Tunisia

Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Report
July 5, 2016

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Executive SummaryShare    

Tunisia maintained the forward momentum of its democratic transition in 2015 despite economic hardship and two terrorist attacks that targeted its important tourism sector. Tunisia’s first democratically elected government took office in February 2015 with an ambitious reform agenda and high expectations for economic growth.

Prime Minister Habib Essid’s government has made substantial progress on much-needed structural reform, including passing new public-private partnership, competition, bankruptcy and renewable energy laws; safeguarding the independence of the central bank through a new central bank law; and expanding the franchising sector. The United States and other donors are partnering with the government to achieve outstanding reforms, including a revised investment code and reforms on banking, taxes, and customs. Enacting these reforms will ensure Tunisia’s economic framework is capable of attracting and expanding foreign and domestic investment in this important partner nation.

Tunisia’s strengths are its proximity to Europe, relatively educated workforce, and positive attitude toward foreign direct investment (FDI). Historically, most investments were in mechanic and electronic manufacturing and textiles. Today, the economy is more dynamic. Sectors such as agribusiness and ICT are increasingly promising. Tunisia was the largest exporter of olive oil globally in 2015.

There is potential for significant improvement to the business climate by the end of 2016. As economic reforms are adopted by the Parliament and implemented by the government, the business climate is expected to improve with more simple, clear, and transparent regulations. The United States and Tunisia co-chaired a high-level Joint Economic Commission in May 2016, dedicated to increasing private sector employment.

Substantial barriers to investment remain. State-owned enterprises play a large role in Tunisia’s economy, and some sectors are not open to foreign investment. The informal sector, estimated to be between 40-60 percent of the overall economy, continues to pose difficulties to companies forced to compete with smuggled goods. While waiting for a new investment code and finance law, investors face regulatory uncertainty.

The United States has provided more than $360 million in economic growth-related activities since 2011, including loan guarantees in 2012 and 2014 enabling the GOT to borrow nearly $1 billion to help stabilize government finances, ongoing support for small and medium enterprises, and technical assistance to implement economic reform.

Table 1

Measure

Year

Index or Rank

Website Address

TI Corruption Perceptions index

2015

76 of 168

transparency.org/cpi2014/results http://www.transparency.org/country/#TUN

World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business”

2016

74 of 189

http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/tunisia/

Global Innovation Index

2015

76 of 137

https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/userfiles/file/reportpdf/GII-2015-v5.pdf

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)

2014

360

http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=445

World Bank GNI per capita

2014

$4,230

http://data.worldbank.org/country/tunisia

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign InvestmentShare    

Attitude toward Foreign Direct Investment

Prime Minister Essid’s government was sworn in on February 6, 2015, following free and fair democratic elections. The current government has a five-year mandate and places a priority on reducing unemployment, attracting FDI, and girding itself against terrorist attacks by shoring up and expanding its security sector. More than 14,136 foreign companies currently operate in Tunisia (11,262 offshore and 2,875 onshore). Historically, the government has encouraged export-oriented FDI in the interior regions and in key industrial sectors, such as call centers, electronics, aerospace and aeronautics, automotive parts, and textile/apparel manufacturing. The off-shore sectors that attract the greatest FDI in 2015 are energy (51 percent), electric and electronic industries (11 percent), finance (8 percent), and ICT (5 percent). Inadequate infrastructure in the interior regions results in the concentration of most foreign investment in the coastal regions of the northeast (75 percent). Western and southern regions attracted less than 7 percent of foreign investments despite special incentives for those regions.

Foreign investment in Tunisia is regulated by the Investment Code (Law 1993-120), last amended in 2009. The current Investment Code divides potential investments into two categories:

  • “Offshore” investment is defined as entities in which foreign capital accounts for at least 66 percent of equity, and at least 70 percent of production is destined for the export market. Some exceptions to these percentages exist for the agricultural sector.
  • “Onshore” investment caps foreign equity participation at a maximum of 49 percent in most non-industrial projects. In certain cases, “onshore” industrial investment may attain 100 percent foreign equity, subject to government approval.

Some aspects of the 1993 Code lapsed in 2015. Exporting companies in operation before 2015 were grandfathered under the previous investment policy and allowed to keep their tax privileges, but new entrants are subject to a 10 percent income tax as the Government of Tunisia (GOT) gradually merges the onshore-offshore tax systems. A new draft investment code was submitted to the Parliament in October 2015 and remains under discussion.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In March 2012, the GOT conducted an investment policy review (IPR) through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/finance-and-investment/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-tunisia-2012_9789264179172-en#page16.)

