21 March 2014

Tunisia Looks to Gulf for Business

Najjar in Tunis — With Tunisia facing persistent unemployment and a tight budget, observers are expressing optimism that Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa's recent Gulf tour can boost business.

The premier was accompanied by a delegation of businesspeople, led by Wided Bouchamaoui, head of the Tunisian Union of Trade, Industry and Handicrafts (UTICA).

"Gulf businessmen are prepared to invest in Tunisia, and they want to study certain projects in all fields prepared by the Tunisian side," Bouchamaoui told a radio station Tuesday.

"Our visit to a number of Gulf countries enabled us to remove obstacles impeding stalled projects," the UTICA chief said of the five-day trip, which wrapped up Wednesday (March 19th).

The tour was "aimed at repairing the relations that were ruined by the troika government", according to Riadh Sidaoui, director of the Geneva-based Arab Centre for Research and Political and Social Analysis.

"The troika government failed to attract foreign capital and investments because it was involved in major ideological and political disputes with Gulf countries," he told Magharebia.

In her turn, journalist Kaouther Zantour analysed the trip in Le Maghreb, saying, "Jomaa's return to Tunisia will apparently be accompanied by just promises from the Gulf. However, promises and good intentions alone are not enough in a semi-catastrophic economic condition."

"The more important visits in this Gulf tour, namely to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, didn't lead to figures or bilateral agreements," she added. "We didn't even hear about possible high-level government representation from the above two countries that would make us look forward to imminent cash flows."

However, Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi on March 16th confirmed that Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan expressed "the UAE's willingness to support Tunisia in amending the budget and encouraging investors".

"The UAE is prepared to provide assistance to security agencies to help them combat terrorism and control Tunisian borders," Hamdi added.

In a TV interview before the trip, Jomaa had hinted at potential deals. "I look forward to this Gulf tour so I can close the 2014 budget which is facing a deficit of about 5 billion dinars," he said.

"I believe that Jomaa's visit to the Gulf was beneficial in terms of timing and results," journalist Nabil Elchahed commented. "It is supposed to end the indolence suffered by Tunisia's diplomatic relations with its Arab neighbours, which was caused by differences about several dossiers, especially the Egyptian and the Syrian."

Elchahed added that the "the visit is supposed to offer Tunisia an economic relief, after many of the donations were delayed and the urgent need for the Gulf countries' help to save the state budget."

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