Hayet Laouani is member of the Executive Bureau of UTICA (Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts), she chairs the Federation of transport. She thinks that no budgetary nor deadline should be set for the implementation of the service sector upgrade including transport . H. Laouani has repeatedly called for bringing together all the areas of the sector in order to face a more and more difficult competition. We met her to further clarify her views on the future of the industry. Interview
We are getting the impression that your Federation is facing insoluble problems!
Not at all. There are no insoluble problems because as long as there is life, there are solutions. It is rather about endogenous problems that are inherent to the transport sector itself, to companies that are small size ones. There are many companies that outnumber the sector’s capacity. Therefore, companies are not healthy, especially financially. So, all this will come within the scope of the audit that should be done to improve the level of the sector and to see how we can bring the situation to acceptable and bearable standards.
On the one hand, there are the negotiations with the European Union on the service sector, and on the other hand the upgrade process. How can you manage to reconcile both tracks?
In fact, there is nothing to reconcile. Negotiations with the European Union are scheduled as early as the signing of the agreement with the Union on free trade including, of course, the service sector and agriculture. Negotiations don’t mean automatically opening up, the latter will come when we can say that our services environment will be able to withstand the pressure on the services sector. We have not to delude ourselves, since the problem we have to deal with is not related to our exporting companies but rather to the establishment of foreign companies that are planning to relocate here. Therefore, we should be able to deal with. Opening up must not be a misfortune but an opportunity for the industry to survive and develop.
But it seems that the problems of the sector will start from the top of the hierarchy down to its bottom!
The services sector includes several sectors that are our direct environment, which affects us directly. Although industry includes textiles, automotive components, and others, services sector is a daily matter. It is the coffeehouse that must be upgraded, the vehicle providing the transport system which must meet the standards and must perform its task under the best conditions in terms of comfort and safety, service is the hospital or clinic in which the citizen is to be treated and must meet the standards. The service sector is our environment and our daily life. That’s why I do not think that we should start from top to bottom; on the contrary we will try to address the whole situation with honesty and sincerity.
Since the European companies are gigantic, we should not be fractionated into very small businesses that cannot even upgrade, if not disappear.
At a previous occasion, you mentioned that businesses should be brought together. How can you get there?
Personally, I think that solutions to be advocated include bringing people together. This could be done through tax incentives. There are also mechanisms, including funding. It is through the financial means that we can bring people together. I do not see much else to recommend. Of course, Tunisia’s industrial fabric is made of SMEs which are small family businesses
But it will still be difficult to convince operators!
I think that when they will understand that it is a matter of life or death, they will have to go back to the drawing board. I think that the new génération sees business differently.
As far as the financial side is concerned, do you think that the scheduled budget allocated to the upgrading of the services would suffice?
It is a budget of hundreds of millions of dinars, but I believe that we cannot put a figure on the upgrade process before it is actually audited. We cannot come up with figures nor with deadlines. I think it’s early to say what amount it will require
What are the goals you will have to set?
The objective is to achieve the upgrade. What are the means? What are the deadlines? It will be up to committees and experts to define them, to update them and to assess them.
The upgrade in the industrial sector was somewhat successful, but what are the basics you are proposing for the service sector?
We should not compare the two sectors, that of industry and that of services.
Precisely what are the basics in the services sector?
There are yet no basics. Committees will soon begin their work, and from that moment we will try to audit, because we cannot restructure without audit. In industry, the upgrade took about ten or twelve years, but in the services sector, we should have plenty of time. We are not on the jump.
How is your relationship with the banks?
The banks will ultimately look closely at the services sector because it is a sector, not niches. Services and transport create jobs and are the bridges the country relies on to gain 2 to 3 points in terms of development.