entrepreneurs and what can the U.S. private sector do to help that. Maybe Assistant Secretary Fernandez, why don’t you take that up?
 

Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs

Yes, just quickly, you’ve heard some of the initiatives that are being undertaken by the U.S. Government. First of all, the Tunisia Government recognizes the problem, that’s part of the reason why the Minister of Finance has talked about creating a generation fund, to provide that kind of financing. From the U.S. side, you’ve heard… the financing can come from either the private sector in the U.S. or somewhere else. That financing can be in a generation fund, you’ve heard about OPIC guarantees that are being discussed, the Enterprise Fund which is before Congress, and part of it is we still need Congress to pass on this. And we have a number of initiatives that we’re talking about with OPIC, for instance, to promote entrepreneurship, to promote franchise finance that are going to be dealing with that, but I do agree with you that financing is, at least for entrepreneurs, one of the critical areas that needs to be worked on.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Okay, next question over there, the gentleman with the red tie. If you can tell us who you are please.
 

-Unmiked Question-
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

Thank you for those comments, I can see that we’re really wanting to get into it. All I can say is that in this particular panel I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of our time but we do have a lot more time to discuss these issues in greater depth. I’m sure you’ll have more opportunities. So if I can just ask you at this stage to thank our panel, oh actually the Ambassador wants to say just one final thing.
 

Mohamed Selah Tekaya, Tunisian Ambassador to the United States

Thank you. To be very brief, I think that the transition period, after the revolution, there is room to improve and whatever remarks we here, whatever deficiencies we are told about, we should learn and we should improve. And I think this is the right time to repair damages, this is the right time to improve and this is the right time to implement what is in the law, (applause) and that is democracy.
 

Geoff Dyer, Financial Times

So on those fine words about revolutionary patience, if I can ask you to thank our panel. Nourredine Zekri, Ambassador Tekaya, Assistant Secretary Fernandez, and I pass you on to our host, to Kris, to introduce the next session.

Kris Balderston, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Great, thanks so much Geoff, that was a great panel and we really appreciated, we want you to continue these discussions throughout the conference and come to us if you have particular suggestions, please don’t hesitate. Again, quickly I wanted to introduce a couple people. Cheryl Benton, right here, our Deputy Assistant Secretary who is taking Mike Hammer’s spoke while he’s away, Julie Egan down here runs NAPEO, Rob Lalka who has been running this conference, and anyone else I should be announcing? Okay. So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to break into smaller groups for business and investment pitch sessions. If you leave the room and head across the lobby and down the hallway, you will be directed there. There will be three sessions that you signed up for previously: tourism, franchising, and ICT. And we’ll come back here in a half an hour, 10:45. Thank you everyone.
 

Business and Investment Pitch Sessions
Held for ICT, Franchising, and Tourism in conference rooms at the Marshall Center

Conversation with Partners for a New Beginning Tunisia

Kris Balderston, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Okay we’ll take our seats and get started. Just as we’re waiting for people to come in, I wanted to make the note that it was actually pretty powerful, when you walked out of this room a lot of people broke off into groups and starting talking and coming up with ideas. And there’s a lot of buzz. So Rob Lalka, are you here, he’s coming back in, but Rob Lalka and Thomas, who have really done, and Cheryl Benton’s shop, they’ve really done a great job of organizing this and one of the key things that we want to do is we want your ideas at the end of the day. I would say, if you have one idea at the end of the day that you want to share, we are going to create a system that Rob Lalka is going to create. He’s out of the room so I don’t know if he knows this, but it’s very important to start organizing people in this room so we’re going to come up with an opportunity, a venue for people to put their ideas, to a website we’re going to create soon. But we will get back to that. Because I think it’s very important, so in my little moment of walking out the door about 15 feet I got about eight Tunisian-Americans come up to me and say “How do we organize, how do we get together,” so this is really great. So I just wanted to introduce our next conversation, which is with one, two of our key partners. Partners for a New Beginning and U.S.-North Africa Partnership and I’m just going to turn it over to Cameron.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you for the introduction. Well some of you may know that we were just in Tunisia a couple weeks ago with over a dozen U.S. entrepreneurs, angel investors, and mentoring experts. We visited all three Maghreb countries over seven days and everything on the ground was spearheaded by the local NAPEO board in each country. All the credit goes to the three individuals sitting with me today; we relied heavily on them and the steering committee they created, the local market knowledge of them and their organizations to pre-select and prepare the most promising entrepreneurs for the delegations to interact with. That consisted of 14 high-potential pitch candidates, six youth candidates, and about 24 mentoring candidates who interacted with the delegation, gave formal presentations to the delegation and had one-on-one mentoring sessions with the delegation.

In each country we visited, the best start-up was awarded a four-month incubation at Tech Town, Detroit, and I want to thank Ahmed Chabbani and the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring this award, for coming along on the delegation, taking time out of his busy schedule. In Tunisia, this prize went to Sawad-Dris, a female professor with an innovative solution in biotech. But there were incubation prizes handed out in Morocco and Algeria as well. But of course in Tunisia, the Tunisians weren’t satisfied with only one prize. This is the new Tunisia, brimming with confidence and ready to lead the region. Several other local Tunisian organizations, the incubator with the start-up and the Mediterranean school of business offered their own prizes, training, and incubation in Tunisia.

But if you ask me, the delegation’s success was not measured in awards and prizes. It was the enthusiasm on the faces of these young entrepreneurs as they share their business ideas with their American peers. It was the spirit of camaraderie among the U.S. delegates, many of Arab and North African descent, as they return to their homelands and interacted with a new generation that reminded them of themselves. Success was ultimately the enduring relationships fostered across continents, between like-minded innovators.

Our time is limited, so I will introduce the panel. Just to give you some context, all three panelists were brought together as members of the local PNB-NAPEO board in Tunisia. PNB-NAPEO was first launched by the State Department along with leaders in multiple countries to harness the private sector and promote prosperity and mutual understanding. In North Africa, the NAPEO boards are active in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and they focus particularly on entrepreneurship development, job-training, and regional integration.