The WTO is scheduled to complete a Trade Policy Review for Tunisia in July 2016.

Laws/Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Tunisia’s multiple and overlapping customs, taxes, and financial incentive schemes are highly complex and difficult to understand for investors. In addition to offshore incentives, Tunisia provides specific incentives to promote regional development, technology, research and development (R&D), innovation, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and investments in certain sectors (such as education, transport, health, and culture) and environmental protection. The GOT established two free-trade zones that offer benefits for foreign companies similar to those provided to offshore exporting companies. Minister of Commerce Mohsen Hassan announced in March 2016 the possibility of creating a new free trade and logistics zone in Ben Guerdan in the south.

The Parliament is expected to adopt a new investment code in 2016 that will lower restrictions and simplify procedures. In addition, the Parliament adopted a suite of economic reform laws in 2015 including a new renewable energy law, competition law, and public-private partnership law. The GOT is also undertaking extensive financial sector reform. Parliament recently adopted a new bankruptcy law and central bank statute to enshrine the independence of the Central Bank of Tunisia. Draft legislation defining the structure and regulations of the overall banking sector is currently under review by Parliament, and two large public banks were recapitalized.

Business Registration

For most businesses, the Agency for Promotion of Industry and Innovation (APII) is the focal point for business registration. Online registration for industry or service sector projects for both domestic and foreign investment is available at: www.tunisieindustrie.nat.tn/en/doc.asp?mcat=16&mrub=122

While the online registration process is clear and APII aims to respond within 24 hours, there are many additional steps that involve other government agencies. The APII has set up a one-stop shop which offers registration of legal papers with the tax office, tax inspection office, court clerk, official Tunisian gazette, and customs. This one-stop shop also houses representatives providing consultations from the Investment Promotion Agency (API), Ministry of Employment, National Social Security Authority (CNSS), Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Commerce. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 study reports that business registration takes an average of 11 days. A local business consulting firm estimates that this process can take up 40 days and costs $500 on average.

In agriculture and fisheries, business registration can be found at: www.apia.com.tn.

In tourism, companies must register with the National Office for Tourism at: http://www.tourisme.gov.tn/pour-investir/prestations-administratives.html

The Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) is the central point of contact for foreign investors. Its website is: www.investintunisia.com.tn.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

While the GOT has no official definition of SMEs, commonly used thresholds include between 10 - 100 employees and less than $1.5 million in investment. Companies with fewer than 10 employees are typically considered micro-enterprises. The Tunisian Solidarity Bank (SOE) provides up to $2,500 in refinancing credits for micro-enterprises. The Bank for SME Financing (BFPME) offers financing in the range of $50,000 to $5 million. These institutions do not offer services for foreign investors.

Industrial Promotion

Each ministry establishes a list of opportunities relevant to its sector and communicates that list to three government promotion agencies: the APII, the Agriculture Investment Promotion Agency (APIA) and FIPA.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Some strategic sectors like national defense are not open to foreign investment. Due to labor restrictions, foreign firms tend to be confined to making offshore investments in the energy sector or in low value-added industries.

Market access regulations remain tight in multiple sectors, with 15 sectors and 20 activities for which investment is subject to authorization. These include tourism, transport (road, air, and sea), handicrafts, telecommunications, education and vocational training, health, advertising, and agricultural extension services. An additional 49 sectors require pre-authorization on a per case basis by the Commission Supérieure d’Investissement if a foreign investor intends to hold more than 49 percent ownership.

Privatization Program

The GOT allows foreign participation in its privatization program. A significant share of Tunisia’s FDI in recent years has come from the privatization of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises. Privatization has occurred in many sectors, such as telecommunications, banking, insurance, manufacturing, and fuel distribution, among others.

In 2011, the GOT confiscated the assets of the former regime. The asset list touched upon every major economic sector. According to the GOT Commission to Investigate Corruption and Malfeasance, a court order is required to determine the ultimate handling of frozen assets. Since court actions frequently take years – and with the government facing immediate budgetary needs – the GOT allowed privatization bids for shares in Tunisiana, Ennakl, Carthage Cement, City Cars, and Banque de Tunisie. The GOT does not exclude the possibility of selling shares in these companies on the “Bourse de Tunis,” Tunisia’s stock exchange. So far, the privatization process has led to the sale of the GOT’s 60 percent stake in Ennakl to Tunisian consortium Poulina-Parenin, its 13 percent stake in Banque de Tunisie to French group Crédit Industriel et Commercial (CIC), and its 7 percent stake in City Cars to Tunisian consortium Bouchammaoui-Chabchoub. In its efforts to upgrade the banking sector and increase foreign reserves, the GOT is expected to privatize a 15 percent stake in state-owned banks, but information about related tenders is not yet available.

