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Slim Feriani: “rolling up the sleeves and working” is the only way for recovery

Slim Feriani, the Minister of Industry, SMEs, Energy, Mines and Renewables, recently gave Africanmanager an exclusive interview where he spoke about several points including growth, investment, PPP (public-private partnership) and the budget law for the 2019 financial year.

We have recently seen the emergence of China as a new market for Tunisia. What can we say about it?

China is a key market for Tunisia, especially at the tourism level. It is also a very important economic partner at all levels, especially in terms of investment. It is true that the volume of investment is not very big but it invests anyway in Tunisia.

On the Tunisian side, we can export a lot more in China. There is a new dynamism towards this market that must be exploited.

As a result, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) is very important, knowing that the creation of wealth can only be done through the private sector.

The number and quality of people who participated in the recent international PPP conference in Tunis reflect the confidence investors place in Tunisia, as one cannot invest without trust. We can only advance through investment.

Indeed, growth in Tunisia has been impacted by several structural factors or in relation to the external environment of Tunisia, such as the crisis in Europe or the situation in Libya.

Add to that the transitional period underwent by our country. Despite these handicaps, Tunisia can achieve better growth rates than in previous years.

At the level of the Ministry of Energy, we have several ambitious and innovative projects. Projects of 1000 megawatts added to the production program of 3500 megawatts by 2030.

We also want to go up to 30% of energy production from renewable energy against less than 5% currently.

These projects require a lot of funds that the state cannot mobilize alone. Infrastructure projects could never be done by the government alone. It requires a partnership between the private and the public sector and between Tunisia and foreign investors.

Can we talk about a recovery in investment?

Of course, we have positive numbers. All the numbers we see today on growth are positive numbers. We are talking about more than 2.8% GDP growth in the second quarter, 2.6% growth in the first quarter and an increase in exports by 26% in the first 7 months of this year.

There is also talk of growth in the manufacturing industry, which accounts for 90% of Tunisian exports.

All sectors combined, textile, clothing, manufacturing, electronics, mechanics, agribusiness, saw growth and a significant recovery in investment.

The API figures also show us that there has been a recovery. There are about 2 thousand investment requests for an amount of 2 billion dinars for the creation of 37 thousand jobs. These are investment intentions but a large part will be concretized through projects.

And at the level of FDI, is there a recovery too?

We also see a recovery in FDI, more than 20% growth. There is a recovery, but there is much more to be done to achieve more than 5% growth. We must not however say that all is well or slow the pace but rather accelerate the rhythm. Much more productivity is needed in the private and public sectors.

The economic recovery depends on many factors and we do not want consumption to drive growth but rather investment and exports. These are the two factors we need to focus on and they themselves are starting to pick up this year.

On the other hand, there is the engine of productivity without which we cannot move forward. If we do not move forward, we go back.

We must be responsible. This is not the responsibility of a minister, a head of government or the administration; it is rather a collective work of about 12 million Tunisians. It’s an awareness. We must see the “success stories” as for example in Asia, with countries such as South Korea, Singapore, China and Vietnam which are considered today as world champions. To go in that direction, you have to roll up your sleeves and work.

Tunisians must be aware of what is at stake. We have very limited financial resources and that is why we are talking about PPPs.

We need the private sector to fund these infrastructure projects. No emerging country has evolved to what it is today, such as China, without FDI.

And to come to Tunisia, investors must be reassured. Do not bludgeon investors with negative and pessimistic messages that discourage. We must all be responsible and encourage domestic and foreign investors to invest and get their hands together to go ahead.

Are there messages to be sent through the 2019 Finance Act?

The first message is that this law must be a law of recovery, support and recovery of the economy. We must unleash positive energies. It is a collective work and an opportunity to strengthen the dialogue. It is also a partnership work since all departments are involved.

In the Ministry of Industry, also responsible for Energy and Mines, we have given a lot of proposals on this law. We worked with a tri-participative and collective approach with the private sector.

We also worked with a very collaborative approach to listen to the concerns of investors and avoid the things we should avoid. It must be admitted that no finance law is perfect.

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