Amel Bouchanaoui is the President of the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the PNB-NAPEO local board in Tunisia, as well as the Chair of the MENA AmCham Council. She is a business women involved in the oil and gas sector in Tunisia and throughout the MENA region.

Mondher BenAyed is CEO of TMI, a major player in the Tunisian ICT sector since 1991. He has multiple degrees in computer and electrical engineering from the University of Rochester, and has been a professor of Computer Science as well as a civic and business leader with many organizations.

And last, but not least, Ziad Ouslati, Founding Partner at Tuninvest, Africa, the first private equity firm in the Maghreb, and a leading player throughout Africa. He has raised several investment funds targeting the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa totaling $800 million dollars. He is a graduate of the engineering college at L’Ecole Superieur, and MIT.

So lets start with a few questions and go from there. Mondher and Ziad perhaps, we can get your take, we’ve heard from the U.S. Government people on the state of play in Tunisia now that the elections have come and gone, perhaps you can give your perspective from the IT sector and your perspective from the investment sector on the investment climate. Some American investors that I’ve had interactions with have said to me that there is a great deal of uncertainty still. There isn’t a government yet in Tunisia and there is a Constituent Assembly that needs to form a government. What do you say to them in terms of the opportunities and minimizing the risks?


Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

Thank you Cameron. Thank you first of all to the State Department for bringing us here and putting Tunisia on the map and also for the NAPEO board, thank you for that and for NAPEO and Aspen Institute for the initiative that was started a few months ago in Tunisia and before that in other countries of the Maghreb. Yes, many questions, many investors are asking the same questions, how do you see the future, how things are going to look like in the coming months.

Our answer is very simple. I think if you look, and it’s coming from our own experience in Tunisia, we’ve been since the revolution investing heavily actually in Tunisia. There were, after the revolution, opportunities for investors like us, but other investors like angel investors, financial investors, be it strategic or just for investment reasons. The right time to invest, and as you know there is no investments without risks, or if you invest in a region where there is no risk, so there is basically no return. So the way that we look is that Tunisia was coming out of a revolution, a revolution that actually restricted people like us from investing. The former government that was in place, the former system restricted people like us from investing in many sectors. And actually, I mean, like especially the last four years, it was really tough for investors to invest without mingling or without teaming up with someone who is close to the system. And as a fund, since we’re a private equity fund, actually we haven’t done that much in the last four years. We saw opportunities to, first of all, tackle some of the sectors we weren’t even looking at, like the distribution sector, the financial sector, a car dealership for example, also the telecom sector, all sectors where you see huge potential growth in a country like Tunisia in emerging markets. But also, and what we believe is coming, I think it will come further to the success of our elections, is that we foresee that the rule-of-law will be really there which we see as something that is important for a foreign investor coming to Tunisia and looking to invest and take the risk. At least, they can trust the legal system that is in place.

So we are optimistic and we have to be optimistic or otherwise we will stay at home, and as I said, we foresee a bright future, there are going to be ups and downs for sure, but we see the trend going up and that’s what we have been seeing in the last months. On our side we just raised the New Fund, 100 million euro fund, but also we got the 15 million approval from OPIC that we believe that most of it, I would say 50 – 60 percent will be invested in Tunisia since this fund is a Maghreb fund but most of it will be invested in Tunisia and the reason is not because, well, I am Tunisian or most of the partners are Tunisians, but because we foresee the opportunities in Tunisia and also Libya I would say.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you. Mondher?

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Thank you Cameron. First of all I would like to say that I’m happy to be here and thank the State Department for organizing this event today and for inviting me to participate in this event. I think if people, I think it is normal that people consider that there are uncertainties. If revolutions do not introduce uncertainties, what do they bring?

You know, so after the 14th of January, the economy has not been doing well. Tourism was not a good season for objective reasons because of insecurity in Tunisia, and because we had the conflict next door in Libya, a severe conflict. We’re glad that that conflict has ended, that the Gaddafi regime has been completely eliminated in Libya. That will help stabilize things in Tunisia. I think if one is to consider investing in Tunisia, as Ziad said, one has to look at the road we are taking, not the end result as of now. And I think the road is good. So far Tunisia has succeeded its democratic transition smoothly, it has organized a free and transparent election which is not something obvious after a revolution, and is heading I think with a sure pace toward real democracy. That will take some time to establish.

The most important problem today in Tunisia is how to provide people, the unemployed 700,000 youth that we have, with jobs. And in a short period of time. I mean those 700,000 people there are about 150,000 college graduates or people with degrees. And any government that would not be able to respond to that need will be flushed in the next election, irrespective of what you may see or raise as ideological debates. The problem in Tunisia in the next year, as a business person and as a person who lives in Tunisia, is going to be the ability of the government to bring some hope back to the people in terms of improving the social conditions, the economic conditions, and provide jobs to peoples who are in a situation of despair. And I think we can be confident to say that any government that will be in place will try to stimulate investment and will try to push for it if it wants to be in a sustainable position.

The other thing is that one has to look at the fundamentals of a country. Tunisia has an educated population; the literacy rate is quite high; it has a middle class, a large middle class compared to other countries in the region. It has the most advanced status of women in the Arab and Muslim world, and those fundamentals are going to exist and they will play back as soon as the stability will come back to the region.

And in the ICT field, where I come from, there are many international companies that have established a business base in Tunisia even before the revolution. You have HP, which employs close to 1,000 people today that has a wide support center in Tunis serving Europe. SunGard also has a major operation today and it’s growing its operation and all of these investments have not been affected during the revolution but they continue even to grow. Tunisia graduates 10,000 engineers and technicians in the ICT field every year. Those people are good and they don’t cost a lot; there is a 1:2 or 1:3 advantage with respect to Europe, and we are very close to Europe and to Algeria, Morocco, and Libya, and can serve as a service base.