Screening of FDI

The GOT screens FDI that targets the domestic market to minimize the possible negative impact on domestic competitors and employment. If a foreign investor seeks to hold more than 49 percent ownership of a domestic company (onshore), a pre-authorization from the High Committee on Investment (Commission Supérieure d'Investissement) is required. Authorization of these projects is on a per case basis, depending on sectors and activities. The majority of U.S. businesses in Tunisia choose to operate under the offshore regime to avoid the foreign capital limitation.

Competition Law

The GOT adopted a new competition law in 2015 that empowered a Competition Council to reduce government intervention in the economy and promote competition based on supply and demand.

The law ensures free pricing of most products and services, with the exception of a list (determined by decree) of basic products and services such as bread or electricity. In exceptional cases of large increases or collapse in prices, the Ministry of Commerce reserves the right to regulate prices for a period of up to six months. The new competition law also voids previous agreements that fix prices, limit free competition or the entry of other companies, and limit or control production, distribution, investment, technical progress, or supply centers. The Ministry of Trade reserves the right to uphold these competition-inhibiting agreements if parties can convince the Competition Council that these practices are necessary for overall technical or economic progress, and that benefits are fairly distributed.

2. Conversion and Transfer PoliciesShare    

Foreign Exchange

The Tunisian Dinar (TND) can be traded only within Tunisia. It is illegal to move TND out of the country. The TND is convertible for current account transactions (repatriation of profits, purchases, bona fide trade and investment operations, etc.). Central Bank authorization is needed for some foreign exchange operations. For imports, Tunisian law prohibits the release of hard currency from Tunisia as payment prior to the presentation of certain documents establishing that the merchandise has physically arrived in Tunisia.

The Tunisian Central Bank pegs the TND daily to a basket of currencies (including the Euro, the U.S. dollar, and the Japanese yen) using weights that reflect the relative importance of these currencies in Tunisia’s external trade. It is adjusted in real terms to the fluctuations of these currencies, taking into consideration inflation differentials. The exchange rate is freely quoted by Tunisian banks who command a slight transaction premium. The Central Bank can intervene in the market to stabilize the currency or relieve pressure on the market. In 2015, the TND depreciated 8 percent against the dollar and 3 percent against the Euro, according to the Central Bank.

Non-residents are exempt from most exchange regulations. Under foreign currency regulations, non-resident companies are defined as having:

  • Non-resident individuals who own at least 66 percent of the company’s capital, and
  • Capital financed by imported foreign currency.

Foreign investors may transfer funds at any time and without prior authorization. This applies to both principal and capital in the form of dividends or interest. Procedures for capital and dividend repatriation are complex, however, and subject to discretion by the Central Bank administration. The difficulty in the repatriation of capital and dividends is one of the most recurrent complaints made by offshore investors in Tunisia. The World Bank recommended that the Central Bank of Tunisia simplify capital and dividend repatriation procedures (by reviewing Decree 77-608.)

More information is available at: http://www.bct.gov.tn/bct/siteprod/page.jsp?id=67&la=AN

There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency that visitors can bring into Tunisia to exchange for TND. However, amounts exceeding the equivalent of TND 25,000 ($12,500) must be declared at the port of entry. Non-residents must also report foreign currency imports if they wish to re-export or deposit more than TND 5,000 ($2,500). Tunisian customs authorities may require currency exchange receipts on exit from the country.

Remittance Policies

Tunisia does not have remittance policies in place.

3. Expropriation and CompensationShare    

U.S. investments in Tunisia are protected by international law as stipulated in the U.S.-Tunisia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). According to Article III of the BIT, the GOT reserves the right for direct and indirect expropriation or nationalization of investments for a public purpose only, in a non-discriminatory manner, and upon advance compensation of the full value of the expropriated investment. The treaty grants the right to prompt review by the relevant Tunisian authorities of the expropriation and compensation’s conformity to the principles of international law. When compensations are granted to national or third country companies whose investments suffer losses owing to events such as war, armed conflict, revolution, state of national emergency, civil disturbance etc., U.S. companies are accorded “the most favorable treatment, as regards to any measures adopted in relation to such losses.” There are no outstanding expropriation cases involving U.S. interests.

4. Dispute SettlementShare    

Legal System, Specialized Courts, Judicial Independence, Judgments of Foreign Courts

The Tunisian legal system is secular. It is based upon the French Napoleonic code and meets EU standards. While the new Tunisian constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, constitutionally mandated reforms of courts and broader judiciary reforms are still a work-in-progress. The Tunisian Code of Civil and Commercial Procedures allows for the enforcement of foreign court decisions under certain circumstances.

