Tunisia - Agricultural SectorTunisia - Agricultural Sector
Agriculture plays a leading role in Tunisia’s economy, with approximately 16% of the country’s workforce engaged in the agricultural sector. Agriculture contributes about 12% to the country’s GDP, and the sector is growing at around 5% per year. Historically, Tunisia’s agricultural system was based on small family farms that grew subsistence crops with little market integration, but larger agricultural enterprises are increasingly prominent. Public land may be leased by the government to private farmers or managed directly by the Ministry of Agriculture. Foreigners cannot own agricultural land but may obtain long-term leases.
Because of the EU’s importance to Tunisia’s trade, the government tends to follow EU rules on agriculture. Although the GOT does not have a legal framework on genetically engineered products, the Tunisian attitude reflects closely the predominant view within Europe. Until a law is in place, imports of genetically engineered commodities will continue to be handled in a manner similar to products of conventional agriculture. Tunisian olive oil and date exports possess organic certification from the EU. Tunisian exporters can also gain approval for sale of their products as “organic” in the U.S. market through local USDA accredited certifiers.
- The Food Processing Sector:
In 2015, the food processing sector accounted for over 1,000 enterprises employing 10 people or more, 20% of them producing solely for export. The production value of this sector is around $5 billion annually, and is continuously growing due to improved household purchasing power and changes in eating habits towards consumption of processed products versus fresh ones. The food processing sector’s demand for imported high-value ingredients is steadily increasing, with more sophisticated products licensed by multinational food companies. Agricultural and food imports by the food processing sector were almost $3 billion in 2015 compared to $2.2 billion in 2010. Cereals and products, oilseeds, vegetables oils, and sugar derivatives account on average for 73% of Tunisia’s food imports.
The Food Retail Sector:
Over the last decade, the modern retail sector has seen in-depth development fueled by the expansion of modern distribution outlets, supermarkets, and hypermarkets through joint ventures with foreign investors. These have mostly been with France, including the Carrefour and Casino groups (Géant and Monoprix).
The Food Service Sector
The hotel and restaurant industry is not perceived as a separate market from retail, as most hotels and restaurants either source their food needs through annual tenders or through the same distribution channels used by households. In addition to domestic customers, this sector caters to the many tourists visiting Tunisia each year. High-end hotels import spirits, wines, and specialty cheeses either directly or via import companies.
For the last two decades, Tunisia has been a net importer of agricultural products. Leading agricultural imports in 2016 were wheat ($474 million), soybeans ($204 million), corn ($110 million), vegetable oils ($185 million), sugar ($177 million), and barley ($110 million). The leading agricultural exports were olive oil ($407 million), dates ($227million), fish ($126 million), and citrus ($11 million).
Tunisia is one of the world’s top four exporters of olive oil, a fact that is largely unknown as much of its production is exported in bulk to the EU to be refined, bottled, and then marketed and re-exported from EU countries (primarily Italy and Spain). In Market Year (MY) 2016-17, Tunisian olive oil exports are estimated at 70,000 metric tons (MT), down from 130,000 MT in MY 2015-16. About 70% of Tunisia’s olive oil production is destined for export, mainly in bulk, with 14% exported in bottles.
Tunisia’s agricultural exports to the U.S. reached $104 million in 2016 and consisted primarily of high quality olive oil and dates. Tunisian olive oil receives preferential access to the U.S. market under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) framework which was reauthorized by Congress in July 2015. In MY 2015-16, the U.S. imported 26,000 MT of Tunisian olive oil, down 42% from MY 2014-15, representing 8% of total U.S. olive oil imports.
In 2016, U.S. agricultural exports to Tunisia were $209 million, up from $190 million in 2015, with soybeans, corn, and tree nuts accounting for the majority.
Significant market potential exists for a wide range of agriculture-related inputs. Tunisia possesses a sizable market for agricultural equipment, including grain silos, elevators, tractors, harvesters, irrigation systems, and food processing/bottling machinery. Because of wide variation in recent grain harvests and the shortage of storage capacity for grains, the GOT is especially concerned with increasing the quantity of Tunisia’s grain silos. The GOT offers tax incentives of up to 50% under the 2016 Investment Law to encourage acquisition of tractors, combine harvesters, and other related equipment. This will likely further spur demand for farm equipment and may provide a good opportunity for U.S. suppliers. Although Tunisia is a major exporter of phosphates used in fertilizer, the more sophisticated production inputs, including pesticides, are imported. In 2017, the U.S. and Tunisia also agreed on a health certificate to facilitate new market access for U.S. bovine semen exports to Tunisia.
The consumer-oriented products with prospects to perform best in the Tunisian market include tree nuts, dried fruits, cookies, sauces, condiments and mixed seasoning, and breakfast cereals. Tunisia does not allow the import of U.S. meat or poultry products.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has an office in the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and may be reached at email@example.com. Their reports, including an Exporter Guide, can be found online.
Tunisia Agribusiness Trade Development and Promotion