I think Tunisia now is being recognized by the international community as a key player in the ICT area and with a big potential for investments, and can invite people to consider investing in ICT today. There’s no reason why they should postpone that, the fundamentals are there. The markets are there. Probably Tunisia also is going to be the very best place for American companies to tackle the Libyan market, which is a huge market, but lacks the human resources needed and those human resources can be found in Tunisia. Thanks.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you. Amel, as Chairman of the NAPEO local board, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your priorities moving forward in Tunisia and what exactly you might need, what kinds of partnerships could help you fast-track or accelerate some of the things the NAPEO board is planning to do in Tunisia.
 

Amel Bouchanaoui, PNB-NAPEO Chair

Okay. First of all as you said I have two qualities in NAPEO and also in the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce. And we made it so there is a very close synergy between both entities. Why, because in fact the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce has been created since 20 years and is having a certain, a big data base that can provide logistics and many things that NAPEO structure is willing to have at this time. So NAPEO has been created only in June this year and we get together and it’s not the composition of the board, you have persons from the private sectors, you also have some of them from the University, and some of them representing NGOs. In NAPEO board, we try to identify, to initiate, and most importantly to sustain programs and projects that can be implemented in Tunisia and with the objective of replicating these projects and programs in the Maghreb region. So far, our board in NAPEO, even though I think we were the last NAPEO structure to be created, we are the youngest one, but I think that we succeed to come out with very high quality projects that have been shared with the Aspen Institute and through the NAPEO board we work on a roadmap with the objective of enabling an entrepreneurship environment. And with this roadmap we identified four priorities. The first one is how to enable an entrepreneurship environment and some projects were identified and fit in this priority. The second one is how to help, to facilitate the access to investment and finance, the third one is how to facilitate the access to markets, and the fourth one, and the last one but not the least, is how to enable training and especially facilitating business startups. So this is more or less about what we have been doing through NAPEO-Tunisia, these are the projects, but at the same time we were able to implement a program through this U.S.-Maghreb delegation that has been through, that we have had collaboration together, we work implementing, I mean we were there through tax, through NAPEO, to have this delegation perform the objective which is to sustain a Tunisian incubator. Also another program that is on the way, it’s related to EFE, so we are working with EFE to work on ways of implementing this program. So I think we’ve been quite busy.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you. Ziad, we’ve touched upon this issue of finance quite a bit in earlier panels, there was this comment about the banking system and the lack of access to financing. There’s another model that’s served us quite well throughout the world and particularly here in the United States, and that’s the venture model. That is encouraging high-net-worth individuals and early-stage venture funds to invest equity in companies and along with that equity the smart-mentoring and guidance that angel investors and equity investors give. Do you see that environment changing at all in Tunisia? We know that Minister Ayed is planning his generational fund, we don’t know how much is going to be put into early-stage, but if the banking system in Tunisia is not going to change anytime soon, could the venture environment be facilitated to step in and offer the kind of smart money to these enterprises?
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

Thank you for this question. I fully agree with the person who mentioned the situation of the banks in Tunisia. I think if you look at the banking sector we’re way ahead of many countries around us, and especially the Moroccans, but if you look at the Moroccans right where they are now they’re leading banks in Africa for example. I think, I mean private equity and venture equity is really the missing link but I don’t believe that private equity will manage to get, to answer the problems of entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs who are looking for financing on it’s own. We need also the banking sector to evolve and to step in and to use I mean more I’d say adequate and modern means of financing.

But I fully agree that the industry can play a role, I was mentioning missing the boat in the banking sector, on the private equity sector also we started in the 90’s, today Morocco is ahead of us. I mean there are only a few teams in Tunisia who are in the private equity field and really I mean we would like to get more competition on that side because that’s really the only way where you will make the whole system and the whole environment evolve, not only the private equity, but also the banking sector, the financial sector, the capital market, and also the mentality I would say of the mentality of entrepreneurs in Tunisia because we made huge advances from the 90’s to today in terms of investing into family-owned companies where basically board meetings were made during dinner, family dinners.

So I think what Minister Jalloul Ayed has done during the last six months and I don’t want to do publicity for Jalloul Ayed, but I think he’s done a lot, more than many others during the last years, in terms of making the right decision. First of all, and Mr. Zekri mentioned the CDC, name, and the generation funds, at least those will do, I mean aside from financing means is there will be governance. I mean, there will be professional teams that will be managing those funds and they will delegate, hopefully, delegate those funds in a wise way. Run by professionals, I hope those professionals will be Tunisian, but also we have to get professionals from outside Tunisia in order to learn from them. And I hope that the government that will be in place will do that and actually I’ve had these discussions with the future government either about the capital market or the private equity and they’re very open to that and I think that they’re even much more, I’d say, mature than the other parties that are here.

So if you’re somehow afraid about them on some sides I think on the economic side and the open-market oriented trend they will be pushing on that side. So that’s the missing link, what Tunisia has done so far is only provide fiscal incentives to promote investment but that’s not sufficient. We need, as I said, I mean, the right legal environment to enforce our shareholder’s agreement. You need also to put in place environments like incubators in order to mentor those people in order to assist those people to take the idea to a project. And I think actually Cameron, in that delegation that was in Tunis ten days ago, and I thank you Cameron, it’s not a just return but it’s really, we were impressed by the quality of the people that came during that delegation and I think we learned a lot from them, from especially angel investors, VC financing, something that didn’t exist in Tunisia; it was done but just in a family basis, not really organized as it should. So we’re hopeful that with the new government, and with the new finance minister that will be appointed, that they will actually put more emphasis on the private equity and the venture capital sector environment.

