Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, the U.S. market share, the political situation if relevant, the top reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to this country, and other issues that affect trade, e.g., terrorism, currency devaluations, trade agreements.Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, the U.S. market share, the political situation if relevant, the top reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to this country, and other issues that affect trade, e.g., terrorism, currency devaluations, trade agreements.
Last Published: 2/17/2019
According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, in 2017 Tunisia was the United States’ 92nd largest goods export market.  Bilateral trade in goods reached $1.013 billion, with U.S. exports to Tunisia totaling $551.3 million.  Top U.S. export categories were petroleum products, agricultural goods, chemicals, machinery, and transportation equipment.   Major imports from Tunisia included apparel, food products (mainly olive oil and dates), electronics and electrical components.

Tunisia has a diverse market economy.  According to Tunisia’s National Institute of Statistics (INS), real GDP growth in 2017 was 1.9%.  Real GDP growth for 2018 is forecasted to slightly increase to 2.8%.  Unemployment remains over 15%, with youth and recent college graduates disproportionally represented.  The Government of Tunisia (GOT) is focused on bolstering the country’s export sectors, attracting foreign investment, and increasing tourism.  About 75% of Tunisian exports go to the European Union.

According to the INS, total exports in 2017 increased by 18.1% compared to 2016, mainly as a result of an increase in exports of energy and lubricants (24.6%), agricultural products (+20.9%), mechanical and electrical components (+20.4%), and textile and apparel (+16.3%).  In general, energy and mineral exports, mainly crude oil and phosphate, have exhibited high year-to-year variance, depending on production levels and market conditions.  Olive oil exports registered an increase of 15.7%.

Tunisia’s imports increased by 19.8% in 2017 compared to 2016, as a result of an increase in the import of sugar (+80%), vegetable oil (+60%), gasoline (60%), steel (+56%), wheat (+21.7%), natural gas (+13%), and textile and apparel (+21.2%).

In September 2016, to encourage good governance over investment, the Tunisian Parliament passed Investment Law (#2016-71) that went into force April 1, 2017.  The law provided for the creation of three major institutions:  the High Investment Council, the Tunisian Investment Authority, and the Tunisian Investment Fund.  These institutions were  launched in February 2018.   In May 2018, the government adopted decree #2018-417 which listed sectors that need prior government authorization for investment, also known as “the negative list.” 

According to the GOT’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA), overall foreign investment flows for 2017 surpassed $900 million, primarily in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), with about 5% in portfolio investment.  This investment stream is 12.8% higher than 2016.  The industrial sector received approximately 46% of all FDI inflows, while energy (38%) and services (15%) ranked second and third.  At 1%, foreign investment in agriculture was insignificant.  According to FIPA, these capital inflows (excluding the energy sector) generated 10,300 new jobs in 2017.  As for foreign investment into Tunisia, France ranked first at just over $240 million in 2017.  Germany came in second at $56 million, followed by Italy at $40 million.  New U.S. FDI into Tunisia was $5.15 million.

About 7 million tourists visited the country in 2017, a 23% increase compared to 2016 (nearly the same level as 2014, prior to major terrorist attacks in 2015 on tourist sites).  The majority of tourists came from North Africa, particularly Libya and Algeria, as well as from Russia.  The Western European tourist market (mainly French and German) increased by 19.5% compared to 2016.  As a result, 2017 overall tourist/bed nights increased by 22.3% compared to 2016.  The 2017 increase was reflected mainly in tourist zones in the coastal cities of Monastir (+46%), Djerba (+15%), and Hammamet (+7.4%).  Tourist receipts in foreign currency increased by 16.3% in 2017 compared to 2016 but were still 22.8% below 2010 levels.  The forecast for 2018 is expected to reach 8 million tourists, with many hotels in Tunisia’s main tourist areas declared fully booked for the summer season. The number of tourists who visited the country in January and February is already 19% above 2017 levels.

Consumer prices rose by 5.3% in 2017, slightly higher than 2016 (4.2%).  Inflation reached 7.7% in April 2018 and is expected to remain high, hovering around 7% for the remainder of the year.

Tunisia registered a $4.1 billion current account deficit in 2017 compared to $3.7 billion the previous year.  As a consequence, net foreign currency assets at the end of 2017 amounted to $5.1 billion, corresponding to just 102 days of imports.  Tunisia’s 2017 trade deficit (FOB) reached $5.3 billion, which is a 24% increase compared to 2016.
 

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Tunisia Trade Development and Promotion