Western and regional partners are expected to offer pledges of support for Tunisia’s struggling economy at a two-day international investment conference that starts on Tuesday. Representatives from some 40 countries will be offered the chance to participate in some $30 billion worth of projects as Tunisia tries to reverse a decline in foreign investment since its 2011 uprising.
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France and Qatar are the main foreign backers, with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, due to address the opening session. Tunisia has been lauded as the sole political success story of the Arab Spring for its democratic transition, but the North African country has made slow progress on economic reform.
Labour unrest and militant attacks have hit investment and tourism, and unemployment is high, especially among the young. Corruption and cronyism are widespread, and parts of the interior remain severely marginalised. Foreign partners have been eager to provide aid and loans, with the European Investment Bank and France offering fresh financial assistance on Monday. But securing longer-term investment has been more of a challenge.
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Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s government says an investment law approved in September can help revive the flow of foreign capital. The law reduces bureaucracy, limits taxes on profits, and lowers restrictions on transferring funds out of the country. Valls praised Tunisia as “a point of entry for the West to the African market” after arriving in Tunis on Monday.
“The French government and investors need to stand by Tunisia’s side more than ever,” he said. Under pressure from international lenders, Chahed’s government is also pushing a package of measures in its 2017 draft budget aimed at cutting public spending and raising new revenue to reduce the deficit.
But the move risks provoking a new wave of social unrest, with several sectors either holding strikes or threatening to do so over proposed new taxes and a public salary freeze.