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Tunisia explores new Silk Road to revive its economy

Tunisia is exploring the new Silk Road, which is expected to make it an investment hub in the region after officials revealed that the government is moving towards a strategic partnership with China before the end of current year.

Tunisia’s rush to snatch a share of China’s investment in its new Silk Road strategy have accelerated in a move that experts say will boost the economic sectors in the country.

Officials have unveiled plans for a clear strategy to link new partnerships with Beijing before the end of the year to attract additional foreign investments to Tunisia.

The move comes as the government tries by all means to get the country out of the difficult economic juncture that has prevailed for more than seven years.

“Tunisia is going to join the Chinese Silk Road project in the coming months because it will attract a lot of investment and will provide hundreds of jobs,” said Sabri Bachtobji Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Head of the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies Naji Jalloul said, in turn, that there were already formal talks between Tunisia and China to help the country join the “new China Silk Road”.

Although China’s efforts to revive international trade within the “belt and road” face obstacles, including the completion of railway projects in the countries targeted by the programme, Beijing is determined to complete its ambitious project.

Beijing has been promoting the initiative as a new way to support global development, which has invested more than $ 1 trillion since it unveiled the plan in 2013 to boost ties between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond through multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure.

Experts say Tunisia’s accession to this initiative will make it a hub for foreign investments in the future, especially towards the African continent, which places it in direct competition with Morocco, which became the centre of Chinese investments thanks to the vision of King Mohammed VI.

“In the coming years, China will need to launch partnership projects to reach new countries like Africa, and Tunisia will be a perfect ally,” said Mustafa Kamal Ennabli, Head of the North African Economic Studies Office.

The former governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia predicted that his country would benefit from its geographical location and low-cost labour force, in addition to an experience of cooperation with sub-Saharan countries, as an investment base for China.

Tunisia’s moves to reform its battered economy was marked by the signing last July of three investment agreements worth some half a billion dollars related to the financial and technology sector and the construction of a large commercial mall in the Tunis Financial Harbour.

The government is convinced that these agreements were only the beginning, and says it will pave the way for more Chinese investors to enter the country as part of the Silk Road Strategy.

The move came three months after the opening of the Silk Road International Cultural and Economic Cooperation Organisation (SICO), of an office in Tunisia, the first in Africa.

Economists have long called on the government to speed up a broad trade deal to facilitate the entry of Tunisian goods to China and make the most of the trade imbalances to pump more Chinese investment into the country.

Saleh El Hanachi, president of the Atlas Association for Self-Development and Solidarity, said the initiative is an opportunity for the government to seize so that Tunisia could have a foothold in a regional context to make the most of this experience.

He stressed that Tunisia has experiences in the fields of energy, water, technology, agriculture, tourism and others that can be exported to African countries by establishing a fruitful partnership with China.

Beijing pledged $ 55 billion in loans, $ 14.5 billion to the Silk Road Fund and $ 8.7 billion in aid to developing countries.

Tunisia has “potential human resources with a private sector and startups investing in new technologies and innovation,” said Noureddine El-Hajji, Head of Tunisia’s Ernst & Young office.

Al-Hajji, who is also President of the  Mediterranean  World Economic Foresight Institute, expects his country to have an important place in the Silk Road, especially in the areas of digitization and green economy.

For Tunisia to realize its ambitions, its plan must be based on sustainable foundations, foremost of which is the promotion of diplomatic relations, the development of infrastructure and the promotion of cooperation in the transport, tourism and investment sectors.

Tunisia faces challenges to facilitate the location of Chinese investors near the port of Zarzis in the south of the country by building an industrial zone to increase the level of exports and the participation of Beijing in the completion of the deep water port in Enfidha and the bridge of Bizerte.

TunisianMonitorOnline– MNHN (Translated from Al-Arab, article written by Riadh Bouazza) 

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