I should mention that a new private equity loan came out just a week ago, or two weeks ago in Tunisia, really making the whole, I don’t want to sound too positive but that’s the case, really providing us with the means as Tunisians and as investors who would like to set up funds in Tunisia to have the adequate means to invest with the right fiscal advantage but also with the right environment and with the right structure.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you. I think someone’s very persistent in trying to contact you. Mondher, we’re running out of time so I wanted to ask one more question and then maybe we can take a few questions if we have time. Mondher you mentioned the employment issue in Tunisia and of course you’ve taught the younger generation, you employ many of them, is there a growing disconnect between what they’re taught, the degrees they’re given, and the skills they need to secure high-paying jobs, skilled jobs, and what can the private sector here do, what can the governments do, to fill that gap?
 

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Training is certainly an issue and education is certainly an issue. You know, a lot of evaluations have shown that there is a lot of disconnect between the requirements for the job market and for the skills required and what the universities or training centers do administer as an education. Obviously, one of the big reforms that need to be created in Tunisia is reform of the education system which has been degraded quite significantly in the past few years.

But, that’s not the major problem for unemployment. The major problem for unemployment is a problem of investment and growth. The economy has been growing for the past five years at five percent, which creates 70,000 jobs per year. We need much more than that, we need 100,000 per year, which means that we had, each year, 30,000 unemployed and that number kept growing. The biggest crime in my opinion in the past regime is not the money they took, they deprived us from two or three points of growth that we could have made because with transparency and with no corruption, our economy could have been growing at eight or nine percent in Tunis. We need to go back to those growth rates very rapidly to solve the issue of unemployment.

Obviously the international community, the U.S., the European Union, and also friendly countries in the region, we need their help in order to stimulate investment because in order to drive the growth numbers back to five, six, seven, or even eight percent, we definitely need foreign direct investment in all fields. Tunisia does not produce oil, does not produce gas like all Arab countries do, we don’t have uranium, we don’t have minerals. The richness of Tunisia is its people and its youth. We need to turn our problem into an opportunity and I think we can do that through investment. By stimulating local investment and by attracting foreign direct investment. And that’s why events like these are very important and we support them and we come to preach the message that we need your help, we need your investments, and there are opportunities in Tunisia for you, both for the local market but also as a platform for Europe and for neighboring counties.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you. Kris do we have time for a few questions? Okay. Any questions form the audience? No questions? Yes.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

I think first of all what we want to see is that there will be a reconciliation within the population itself, that we will work together for the benefit of Tunisia because there are, after the revolutions, and many of you heard about the security issues, etc., and further to the election I think that we were successful also, we have to try to work to the benefit of Tunisia and not for the benefit of the politics. I hope that the politician will do so. And actually I’m counting a lot, more than on the parties, on the civil society I mean, to do that, which is playing and should play a larger role. I think, I mean Tunisia, we’re competing with all the world, especially when we’re talking about ICT. You’re right, being in Tunisia as to being in India or any other place does not make any difference but there are niches that we are, we have been strong in and can enforce even stronger being ICT, looking at the European market, but also looking at the other sectors like, I think Mr. Zekri mentioned our space, Tunisia is becoming a hub. So I mean, if Tunisia succeeds coming out from the election as a real democracy, a working democracy, where the rule of law, they insist on that and transparency will be there we’ll get a good share of any foreign investment that will come. Because before these events, there were foreign investors, foreign investing and people coming, so I don’t see why people wouldn’t invest further and more after these elections and after hopefully having a democracy that will take place, not in one day, but we’ll have to learn about that, but at least with a transparent government, a transparent system being put in place.
 

Amel Bouchanaoui, PNB-NAPEO Chair

I think before this revolution, Tunisia was not known, most of the people were confusing Tunisia and Indonesia, yes, unfortunately yes, and so I think now we need to work on having these kind of events to promote Tunisia. I think that besides the government, the civil society should work around to enhance entrepreneurship, to enhance foreign direct investment in Tunisia. It’s also the responsibility of the foreign investors to tackle markets that are not familiar to him or to her because they are a businesswoman or a businessman. So I think that in every country there are risks, even in the United States which is known for freedom and democracy. The risks in Tunisia are there but the investor is a risk-taker and I think that now the time has come to invest in this country because of all the competitive advantages that have been shared with all of you. It’s very important that the revolution in Tunisia does succeed. If it does not succeed, this means that we are going to be facing many problems, not in Tunisia only, but in the region as a whole, so this is the responsibility for all the parties to have this country in a better place from the economical perspective.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

Well the first question, I mean, maybe I didn’t understand the question very well, but there is no issue about capital flow in Tunisia whatsoever. You can invest, divest, do whatever you want.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

I think, I mean, I’ve been exposed to several countries in Africa and if you look at the Tunisian case of competition, be it on the industrial base, on the capital base, and you see it actually in terms of the diversity of it’s economy that has managed to become an export base, I’m talking now on the industrial side, it’s because of that competition that it exists, and I foresee the competition increasing after these events. That competition is driving, is improving the productivity of the Tunisian industrial sector, whatever sector there is. So I don’t think that is the major issue today in Tunisia. I don’t know if one of you would like to add something about this point?
 

Amel Bouchanaoui, PNB-NAPEO Chair

Yes, there are two things. First of all, Tunisia, I think in the past ratified this agreement with the European Union community, so if you decide to invest in Tunisia we will export your products dutifully. So this is a competitive advantage if you compare it to other countries from the region, maybe not Morocco; Tunisia and Morocco are like this, very close, yes. Also, in terms of labor costs, we do have competitive labor costs and I do think that Mr. Nourredine Zekri does have the right figures there and so I think these are some competitive advantages. Another one, that I think is very important, is that the location of Tunisia, it’s only one hour from Rome, two hours from Paris, and you can ship your goods today and get them to Italy tomorrow, just one day to the port. Other things, as Mr. BenAyed and Ouslati have already said, we have a very skilled labor force, so this is another competitive advantage. What do you want more?
 