There is no pattern of significant investment disputes or discrimination involving U.S. or other foreign investors.

Bankruptcy

Under Tunisia’s current bankruptcy regime, the government’s principal interest in addressing a company in distress is preservation of jobs, not necessarily the liquidation of assets or protection of creditors.

Parliament adopted in April 2016 a new bankruptcy law which merges Chapter IV of the Commerce Law and the Law N° 95-34 (Recovery of Companies in Economic Difficulties law) last updated in 1999 and 2003. These two existing laws have duplicate and cumbersome processes for business rescue and exit and give creditors a marginal role. The new law increases incentives for failed companies to undergo liquidation by limiting state collection privileges. Improved bankruptcy procedures are intended to decrease the number of non-performing loans and facilitate access of new firms to bank lending.

Investment Disputes

Disputes involving U.S. persons are relatively rare, and in such cases, U.S. firms have generally been successful in seeking redress through the Tunisian judicial system.

International Arbitration

The Tunisian Arbitration Code brought into effect by Law 93-42 of 26 April 1993 governs arbitration in Tunisia. Certain provisions within the code are based on the UNCITRAL model law. Tunisia has several domestic dispute resolution venues. The best known is the Tunis Center for Conciliation and Arbitration. When an arbitral tribunal does not adhere to the rules governing the process, either party can apply to the national court for relief. Unless the parties have agreed otherwise, an arbitral tribunal may, on the request of one of the parties, order any interim measure that it deems appropriate.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Tunisia is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes and is signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

Duration of Dispute Resolution – Local Courts

Resolutions on investment or commercial dispute proceedings can take several years on average.

5. Performance Requirements and Investment IncentivesShare    

WTO/TRIMS

Tunisia has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since March 29, 1995. The GOT maintains measures that are consistent with Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) requirements.

Investment Incentives

Preferential status (offshore, free trade zone) is usually linked to percentage of foreign corporate ownership, percentage production for the domestic market, and investment location. The investment code and subsequent amendments provide investors with a broad range of incentives. With the ongoing review of the investment code, changes to incentives are expected.

To incentivize the employment of new university graduates, the GOT assumes the employer’s portion of social security costs (16 percent of salary) for the first seven years of the investment with an extension of up to 10 years for investments in the interior regions. Investments with high job-creation potential may benefit from the purchase of state-owned land for a very small payment (one TND per square meter, which is less than $1). Investors who purchase companies in financial distress may also benefit from certain clauses of the investment code, such as tax breaks and social security assistance. These advantages are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Further benefits are available for offshore investments, such as tax exemptions on profits and reinvested revenues, duty-free import of capital goods with no local equivalents, and full tax and duty exemption on raw materials, semi-finished goods, and services necessary for operation.

Foreign resident companies face restrictions related to the employment and compensation of expatriate employees. Currently, Tunisian law limits the number of expatriate employees per company to four (excluding oil and gas companies). There are lengthy renewal procedures for annual work and residence permits. Although rarely enforced, legislation limits the validity of expatriate work permits to two years. The GOT indicated it intends to have more flexible rules in place in the new investment code.

Central Bank regulations impose administrative burdens on companies seeking to pay for temporary expatriate technical assistance from local revenue. For example, before it could receive authorization to transfer payment from its operations in Tunisia, a foreign resident company that utilizes a foreign accountant must document that the service is necessary, fairly valued, and unavailable in Tunisia. This regulation prevents a foreign resident company from paying for services performed abroad.

According to the World Bank’s 2016 Doing Business study, Tunisia’s overall ranking rose to 74 out of 189, a gain of one spot from 2015.

Research and Development

There are no specific restrictions on foreign firms participating in government-financed research and development programs.

Performance Requirements

Until recently, performance requirements were generally limited to investment in the petroleum sector. Now, such requirements are in force for private sector infrastructure projects in sectors such as telecommunications. These requirements tend to be specific to the concession or operating agreement (e.g., drilling a certain number of wells, or producing a certain amount of electricity).

Data Storage

The host government does not follow “forced localization,” the policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content in goods or technology.

6. Protection of Property RightsShare    

Real Property

Secured interests in property are enforced in Tunisia. Mortgages and liens are in common use.

Intellectual Property Rights

Tunisia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and signatory to the United Nations (UNCTAD) Agreement on the Protection of Patents and Trademarks. The agency responsible for patents and trademarks is the National Institute for Standardization and Industrial Property (INNORPI - Institut National de la Normalisation et de la Propriété Industrielle). Tunisia is party to the Madrid Protocol for the International Registration of Marks. Foreign patents and trademarks should be registered with INNORPI.

