The availability of industrial land is still one of the stumbling blocks for foreign investors in Tunisia, despite the commendable efforts of the Agence foncière industrielle (AFI), which is responsible by law for providing serviced land for industrial activities.
Announced by officials and the media a few months ago, the Japanese group Sumitomo’s project to build a new car electrical cable factory in Jendouba has been blocked for lack of land.
By coincidence, the German group Kromberg and Schubert, which specializes in the manufacture and supply of cables for car electrical systems, has also been unable to find land on which to build a second plant in Beja.
The two groups are global industrial giants, and the number of jobs to be created by these two projects is around 8,000.
In Jendouba, the Sumitomo cable factory (SEBN), like the Gafsa Phosphate Company, is practically the only industrial employer in the region.
In recent statements to the press, the director of the Agence foncière industrielle, Kais Mejri, pointed out that the Sumitomo case was being constantly monitored by the authorities and the structures concerned, and that a proposal had been made to the company, which had rejected it. The company was offered a 10-hectare plot of land in the El Irtiah 2 area of the Bulla Regia industrial zone in Jendouba at a price of 100 dinars per square meter. It rejected the offer.
It’s true that the sum involved is considerable, but not for the Sumitomo Group, which incidentally won the 2022 Tunisian Investor of the Year award.
The problem lies elsewhere, according to AFI’s CEO.
For a long time, the Tunisian government, as part of its efforts to encourage investment, saw fit to grant land at the symbolic price of one dinar, particularly to public operators and promising projects.
However, the 2017 law on investment incentives abolished this advantage.
In this context, the Regional Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts of the North West has urged the authorities to speed up the procedures to facilitate the completion of this project, which is scheduled for October 2024, as “a long blockage could lead the investor to abandon his project or look for another location (country)”, warned the president of this union.
300 million dinars
The same fear was expressed regarding the blockage of the Kromberg and Schubert group’s new factory project in Beja.
According to the Tunisian media, the intention to build this new factory, which is expected to create some 4,000 decent jobs, comes after the success of the project to extend the first factory by 14,000 square meters, creating an additional 2,500 jobs.
According to Wissam Badri, director of the Kromberg and Schubert company in Beja, the parent company has approved the construction of this second plant in Beja on a 30,000 square meter site, with a capacity of 4,500 jobs and an investment cost of 300 million dinars. This would bring the total number of jobs to 8,500.
However, there are no serviced housing estates of this size in the area.
Nevertheless, he pointed to the existence of plots of land that had been acquired by investors without being used.
Under the AFI rules, the right to purchase expires if the buyer does not complete the project within three years of purchase.
For this reason, the AFI set up an online platform this summer to monitor the situation of industrial estates sold to investors across the country, in order to identify defaulters and take appropriate action against them.
Wissam Badri warned that time was running out, fearing that the entire project would be outsourced to another country.
He said construction should start in early November 2023 and production should begin in early 2025. The central and regional authorities and the various structures involved are urged to find a solution with due diligence so as not to miss this golden opportunity.