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Let me give you a political answer, not a technical, economic answer. There are many reasons why one should come to invest in Tunisia, but in meetings like this, we’re used to giving numbers, technical answers, we’re two hours away from any European capital, we have a free-trade agreement with Europe, we have a skilled workforce, the cost in Tunisia is much more advantageous in than in other countries and the list goes on. But the single more important thing in my opinion is what happened in Tunisia is what should make people come and invest in Tunis. Probably as a U.S. citizen, not just as an investor. Your securities you have should think for you. If you ask yourself how much that costs you per year, the answers are probably astronomical. And probably the best answer to terrorism today is what happened in Tunisia. And it came for free. It did not cost anything. I think consolidating that is very important for Tunisians, for Americans, and for world peace. Because if the model succeeds in Tunisia, that’s the best answer that change can be done peacefully, that Islam and democracy can live together, and that Muslims can live in peace in this world in a prosperous way. So the U.S. understands that very well from day one and is engaging alongside Tunisia in order to help consolidate the success of this democratic experience. I think the private sector in the U.S. is also aware and the best way they can help from their side in order to build this model is to rush to Tunisia and help on the economic side. We’re doing the political job, locally, and I think by your assessment we’re not doing a bad job so far. We should get help in order to succeed on the economic side. Is this compelling? Thank you.
 

-Unmiked question-

 

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Yes, I agree with you. Let me tell you a joke. In Tunisia there was a floor of men and the question was, if anyone does not fear his wife he should raise his hand. And everybody raised their hands except one person. And they asked him, “Why didn’t you raise your hand?” and he said, “My wife asked me not to.” So you know, I’ve been asked to start and she will take on the next. You’re absolutely right, I think what has happened in Tunisia is inspiring a lot of people to come to Tunisia. Tunisia is a welcoming, open country since many years and since our history, we’ve been Romans for eight centuries, we’ve received people from Andalusia after the conquest, it’s many civilizations that have come to Tunisia so it’s a very open society. And what has happened in Tunisia is inspiring a lot of people to come to Tunisia, but I think we need to bring the security back in order to see people come in large numbers and I think we also need to improve our tourism, because our tourism needs improvement and needs upgrading for us to target different markets. Now we’re catering to the low-value added segment and Tunisia gains if it targets the high-value added segment. But tourism has a great future in my opinion in Tunisia and it will continue to grow. Because the revolution in Tunisia is a key factor today in why people want to visit the small country that’s inspiring the Wall Street protests here in the States. Many people are eager and want to see Tunisia and maybe in the near future we will see many people from the U.S. come to see Tunis because of that. Yes, we do need a lot of things, but we need to start and the start was the good election on the 23rd of October. If you look at what we don’t have, we don’t have a lot of things, luckily, that’s why we need to work to have them, but we have many things going for us and we should capitalize that. I think the women situation is unique. Tunisia has the most advanced status of women in the Muslim and Arab world, the first country that has abolished polygamy by law, gave women the right to vote since 1956, made schooling mandatory to young girls until the age of 16 just after independence. And I think Tunisian society, if you followed the debate, women’s issue was very, very important on the agenda during the election because everyone is keen on not going backward on those rights that we have acquired for women and we need the power of our women if we want to grow the economy. We don’t have oil, we don’t have uranium I repeat it, we have manpower and women-power, so if we don’t use the full potential of our society we have no where to go.
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

I think if I can just say…
 

Amel Bouchanaoui, PNB-NAPEO Chair

This is not democracy. (laughter)
 

Ziad Ouslati, PNB-NAPEO Vice-Chair

No but women, if we don’t capitalize on the women, I think what’s going to save Tunisia is our women. I mean, over 60 percent of our graduates are women so if we’re going to rely on men we’re going to rely on maybe an illiterate population, illiterate ruling people. I’m sorry.
 

Amel Bouchanaoui, PNB-NAPEO Chair

Thank you gentlemen. So I think there is some, yes I will build on what has been said by Mr. Ayed and by Ziad. It is one thing that is very important, I remember when I had the opportunity to talk to some Americans when I was younger and the professor asked me to talk about my country and I remember I was in the University and I had to present on Tunisia and I spoke about the women’s status. And it came out the time when I had to say that for equal job we have equal pay, and Americans were shocked. When I got back home I was like this, how come in Tunisia we do have this, in America women are not as paid as men. So I think this is something that we are very proud to have, and we’ve had it for awhile, I think since 1956, it’s not a new thing so we are very proud and my wish is that we conserve all the benefits that Tunisian women are having. The Tunisian women are having good status, not only in the MENA region. We are having about 15,000 entrepreneurs. Actually, when Cameron presented me, there was a discrimination. You presented me as the President of TACC and NAPEO but you didn’t mention the MENA Businesswomen Network. And I see my friend, I mean through the MENA Businesswomen Network I see this very active network. We are trying to empower women and for your information the MENA Businesswomen Network is a partnership coming from the MENA region and also with MEPI, the funding of MEPI, and Vital Voices, represented here by Mary. So through the civil society we’re playing a role in order to conserve the rights of women. We are working hard to empower to role of women. We have information, a program that is based on the public-partnership initiative to empower women artisans in Tunisia. So even though we are having big companies as entrepreneurs, we were very much thoughtful of those women who are in the rural sector, in the rural area, and tried to empower them and get them export ready with this new Tunisian era, this new Tunisian government, we hope that all those rights will stay as they are, if not improve. I just want to tell you that as a women, as a member of civil society, we are going to work, we are going to do our utmost to conserve those rights. Thank you.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Thank you to all our panelists. Yes?
 

