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Africa and the Tunisian foreign trade has expanded

         Date: 2012-04-20

           Tag: Africa, Africa Tunisian trade

Summary: On April 19, the Tunisian Center for the Promotion of Exports (CEPEX) held a conference on the opportunities and access routes for the African market.

On April 19, the Tunisian Center for the Promotion of Exports (CEPEX) held a conference on the opportunities and access routes for the African market.

Insurance companies, investors, and representatives of organizations such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) were present at the event.

Speakers unanimously agreed that the African market, still underexploited, holds an enormous potential for Tunisian companies.

Riadh Attia, the director-general of CEPEX, encouraged the implementation of a more aggressive Tunisian economic diplomacy in the foreign trade sector. He stated that the African market represents over one billion consumers, and that in 2012, the African continent had a 5,3% growth rate. “Africa is a market with strong potential,” he concluded.

But Tunisia continues to export principally with European countries. According to an AfDB report, 75% of Tunisian exports and imports in 2010 were exchanged with European Union countries. The report called for the diversification of regional trading partners.

Present at today’s conference, Abderrahmane Charfeddine, interim director of the North Africa department of the AfDB, echoed the need for regional economic integration.

“For the African Bank, regional integration is essential…Tunisia must not neglect the regional aspect [in commercial integration], starting with the North Africa region.” According to Charfeddine, Tunisia is losing a share of its economic growth because of the regional integration deficit.

Several speakers also pointed to the Moroccan and Turkish experiences – the direct competitors of Tunisia for access to the African market. Each year, Morocco exports 290 million USD worth of products to African countries, and Turkey 316.

According to Souhaila Chabchoub, the director-general of COTUNACE, an insurance company for exporters, “It [the rate of ensured exports to Africa] stays timid, compared with the total.” In 2010, it represented 1.5% of the company’s income, and 1.8% in 2011.

Chabchoub explained that the problems with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA in French) is the political instability, high levels of corruption, and the quasi-absence of commercial agents characteristic of the region. “The problem of information on Africa is really the major handicap for us all, including the COTUNACE,” she stated.

Chabchoub, too, referenced the Moroccan and Turkish models, saying that there was no reason that Tunisia was not in first place, given that the structure for exporting products is comparable to that of these countries.

But unlike in Tunisia, political support in these countries is strong, Chabchoub explained. Furthermore, insurance companies for investors who wish to go abroad only provide short-term insurances – usually of about six months, sometimes seven or eight. According to Chabchoub, providing medium-term insurance is a point of competitivity for other countries.

Chabchoub further advocated the implantation of Tunisian companies abroad, which according to her, is another form of exporting, and would open another horizon for Tunisian exports.

“It is high time that the COTUNACE gets onboard, already with some lateness, to answer the expectations of Tunisian exporting companies,” Chabchoub said.

Chabchoub also pointed to the French experience, where companies like COFACE, COTUNACE’s equivalent, have benefited largely from state support.

Today, COFACE is present in basically all countries of West African Economic and Monetary Union. “The support of the Tunisian State is strongly solicited to develop insurance of investments abroad,” concluded Chabchoub.

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