Tunisia's patent and trademark laws are designed to protect owners duly registered in Tunisia. In the area of patents, foreign businesses are guaranteed treatment equal to that afforded to Tunisian nationals. Tunisia updated its legislation to meet the requirements of the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). Copyright protection is the responsibility of the Tunisian Copyright Protection Organization (OTPDA - Organisme Tunisien de Protection des Droits d'Auteur), which also represents foreign copyright organizations.

If a copyright violation is suspected, customs officials are permitted to inspect and seize suspect goods. For products utilizing foreign trademarks registered at INNORPI, the Customs Code allows customs agents to operate throughout the entire country. Much smuggling of illegal items takes place through Tunisia’s porous borders. Tunisian copyright law applies to literary works, art, scientific works, new technologies, and digital works. Its application and enforcement, however, have not always been consistent with foreign commercial expectations. Print, audio, and video media are considered particularly susceptible to copyright infringement.

Resources for Rights Holders

Aisha Y. Salem
Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East and North Africa
U.S. Embassy Kuwait City, Kuwait
U.S. Department of Commerce Global Markets
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Tel: +965 2259 1455
Aisha.Salem@trade.gov
AmCham Tunisia http://www.amchamtunisia.org.tn/
Attorneys list http://tunisia.usembassy.gov/attorney-list.html

7. Transparency of the Regulatory SystemShare    

While the Tunisian government has adopted policies designed to promote foreign investment, aspects of existing tax and labor laws are impediments to efficient business operations. Cumbersome and time-consuming bureaucratic procedures persist. Foreign employee work permits, commercial operating license renewals, infrastructure-related services, and customs clearance for imported goods are usually cited as the lengthiest and most opaque procedures in the local business environment. Investors have commented on inconsistencies in the application of regulations.

Tunisia is a member of the Open Government Partnership, which is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/tunisia

8. Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio InvestmentShare    

Tunisia’s financial system is dominated by its banking sector with banks accounting for roughly 90 percent of financing in Tunisia. Overreliance on bank financing impedes faster economic growth and stronger job creation. Equity capitalization is relatively small; Tunisia’s stock market provides 6-7 percent of corporate financing. Other mechanisms such as bonds and microfinance contribute marginally to the overall economy.

Created in 1969, the Bourse de Tunis (Tunis stock exchange) listed 78 companies (65 in the main market, 12 in the alternative market, and one in a special group) as of February 2016. Capitalization of these companies was valued at $9.6 billion. During the last five years, the exchange’s regulatory and accounting systems have been brought more in line with international standards, including compliance and investor protections. The exchange is supervised and regulated by the state-run Capital Market Board. Most major global accounting firms are represented in Tunisia. Firms listed on the stock exchange must publish semiannual corporate reports audited by a certified public accountant. Accompanying accounting requirements exceed what many Tunisian firms can, or are willing to, undertake. GOT tax incentives attempt to encourage companies to list on the stock exchange. Newly listed companies that offer 30 percent capital share to the public receive a five-year tax reduction on profits. In addition, individual investors receive tax deductions for equity investment in the market. Capital gains are tax free when held by the investor for two years.

Foreign investors are permitted to purchase shares in resident (onshore) firms only through authorized Tunisian brokers or through established mutual funds. To trade, non-resident (offshore) brokers require a Tunisian intermediary and may only service non-Tunisian customers. Tunisian brokerage firms may have foreign participation, as long as that participation is less than 50 percent. Foreign investment of up to 50 percent of a listed firm’s capital does not require authorization.

Money and Banking System, Hostile Takeovers

Tunisia hosts 31 banks, of which 20 conduct both commercial and investment services. Two are Islamic universal banks, seven are offshore, and two are business banks. After the fall of the former regime, companies, banks, and real estate that belonged to ousted President Ben Ali’s family were brought under GOT receivership.

Private credit stands at 65 percent of GDP in Tunisia. According to the World Bank, this level lags behind economic peers such as Morocco and Jordan whose rate is 80 percent. The World Bank’s 2016 “Doing Business Survey” ranks Tunisia 126th in terms of ease of access to credit. According to the IMF Financial System Stability Assessment, the banking sector faces significant challenges such as a weak domestic economy and the legacy of the previous regime. In particular, loan quality, solvency, and profitability have deteriorated. Weak underwriting practices contributed to inappropriate lending to well-connected borrowers. Tunisia’s 20 onshore banks offer essentially identical services targeting the same segment of Tunisia’s larger corporations. Meanwhile, SMEs and individuals often have difficulty accessing bank capital due to high collateralization requirements.