Kris Balderston, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Thank you, you’re doing such a good job moderating with all our panelists we thought we’d continue for about five more minutes.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Sure, why not?
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Thank you for the question. I wanted to answer another question before; someone mentioned about the tax issue? But Tunisia has the most friendly tax… yeah okay we believe that they should hike the taxes a little bit. About the incentives, I think you’re right many of the incentives didn’t play their role. Many were using it as a tax incentive vehicle for banks to just deduct some of the taxes they had to pay to the government. It was like a disguised loan that they were doing. But few others did a lot, they invested and took the risk. It’s not true when you’re saying that some of us didn’t take the risk. I mean, we made good returns, but we also lost some of the investment that we made and we invested not less than 200 million dollars. Overall I mean, the result is positive, but we’ve made some mistakes and lost some money. The latest I think reform that was done two weeks ago will help to bring professionals into the private equity sector because I think so far it has been done by credit men coming from the banking sector unfortunately. So hopefully things will evolve. And your second question was about the inland regions? Yeah I think we have to start with the infrastructure. The infrastructure is lacking. I mean, going there is a nightmare, going to either Kasserine or to Gafsa or to any inland country, or even northern cities in the west also that are costal, but it’s really a nightmare to get there. So I think the government, and what we learned from the revolution is that we know what’s missing and what needs to be improved in Tunisia. Going back to the debate that took place in the other panel, not everything is rosy, there a lot of things that have to be improved and the guy who has an investment, maybe he’s right, part of what he’s saying, we are aware of that and things are improving, I think the government is aware that it has to lay down the basics for investments to take place in those regions. It’s not tax incentives because everything was based on tax incentives before. Now we have to offer the infrastructure in terms of road, in terms of telecom, in terms of electricity, in terms of schools, because who’s going to go there if you cannot find the right schools over there also. So I think with this generation fund, if it’s done the right way, we’re going to be solving some of the problems, not all of them, but some of the problems that will make those regions more attractive I would say.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Mondher BenAyed, CEO of TMI

Yes, it’s not done yet, it’s words so far. You’re right the funding will hopefully be there.
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

We have time for one more? Please.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Cameron Khosrowshahi, GEP Advisor and PNB-NAPEO Delegation Organizer

Okay, this sounds like a lunch conversation.
 

Kris Balderston, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

This is good, this is what we want and we want to keep encouraging this. Thank you so much for this panel and we’re ready for our next speaker.

Perspectives from the Tunisian Diaspora

Jim Thompson, Deputy Special Representative for Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Thank you very much. My job is to introduce someone who doesn’t need an introduction, because he’s known to all of you. But, I just wanted to take a moment to, one, thank you all for coming again, really lively discussions today, clearly a need for more coffee to fuel our discussions and there is more outside, we will let you get to it momentarily, but I wanted to say disapora is very important to our office and the work that we’re doing and a lot of you in the room are from the Tunisia diaspora. Can I just get a show of hands actually as to how many are from the Tunisian diaspora? Fantastic.

We believe passionately here at the Department of State that disaporans are going to take the most risk in going into countries and making investments. Foreign direct investments can be sometimes a little skittish, a little bit chicken. Diaspora direct investment tends to be a little more risk-averse and they will take risks that foreign direct investment, private sector companies, won’t sometimes take. So we are seized with this at the Department of State. Secretary Clinton this past year actually held a diaspora forum here at the Department of State, the first ever. We launched a new partnership called the International diaspora Engagement Alliance. The Secretary believes passionately in this; she saw the power in Northern Ireland in working with the diaspora in this country, the Irish-Americans, to create a peace for Northern Ireland and she came to this Department and said “Why are we not doing this with every country?” We have an amazing resource here in the United States. 62 million Americans are first or second generation Americans. I count myself in that as well; I’m Italian American. With the last name of Thompson you probably wouldn’t think it, but my job here today again is to introduce Mohammed Malouche. He is the President of the Tunisian-American Young Professionals, a leader in the diasporan community, and we are honored to have him here today and thank him for all his help in pulling all this together. Mohamed?
 

Mohamed Malouche, President of Tunisian American Young Professionals

Thank you Jim, and thank you for really your leadership in organizing this historic event. And thanks for all the hard work of the team under Kris Balderston, I don’t know if they’re here, Thomas, Rob, and Alyssa, etc. I’m truly grateful today to be able to say a few words about an example of a diaspora association that has been working and seeking to increase economic ties, cooperation, and exchanges between Tunisia and the United States.

As Jim has mentioned, diasporas play a very important role in enabling further economic cooperation between two countries. And I was here, in fact, at the Global Diaspora Forum back in May, and I was truly impressed and inspired by how a number of diaspora associations and a number of diaspora communities were organized and how effective they were. Our Tunisian diaspora in the United States is a fairly small diaspora, but it’s a highly successful diaspora. When we put essentially our efforts together we’ve been able to really make a small difference, but certainly a palpable difference.

The Tunisian diaspora who lives in the United States has historically not wanted to get involved too much for fear of being used for political purposes. Obviously, the revolution has changed everything. A number of us went back to Tunisia to see if we could help and a number of us stayed here in the United States and wanted to take some sort of actions from here in the United States. And that’s what we’ve done. We essentially sort of aggregated our energies, we gathered around a table, and we looked at our competencies and our skills and decided that the best way to help was to support the economic agenda and further economic cooperation between Tunisia and the U.S. which is very much aligned to our theme today.

So the Tunisian-American Young Professional Association does two things. Number one, it supports investments, it presents Tunisia’s value proposition to investors and exporters here in the US. And then, number two, it fosters entrepreneurship. And it uses its relationship, its competencies, its skills, to support young entrepreneurs in Tunisia. And I think in both investment and entrepreneurship, the diaspora really has a pivotal role to play.

Let me address investment first because obviously there’s been a heated debate here and let me perhaps try to address some of the concerns that have been issues. We, as a diaspora association, encourage investors to consider Tunisia’s value proposition. But we don’t do that through a sales pitch. We do it through a discussion of strengths and opportunities for improvement that Tunisia can benefit from. Because while we want to attract investors to Tunisia, we feel that it’s equally important to learn from them and to sort of hear their feedback so that feedback can be communicated back to the Tunisian government and the Tunisian civil society for improvements.

