Which opportunities exist between the MENA region and the United States? Which partnership should we talk about? Which types of strategies and policies should be retained?
These are the main issues discussed at a seminar held, Thursday, May 10, 2012, at the initiative of the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce (TACC), in collaboration with 8 American Chambers of Commerce of the MENA region.
Indeed, the prospects of trade between the U.S. and the MENA region seem very dark.
Regarding Tunisia, exports to the U.S. account for only 2.5% of its total exports, or about 1.2 billion dinars. Imports remain relatively low and represent only 4.5% of the country’s overall imports, i.e. about 600 million dinars. Exchanges have mainly concerned the sectors of food (olive oil, dates) and services. About 84 U.S. companies employing 14,000 people operate in Tunisia. The majority of these companies operate in the area of ICTs.
William Taylor, Ambassador of the United States of America, Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions wished a new spirit of tolerance and strong participation of civil society in Tunisia would emerge. “We are committed to help Tunisia and meet its specific demands in the short, medium and long terms,” said William Taylor, calling to overcome some difficulties.
The hardest part, he said, was already done, “Getting rid of Ben Ali and his dictatorial regime is the best success of Tunisia,” said William Taylor, who pleaded for the establishment of a real control system and ensuring real stability to fight against corruption and embezzlement.
Attracting and anchoring foreign investment and creating jobs should particularly underpin the work of the government. It is urgent, he said, to improve the business climate and take more rigorous and stronger decisions. “Waiting is not the right decision … the best is to react,” he added.
For his part, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia called on investors to be actors and not just spectators waiting for stability. It is time, he says, to invest and support the revolution in order to honor its commitments, mainly regarding the employment of young graduates.
According to Amel Bouchamaoui, President of UTICA, it is essential to improve trade between the MENA region and the United States that is below the expectations of each other. “We must use our relationship and further open our doors,” she noted, calling, at the same time, to develop adequate infrastructure encouraging U.S. companies to settle in Tunisia. She also called for strengthening air and maritime transport to and from Tunisia to avoid the long distances that could bring about a distrust of Americans.
Mohamed Bettaineh, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan has called, on his side, to understand what is happening in the MENA region to better identify the opportunities for development and investment. He said the MENA region suffers from several drawbacks. The rate of inter-country exchanges has not exceeded 10%. Moreover, the employment capacity of this region is limited to about 25 million jobs.
In this context, Mohamed Bettaineh said a growth rate of 4.8% expected by the MENA region now seems impossible because of the scourge of unemployment that continues to grow.
For his part, Secretary of State for International Cooperation Alaya Bettaieb called for getting rid of sit-ins to ensure economic, social and political stability through the establishment of suitable conditions for growth.