The tobacco in Tunisia, it is 14,000 sales authorizations, all given by the regional authorities and where one finds improbable patented, with social situations far from having them rank among the badly-off in the country.
Those who trade in tobacco, however, are generally estimated at 60,000 people, of which only 7,000 are legally licensed, for some 50,000 retailers and wholesalers.
The parallel trade in cigarettes would thus be exercised by the other 53,000.
Tobacco in Tunisia is a big business, very big money. It is primarily a market of one billion packs a year, all brands, local and foreign.
With a turnover of 400 MTD in 2017; the only RNTA (National Tobacco Board), which has a monopoly with the MTK (Kairouan tobacco factory), accounts for 74% of this market. The rest (26%) is in the hands of the parallel market.
A parallel market that the Ministry of Finance could easily have stemmed if it had authorized the sale of cigarettes by Tunisian supermarkets.
The latter are demanding it and the president of their professional chamber would have even spoken with the CEO of the RNTA in this regard.
A mass-market sale in a controlled manner, in the sense that it could be done in very small quantities for personal consumption, could very well break the backbone of the entire parallel trade chain.
Minister Ridha Chalghoum does not want to know anything about it. He just pocketed the 2 billion TD taxes that tobacco brings to the public treasury, and prefers to talk about the new three production lines (60 MD investment) for a capacity of 150 million packets per year, which will fall again into the hands of speculators.
State orders RNTA to sell foreign cigarettes at a loss
What few Tunisians also know is that RNTA, which produces its own cigarettes and makes a significant profit, is also responsible for importing foreign cigarettes.
In 2017, the RNTA sold in Tunisia some 51.5 million packets of foreign cigarettes of all the most famous brands.
It had generated a turnover of almost 52.949 MD, but a negative margin of just over 27.809 MD.
The explanation for this deficit margin lies in the fact that it is the Ministry of Finance which determines, by ministerial decree, the sale price of foreign cigarettes by the RNTA to the
public. It is therefore the State that owns the national tobacco board that orders the exclusive importer to sell foreign cigarettes at a loss, i.e. below cost.
Never seen in the world and especially in the industry and the cigarette trade where this activity is generally a source of big income.
Tunisia, a small state that is getting into debt, subsidizes almost everything for its citizens, including cigarettes and especially foreigners.
It is also as if the Tunisian State would encourage the consumption of foreign cigarettes, by selling at a loss what it buys in foreign currency, in the same way as bread, milk or sugar. The Tunisian state subsidizes the disease, imported!
In 2018, the RNTA made a profit of 4 MD in the local cigarettes that it produces and recorded a loss of 40 MD in the trade of foreign cigarettes, because it is obliged to sell them by order of the authorities, at a loss!