There’s obviously a number of improvements that need to be made in Tunisia, we all know it is a long road, but Tunisia also has a set of things that sets it apart and that eventually I think make it a wise choice for investment. I think a number of us have talked about Tunisia’s strong fundamentals. The most educated nation in the Arab world and in Africa, the largest pool of scientists and engineers in Africa, and the 7th in the world. Tunisia has certainly a modern infrastructure; it has strong institutions that allow the country to operate both before and after the revolution. Tunisia also has a set of incentives that are fairly interesting. And also the U.S. Government is now supporting investors as well. The role of women is also a strong fundamental of Tunisia; they have played a tremendous role in purporting economic growth and this is extremely important for the future economic growth of the country and it certainly is irreversible as well.

In addition to these fundamentals, what I’d like to discuss are basically three points that I think we all have touched and covered during these sessions. Number one, what this revolution has brought is certainly further transparency and further rule of law. You know this is extremely important for investors and for doing business in a country, for complying with FCPA, for expecting that there will be fair dispute resolution, those are very important things for investors. But what does it mean, transparency and rule of law? Well, lets look at the facts and what the government of Tunisia was able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. If you look at the government action as it relates to making available all sort of statistics and all sort of raw data for you the investors to make your own calculations and not rely on what could be possibly cooked information. That is, extremely important measures that certainly are an example of a desire to be transparent. If you also look at the efforts that are being made in terms of governance, in terms of revising regulatory frameworks, most notable in the banking sector, in franchising, in infrastructure, in telecom, those are also important measures.

The most important factor to me around transparency and rule of law, is the existence of hundreds, if not thousands, of local NGOs that are underground for the first time in Tunisia and who are capable to challenge and to monitor and to ensure that transactions are transparent. That’s a fundamental, really, coin because you need checks and balances and you need somebody who is able to do those checks and balances. Yesterday there was a big report on corruption that was issues in Tunisia. The first measure that the interim President took after the report was released was to continue the work of that commission that ensures that corruption is going to be eradicated in Tunisia. So that’s one point about sort of transparency and rule of law that I wanted to make.

The second point is the whole concept of a hub. This notion of having Tunisia being a platform for expansion to other countries. When you think about it, you know that everybody claims in the Mediterranean that they are a hub. The Egyptians say they’re the hub, the Moroccans say they’re the hub, everybody is the hub. So what really makes Tunisia different? To me, what’s compelling is not so much the international rankings that you see from the World Economic Forum or the World Bank that consistently puts Tunisia in the first places. To me what’s really compelling is when you dig down and you look at the overall cost structure of setting up operations in Tunisia, it’s extremely favorable. So that’s really an important point.

The second point that I wanted to make and Amel touched on it, the existence of a comprehensive set of trade agreements with all region is extremely important for anyone who wants to position themselves in a hub and Tunisia is fairly unique in the region in that sense. It has a trade agreement with the European Union and pretty much with all of the African and Middle Eastern nations. And then the final point that I want to make is Libya. You know, if your country is contemplating the Libyan markets, then you’re probably wondering where you’re going to get your engineers, where you’re going to have your staff live, and Tunisia is probably one answer. Because Tunisia is obviously more than a neighbor with Libya, we share cultural and language ties, we also believe that Tunisia is going to be in the first places to help rebuild Libya, because of the formidable generosity and the genuine generosity that the Tunisian people have provided the Libyan people when they needed it the most.

The third point that I want to talk about, as Mondher was point out, the most formidable asset that exists in Tunisia is its youth. You know, we’ve seen them in action; we’ve seen how creative they were in circumventing censorship and to really, through social media and technology, enable this revolution to succeed. I was with Cameron and with all the panelists two weeks ago in Tunisia, at the Global Entrepreneurship Business competition and I have to tell you I was thrilled at what I saw, at the vibrancy and the energy that the youth, the young entrepreneurs of Tunisia, were displaying. They had extremely bright ideas. You know they obviously need a bit of coaching, but who doesn’t need coaching, and they need to be also constantly reminded that they can do it. They can do it, they have to believe in themselves.

This takes me to our second theme with the American-Tunisian Young Professional, which is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is truly critical, it’s a rather crowded field these days in Tunisia, but for good reasons, there is so much that Tunisia can learn from the U.S. in terms of entrepreneurship. This is a country of innovation, a country of entrepreneurship and we very much welcome all of this help. But here’s where, in my sense, the diaspora community can help in entrepreneurship. We have diaspora engineers who are used to research and development, who manipulate research tools, who are used to the patenting process, who could be very very helpful to our young entrepreneurs. We also have diaspora business people who have launched their businesses, who may have failed, who may have assembled a set of best practices, lessons learned, who know what life skills and soft skills are necessary for success and that could be extremely helpful as well.

The most fundamental point in my mind where the diaspora could help entrepreneurs in Tunisia is the network both in the U.S. and in Tunisia. That’s what our young entrepreneurs are lacking as well. They’re lacking network, lacking that ability to talk to the right people. And you know I’m very pleased today to announce to you that our Tunisian-American Young Professional Association has partnered with another diaspora group, Tunisian diaspora group, the North American Tunisian Engineer Group, NATEG, to launch a series of entrepreneurship days this summer in Tunisia and we’re looking forward to working with GEP and the State Department and other partners to make that successful.

Out of these sessions that we’re going to be working on in the next few months, we are looking primarily at two things. Number one is to motivate and mentor and connect those young entrepreneurs, and number two, really show that the diaspora community is going to put its capital on the line because the diaspora community at the end of the day has to lead by example and has to take those kinds of risks that we can’t expect other investors to take if we don’t take them.

So let me just conclude by saying that I hope this is going to be a useful day of connections for all of you and that out of these connections and out of the information you’re going to gather today, hopefully you’ll be able to translate that into practical, tangible ways of making deals happen. I think that’s the theme of this conference, making deals happen, between the diaspora, the Tunisian entrepreneurs who came from Tunisia, the Arab-American investors, the U.S. companies that are represented here, and our respective governments.