Government regulations hold down lending rates. This prevents banks from pricing their loan portfolios appropriately and incentivizes bankers to restrict the provision of credit. Competition among Tunisia’s many banks has the effect of lowering observed interest rates. However, banks often place conditions on loans that impose far higher costs on borrowers than interest rates alone. These non-interest costs may include collateral requirements that come in the form of liens on real estate. Often, the collateral must equal or exceed the value of the loan principal. Collateral requirements are high as banks face regulatory difficulties in collecting collateral, thereby adding to costs. Nonperforming loans (NPLs) increased to 24 percent in 2016.

Beyond the banks and stock exchange, few effective financing mechanisms are available in the Tunisian economy. A true bond market does not exist. Government debt sold to financial institutions is not re-traded on a formal, transparent secondary market. Private equity remains a niche element in the Tunisian financial system. Firms experience difficulty raising sufficient capital, sourcing their transactions, and selling their stakes in successful investments once they mature. The microfinance market remains underexploited, with non-governmental organization Enda Inter-Arabe the dominant lender in the field.

The GOT established two categories of financial service providers: banking (e.g., deposits, loans, payments and exchange operations, acquisition of operating capital) and investment services (reception, transmission, order execution, and portfolio management). Non-resident financial service providers must present initial minimum capital (fully paid up at subscription) of TND 25 million ($12.5 million) for a bank, TND 10 million ($5 million) for a non-bank financial institution, TND 7.5 million ($3.8 million) for an investment company, and TND 250,000 ($125,000) for a portfolio management company.

9. Competition from State-Owned EnterprisesShare    

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are still prominent throughout the economy. Many compete with the private sector in industries such as telecom, banking, and insurance. They remain monopolies in other sectors considered sensitive by the government, such as railroad transportation, water and electricity distribution, postal services, and port logistics. Importation of basic staples and strategic items such as cereals, sugar, oil, and steel also remain under SOE control.

Senior management of SOEs is appointed by the GOT and report to the respective ministries. Boards of directors are comprised of representatives from ministries and public shareholders. Like private companies, SOEs are required by law to publish independently audited annual reports, whether or not corporate capital is publicly traded on the stock market.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

Senior management officials of SOEs are appointed by the GOT and report to their respective ministries. The board of directors for each SOE is comprised of representatives from various ministries and public shareholders depending on the relevant sector. Like private companies, SOEs are required by law to publish independently audited annual reports, whether or not corporate capital is publicly traded on the stock market.

The GOT encourages SOEs to adhere to OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance but adherence is not enforced. Investment banks and credit agencies tend to associate SOEs with the government and consider them having the same risk profile for lending purposes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

By decree 85-2011, the GOT established a sovereign wealth fund the “Caisse des Depots et des Consignations" (CDC) to boost private sector investment. It is a state-owned investment entity to independently manage a portion of the state's financial assets. The CDC became operational in early 2012. The original impetus for the creation of the CDC was to manage assets confiscated from the former ruling family as independently as possible in order to serve the public interest. The CDC was set up with support from the French CDC and the Moroccan CDG (Caisse de Depots et de Gestion). More information is available about the CDC at www.cdc.tn.

10. Responsible Business ConductShare    

There is no comprehensive national policy on responsible business conduct, although there is increasing awareness among the government, NGOs, and private companies. Tunisia is an adherent to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Since 1989, the public sector has been subject to a government procurement law that requires labor, environmental, and other impact studies for large procurement projects. All public institutions are also subject to audits by the Cour des Comptes.

The Tunisian Central Bank adopted a circular in 2011 setting guidelines for sound and prudent management, guaranteeing and safeguarding the interests of shareholders, creditors, depositors and staff. The circular also established policies on recruitment, appointment and remuneration, as well as dissemination of information to shareholders, depositors, market counterparts, regulators and the general public.

The emerging role of non-government organizations in Tunisia, notably in human rights, environmental protection, consumer rights, labor unions, and employer unions has redefined the role of Tunisian businesses to include social responsibility.

The national point of contact for OECD MNE guidelines is:

Mr. Abdelmajid Mbarek, Director
Ministry of Development, Investment, and International Cooperation
Avenue Mohamed V
1002 Tunis
Tel: +216 7184 9596
Fax: +216 7179 9069
Email: a.mbarek@mdci.gov.tn

Tunisia has not yet joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Tunisia did participate in the 7th world conference of the EITI in Lima, Peru. Projects related to commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals are subject to Parliamentary approval.

