Tunisia: Fruit and Poultry Producers Criticise Trade Minister's Decisions

Tunis/Tunisia — Fruit, potato and poultry producers have called on Trade Minister Omar El Behi to find a radical and urgent solution to their situation, which has deteriorated due to recent decisions by his department to import potatoes and eggs for consumption and poultry.

Producers accused on Tuesday, during a protest sit-in outside the headquarters of the Trade Ministry, El Béhi, of causing heavy material losses to farmers, which will undoubtedly affect many agricultural sectors in the future.

The demonstrators chanted slogans calling for the minister's resignation and the cancellation of the unstudied import, recommending the immediate cancellation of the prior authorisation to export fruit, as well as the opening of land borders to ensure export to Libya and Algeria.

For member of the Tunisian Agriculture and Fishery Union (UTAP) executive board in charge of fruit trees and Maghreb trade, Ibrahim Trabelsi, Tunisia recorded this year, an excess of summer fruit production of 17%, compared to the past year and that about 40% of production is destined for the local market.

He added that the only way to promote the production of summer fruits is to export them across land borders (Libya and Algeria).

However, Trabelsi pointed out that Tunisians buy fruit at high prices although they are sold at the wholesale market level at low prices. In a statement to TAP, he urged the services of the Trade Ministry to reform distribution channels, strengthen control and reduce the number of intermediaries so that the prices of these products are within reach of consumers.

He said he was "surprised" by the "unilateral" decisions taken by the Ministry in this area, without any consultation with the profession. The executive board of the farm organisation will hold a meeting next week to review the current situation of some production chains and adopt other more severe measures if the sector's demands are not met, he added.

In turn, member of the federation of poultry farmers at UTAP, Fethi Ben Khelifa considered that the minister's "unstudied" measures had led to a structural imbalance, whereas the sector had recently regained a certain stability in the last two years.

El Behi, has launched the import of nearly 2 million hatching eggs since January and February 2019, in addition to the "illegal" import of poultry meat, Ben Khelifa said, noting that the decision to import poultry is a fraudulent act against the state, and given that these products imported by private individuals from Brazil, will pass through the United Arab Emirates to have the certificate of origin and therefore benefit from the customs exemptions provided for by the Aghadir Agreements.*

This decision is damaging to farmers and constitutes a form of tax evasion, he said, stressing that national production is sufficient, thanks to the availability of a buffer stock of 18 million eggs, one thousand tonnes of turkey and 4 thousand tonnes of turkey meat.

"The current policy of the minister will lead to the destruction of production chains and the impoverishment of Tunisian farmers," he insisted. Farmers have placed fruit cages and released chickens in front of the Ministry's headquarters.

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