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: 6/22/2017
According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, in 2016 Tunisia was the United States’ 85th largest goods export market. Bilateral trade in goods reached $915.8 million, with U.S. exports to Tunisia totaling $524.2 million. Top U.S. export categories were petroleum products, agricultural products, chemicals, machinery, and transportation equipment. Major imports from Tunisia included apparel, food products (mainly olive oil), and electronics and electrical components.

Tunisia has a diverse, market-oriented economy. According to Tunisia’s National Institute of Statistics (INS), real GDP growth in 2016 was 1%, about 0.1% below growth in 2015. Real GDP growth for 2017 is forecasted to slightly increase.  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 sector, foreign investment, and tourism. About 75% of Tunisia’s exports go to the European Union.

According to the INS, total exports in 2016 increased by 5.6% compared to 2015, mainly a result of the increase in exports of phosphates (+29.1%), mechanical and electrical components (+15.7%), and textile and apparels (+8.3%). In general, energy exports and minerals, mainly crude oil and phosphate, have exhibited high year-to-year variance, depending on production levels and market conditions. Olive oil exports registered a major decrease (-54%).

Tunisia’s imports increased by 5.3% in 2016 compared to 2015, mainly a result of an increase in the imports of natural gas (+42%), gas turbines (+90%), and textile and apparels (+11.4%).

Tunisia demonstrated moderate growth of 2.3% in 2014 and 1.1% in 2015. With the adoption of a new constitution in January 2014, the successful presidential and legislative elections in late 2014, and the formation of a coalition government in the beginning of 2015, investors expressed optimism that macroeconomic stability would continue in 2016 and beyond. However, terrorist attacks at tourist sites in 2015 negatively impacted the economy and contributed to a slowing of GDP growth to only 1.1%. In 2016, the Tunisian economy failed to recover, growing by only 1%. In 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Tunisia’s economy to grow by 2.5%.

The Tunisian Parliament passed a new Investment Law (#2016-71) in September 2016 that went into effect April 1, 2017. To encourage good governance of investments, the law provides for the creation of three major institutions: the High Investment Council, the Tunisian Investment Authority, and the Tunisian Investment Fund. These institutions are scheduled to launch before the end of 2017.

According to the GOT’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA), overall foreign investment flows for 2016 surpassed $1 billion, primarily in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI), with about 4% in portfolio investment. This investment stream is 9.4% less than 2015 levels. The energy sector received about 47% of all FDI inflows, while industries (38%) and services (14%) ranked second and third.  At 1%, foreign investment in agriculture was insignificant. According to FIPA, these capital inflows (excluding the energy sector) generated 11,273 new jobs in 2016.

France ranked first in 2016 in terms of foreign investment in Tunisia at over $170 million. Germany came in second ($73 million), followed by the UK ($43 million).

About 5.7 million tourists visited the country in 2016, a timid 6.8% increase compared to 2015 (but a sharp 20% decrease compared to 2014, prior to major terrorist attacks on tourist sites). The majority of tourists came from elsewhere in the North Africa region, particularly Libya and Algeria, as well as from Russia. The Western European tourist market has yet to recover to pre-revolution levels. As a result, 2016 overall tourist/bed nights were still significantly lower than capacity. The 2016 slight increase was also reflected in a number of Tunisia’s tourist zones, mainly the coastal cities of Monastir (+46%), Djerba (+15%), and Hammamet (+7.4%). Tourist receipts in foreign currency decreased by 3.8% in 2016 compared to 2015 and by 34% compared to 2010. The forecast for 2017 is positive, with many hotels in Tunisia’s main tourist zones declared fully booked for the summer season, and the number of tourists who visited the country in January and February has already grown by 19.8% and 38% respectively compared to 2016 levels.

Consumer prices rose by 4.2% in 2016, slightly lower than the rise in 2015 (4.9%). Inflation is expected to be around 5% in 2017.

Tunisia registered a $534 million balance of payments deficit in 2016 compared to $400 million surplus a year earlier. As a consequence, net foreign currency assets at the end of 2016 amounted to $5.3 billion, corresponding to 103 days of imports.  Tunisia’s 2016 trade deficit (FOB) reached $4.8 billion, worse by 4.6% or about $214 million over 2015.

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Tunisia Trade Development and Promotion