But in order to make deals, there are a number of things you need to think about. Obviously you need to find partners, you need to do your due diligence, there are so many things that need to be done and I think there’s simply no time to lose. This is our slogan at TAYP, “No time to lose.” We truly believe that investors that are going to invest in Tunisia in the next six months will gain a competitive advantage, a first-mover advantage, that none of the investors that are going to delay or postpone their investment will get in the future. So I encourage you to find that one connection or perhaps that one piece of information today that may change your future or may change the future of your company and I can assure you that the diaspora community and certainly the Tunisian-American Young Professionals will be here to help you and support you in that endeavor. Thank you very much.
 

Jim Thompson, Deputy Special Representative for the Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

We probably have just enough time for questions, the Deputy Secretary is on his way, but before you do that I just want to make one announcement. We have four breakout sessions that are taking place today, you see the three on the sign there, but there is a fourth one on foundations and investments that can be made in Tunisia. We had planned on meeting at the White House, but there has been a change in plans and we will be meeting here. With that, Mohamed if you would like to take one or two questions?

Mohamed Malouche, President of Tunisian American Young Professionals

Absolutely.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Mohamed Malouche, President of Tunisian American Young Professionals

So let me perhaps answer it this way. I think the efforts that are being made, specifically by the Partners for a New Beginning and NAPEO are efforts to support entrepreneurship in Tunisia and that doesn’t mean that those ideas will be confined to Tunisia ideas or even regional ideas. As a matter of fact, when I was in Tunis two weeks ago, I would say that most of the ideas that we heard were about conquering the world. They were ideas specifically in the ICT sector, about really enabling e-commerce, mobile solutions, there were ideas around geo positioning systems, those are ideas that are applicable to the whole world and I think this is why it is important that we strengthen I think this sort of back and forth between the U.S. and Tunisia in terms of trying to incubate young entrepreneurs in the United States so that they see the realm of possibilities, sort of everything that is feasible and you know, don’t get into that mistake of confining their ideas to just Tunisian play or regional play.
 

-Unmiked question-
 

Mohamed Malouche, President of Tunisian American Young Professionals

Good suggestion, since you have one of the founding members of TAYP, why don’t you take the lead on that.
 

Closing Remarks

Kris Balderston, Special Representative for the Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Thank you Mohamed, I really appreciate it and before we have lunch, we have Deputy Secretary Tom Nides who is an old friend of mine and I think the epitome of public-private partnerships in the building coming out of the private sector to join us as the Deputy Secretary and he was supposed to be in Tunisia this very day. This is the next best thing, to be with Tunisians. Tom Nides.
 

Tom Nides, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State

Thank you so much, Kris. It is wonderful to be here and I am excited about today’s

forum, which is a unique and innovative model that our Global Partnership Initiative

team has created under the leadership of Kris Balderston.

There are two aspects of this forum that make this different than your usual

conference. First, we asked the Tunisian government and private sector to tell us where they wanted us to focus. They told us that we should first look to ICT, franchising, and tourism, and so that is what we are discussing today. It is a different model of doing business: we building true partnerships, which are based on what local Tunisian priorities are for U.S. investment. As Secretary Clinton often says, we need to move from “patronage to partnerships,” and an event like this is a hallmark showing how we’ve done just that.

Second, I’m also especially glad about how this forum has been structured,

because it’s not your typical government conference. This morning, you’ve listened to pitch sessions in addition to the panels with high level officials; you’ve gotten to network in our partnerships forum marketplace in the foyer, in addition to hearing speeches like this one. And all afternoon, you’ll have the chance to discuss potential deals in three different settings: at the International Franchise Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and IBM. This is the State Department at its very best: as a convener, as a catalyst, and as a collaborator with the best private sector organizations America has to offer. I’m grateful to our partners, because we need to move quickly beyond our initial conversations in order to create deals in Tunisia.

There is no better occasion for the first ever partnerships forum than to celebrate the new opportunities in Tunisia following their recent democratic elections. We are excited about working with U.S. businesses and investors to encourage American investments in a country that has shown the world the kind of hopefulness and resilience that has been an inspiration to us all. People from around the world watched the historic events in Tunisia last January and then again this October. Across America, people said “these are the type of people we want to invest in; these are the kind of people who will make the world better; and these are the type of people we want to support.” And so that is why we are here today. We recognize that Tunisia is open for business, and starting with this forum today, America is responding by saying: We are ready to invest in your future.

Our diaspora communities will be key to our success, and I’d like to acknowledge Mohamed Malouche from Tunisian American Young Professionals for your leadership. Relying on local leadership will also be vitally important, and so I’d like to say a special word of thanks to the participants who came all the way from Tunis for this event, especially those who are leading the local effort for Partners for a New Beginning, an alliance that a number of major U.S. companies are supporting, including Intel, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Dow, and Morgan Stanley. Thank you all for being here today.

Along with my colleagues across the various parts of the U.S. Government, I want to thank you for being here today as we send a clear and loud message: America will do all we can to ensure that the free and open democracy that has begun to take root in Tunisia will be sustained by new investments in order to create a free and open economy.

This a new day for Tunisia, and the opportunities for investment in the U.S.-Tunisian relationship have never been greater.

Thank you for joining us as we take this important first step. It will be a long journey, and we must walk each step of the way together, as we seek to create opportunity and prosperity for both of our countries.
 

Jim Thompson, Deputy Special Representative for the Global Partnerships, U.S. Department of State

Thank you again. Just as a reminder, we have the breakout sessions taking place this afternoon starting at two o’clock. We have three for you on ICT, tourism, and franchising, the venues are listed in your programs. I hope you do go – these will be great opportunities to network. The fourth breakout session on foundations again will be back here and actually starts at one-thirty, not at two. We’re going to ask you all to come back one more time to the Department of State after you go to these various venues for a closing session for you in the Ben Franklin Room which is worth coming just to see the room. It’s our diplomatic reception room, a gorgeous room with the desk where the Treaty of Paris was signed and more, so please come back. Thank you very much again for coming and we look forward to seeing you at the breakout sessions.



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