11. Political ViolenceShare    

Tunisia has a history of political stability. Incidents involving politically-motivated damage to economic projects or infrastructure were extremely rare. In December 2010 and January 2011, however, civil unrest in the underserved interior regions eventually forced former President Ben Ali to flee Tunisia on January 14, 2011.

Post-revolution instability in 2013, including two high profile political assassinations, resulted in widespread public protests. Political calm was restored in early 2014 with the successful conclusion of Tunisia’s National Dialogue; a new constitution; and the installation of an interim, technocratic government that paved the way for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of the year.

Two major terrorist attacks targeting the tourism sector occurred in 2015, killing dozens of foreign tourists: the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and a beach hotel in Sousse. Travelers are urged to visit www.travel.state.gov for the latest travel alerts and warnings regarding Tunisia. In addition, a presidential guard bus was bombed by terrorists in Tunis in November 2015, and the border town of Ben Guerdan in south Tunisia was attacked by armed militants in March 2016.

12. CorruptionShare    

Tunisian and U.S. businesses with regional experience indicate that corruption exists, but may not be as pervasive as that found in neighboring countries. U.S. investors report that corrupt practices involve routine procedures for doing business (customs, transportation, and some bureaucratic paperwork). These behaviors, however, do not appear to pose a significant barrier to doing business in Tunisia. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2015 gave Tunisia a score of 38 out of 100 and a rank of 76 among 175 countries. Regionally, Tunisia is ranked 8th among MENA countries, ahead of Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. Most U.S. firms involved in the Tunisian market do not identify corruption as a primary obstacle to foreign direct investment.

Tunisia's penal code devotes 11 articles to defining and classifying corruption and assigns corresponding penalties (including fines and imprisonment). Several other regulations also address broader concepts of corruption. Detailed information on the application of these laws or their effectiveness in combating corruption is not publicly available. There are no GOT statistics specific to corruption. The Independent Commission to Investigate Corruption, created in 2011, handled corruption complaints from 1987-2011. The commission referred five percent of cases to the Ministry of Justice. In 2012, the commission was replaced by the National Authority to Combat Corruption, which has the authority to forward corruption cases to the Department of Justice, give opinions on legislative and regulatory anti-corruption efforts, propose policies and collect data on corruption, and facilitate contact between anti-corruption efforts in the government and civil society.

Recent government efforts to combat corruption include: the seizure and privatization of assets belonging to Ben Ali's family members; assurances that price controls on food products, gasoline, etc., are respected; enhancement of commercial competition in the domestic market; establishment of a Ministry of Public Service and the Fight Against Corruption, and harmonization of Tunisian laws with those of the European Union.

Since 1989, a comprehensive law designed to regulate each phase of public procurement has governed the public sector. The GOT also established the Higher Market Commission (CSM - Commission Supérieure des Marchés) to supervise the tender and award process for major government contracts. The government publicly supports a policy of transparency. Public tenders require bidders to provide a sworn statement that they have not and will not, either themselves or through a third party, make any promises or give gifts with a view to influencing the outcome of the tender and realization of the project. Despite the law, competition on government tenders appears susceptible to corruptive behavior. Pursuant to the FCPA, the U.S. Government requires that American companies requesting U.S. Government advocacy certify that they do not participate in corrupt practices.

UN Convention: Tunisia is a party to the UN Convention.

Tunisia does not have a free trade agreement with the United States. After being approved for Advanced Partner status in 2012, Tunisia is currently negotiating services and agriculture provisions in its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU.

13. Bilateral Investment AgreementsShare    

A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between Tunisia and the United States signed in 2002 remains active. A meeting of the bilateral Trade and Investment Council in March 2016 helped promote engagement and cooperative reform efforts. A Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Tunisia and the United States entered into force in 1993. The BIT with Tunisia differs in certain key aspects from more recent investment agreements signed by the U.S.

Tunisia has bilateral trade agreements with approximately 81 countries, including neighbors Libya and Algeria. In January 2008, Tunisia’s Association Agreement with the EU went into effect. This agreement eliminated tariffs on industrial goods with the eventual goal of creating a free trade zone between Tunisia and the EU member states. In addition, Tunisia is signatory to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), a member of the World Bank Group which offers private sector political risk insurance guarantees. Tunisia has signed the WTO Agreement, bilateral agreements with the Member States of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and bilateral and multilateral agreements with Arab League members and Turkey.

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

A 1985 bilateral treaty (and 1989 protocol) guarantees U.S. firms freedom from double taxation. In 2013, the Parliament adopted the OECD Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters.

14. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance ProgramsShare    

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has been active in the Tunisian market since 1963. OPIC provides political risk insurance and financing to U.S. companies. OPIC has designed a number of investment funds that include Tunisia. These funds cover, among other sectors, renewable energy, franchising, and small and medium enterprise development. OPIC supports private U.S. investment in Tunisia and has sponsored several reciprocal investment missions. In 2015, OPIC signed credit guarantee facility agreements totaling $50 million with three Tunisian banks to increase access to capital for SMEs.

15. LaborShare    

Tunisia has a highly literate labor force of approximately 3.9 million. The official 2015 unemployment rate was 15 percent; however, unemployment is estimated at over 30 percent among university graduates. Official statistics do not count underemployment or provide disaggregated data by geography.

In order to keep the unemployment rate at current levels, 60,000 new private sector jobs must be created each year. Over the past two decades, the structure of the workforce remained relatively stable (15.3 percent agriculture and fishing, 33.6 percent industrial, and 51 percent commerce and services). Tunisia has successfully developed its industrial sector and created low-skilled employment but has been unable to absorb educated entrants into the job market.

The right of labor to organize is protected by law. Currently, four national labor confederations operate in Tunisia. The oldest and largest is the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT - Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens). Three newer ones are the General Confederation of Tunisian Workers (CGTT – Confederation Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens), the Tunisian Labor Union (UTT – Union Tunisienne du Travail), created in May 2011, and the Tunisian Labor Organization (OTT – Organisation Tunisienne du Travail), created in August 2013. UGTT claims about one third of the salaried labor force as members, although more are covered by UGTT-negotiated contracts. Wages and working conditions are established through triennial collective bargaining agreements between the UGTT, the national employers’ association (UTICA - Union Tunisienne de l’Industrie, du Commerce et de l'Artisanat), and the GOT. These tripartite agreements set industry standards and generally apply to about 80 percent of the private sector labor force, regardless of whether individual companies are unionized.

Private sector wage increase agreements were signed in June 2014 and January 2016. An emboldened labor movement has also increased its demands for private sector reforms. Labor unrest is still an issue although at a smaller scale: according to GOT figures, the number of strikes decreased by 39 percent in the first eight months of 2015. The official national minimum monthly wage (based on 40 hour/week) in the industrial sector is TND 302.75 (~$150), and TND 348 (~$175) for a 48 hour week.

In May 2015, GOT and UGTT reached a wage increase agreement in the public sector of $25 per month for civil servants and $35 per month for state-owned enterprise employees.

16. Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade FacilitationShare    

Tunisia has free trade zones in Bizerte and in Zarzis. While the land is state-owned, a private company manages the free trade zones. They enjoy adequate public utilities and fiber optic connectivity. Companies established in the free trade zones, officially known as “Parcs d’Activités Economiques,” are exempt from taxes and customs duties and benefit from unrestricted foreign exchange transactions. Inputs enjoy limited duty-free entry into Tunisia for transformation and re-export. Factories are considered bonded warehouses and have their own assigned customs personnel.

According to the director of the Parcs d’Activités Economiques de Bizerte (PAEB), all sites within the original portion of the 30 hectare Bizerte free trade zone have been sold. Two other landscaped PAEB locations outside the city are partially filled. Companies may rent space within PAEB’s zones for 3 Euros per square meter annually – a level unchanged since 1996 -- plus a low service fee. Long-term renewable leases, up to 25 years, are subject to a negotiable 3 percent escalation clause. Expatriate personnel are allowed duty free entry of personal vehicles. During the first year of operations companies within the zone must export 100 percent of production. Each following year, the company may sell domestically up to 30 percent of the previous year’s total volume of production, subject to local customs duties and taxes. Lease termination has not been a problem, and all companies that desired to depart the zone reportedly did so successfully.

17. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment StatisticsShare    

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

 

Host Country Statistical source

USG or international statistical source

USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

Economic Data

Year

Amount

Year

Amount

 

Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)

2014

48,547

2014

48,610

http://www.banquemondiale.org/fr/country/tunisia

Foreign Direct Investment

Host Country Statistical source

USG or international statistical source

USG or international Source of data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)

2014

143

2014

360

http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm?Area=445

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)

NA

NA

2014

18

http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/factsheet.cfm

Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA


Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

N/A – Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

N/A – Data not available.

18. Contact for More InformationShare    

Commercial Section
U.S. Embassy Tunis, Les Berges du Lac
Tel: +216 71 107 000
Email: TunisCommercial@state.gov
Web: http://tunisia.usembassy.gov/business.html