“The Ministry of Industry and SMEs is called to communicate more so as to raise awareness of the importance of encouraging the Tunisian products, including industrial,” said Slim Fériani, Minister of Industry and Trade and SMEs.
He added that the essential message to remember is that it is important to emphasize the importance of valuing work, preserving existing work and strengthening programs already in place.
In an interview with TAP news agency, he said the ministry is also a regulator and facilitator.
Regarding the privatization of industrial companies, the minister said that “this issue is secondary and the priority today is to restart the dialogue with all parties to help these flagships of the national economy to improve their situation”, he assured.
The minister has not dismissed the scenario of the strategic partner that can increase the production capacity and help public companies like EL Fouledh (Tunisian company of steel industry) or the STIP (Tunisian Company of the pneumatic industries), to face their structural difficulties.
Regarding his department’s strategy, Fériani spoke about the improvement of the business climate, the simplification of administrative procedures, the promotion of techno-parks and the reinforcement of the establishment of programmes of cooperation with donors and international institutions including GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation) and AFD (French Development Agency).
Which assessment do you make of the Tunisian industrial landscape?
Feriani: there are positive indicators and we are working in a participatory way to maintain and improve them. The first figures of 2018 are encouraging. Exports of manufacturing industries grew by more than 31% in January 2018 and textile exports increased by more than 25%.
At the ministry level, our approach aims to develop industries traditionally present in Tunisia, such as textile / clothing, agri-food, in addition to innovative and high value-added sectors such as mechanical and aerospace industries, automotive components and pharmaceuticals.
To achieve this goal, the Ministry has put in place a five-point action plan, which is to strengthen competitiveness, innovation and the development of new technologies, investment and business support.
What are the main obstacles to the development of Tunisian SMEs?
Financing remains the main obstacle to the development of Tunisian SMEs that play a very important role in the national economy.
Today, banks are the main providers of finance for the industrial sector and SMEs. There is a real desire to change this situation by adopting a creative and proactive approach that will mobilize all the growth potential of industrial units.
Our belief today is that we must let businesses do business, while at the government and ministry levels, we play our role as regulator and facilitator.
I recall, in this context, that several legislative and fiscal provisions that have been made in the context of the 2018 Finance Act are precisely aimed at supporting SMEs.
Our policy is also based on the encouragement of alternative financing products.
On this point, I can confirm that we are close to the finalization of a bill on Crowdfunding, which can provide important sources of financing tailored to the needs of Tunisian SMEs.
I am very convinced that private funding will introduce the same dynamic created by microfinance, even for SMEs.
Regarding funding, you have already announced that over the next three years, 400 million dinars will be allocated to supporting and restructuring Tunisian SMEs. Have you developed a strategy for this purpose and can we know the main lines?
At the government level, we believe that before creating new businesses, we must protect and help existing ones grow and adapt to change. And this new line of credit, which covers the period 2018/2020, will be dedicated to financial restructuring, support and revival of SMEs in economic difficulty.
Moreover, we are currently in the process of finalizing the application decree and from the beginning of April dozens of Tunisian SMEs will be able to benefit from a budget of 100 million dinars (MD) planned for this year.
150 MD will be mobilized in 2019 and 150 MD in 2020.
The other pillar on which we are working is strengthening cooperation programs with international donors such as GIZ and AFD.
Moreover, we have recently signed with GIZ three agreements that are part of the second phase of the program “ISECO” (Initiative for economic stabilization and youth employment).
This program, which will continue until 2021, will provide technical support to nearly 500 young entrepreneurs, in addition to supporting SMEs during the post-creation phase and the entry into production of 150 new companies before the end of 2021.
It should be remembered that the first phase of the program (2015/2017) had provided technical and financial support for 308 entrepreneurs in 14 interior governorates and helped create 828 jobs and the entry into production of more than 90 companies.
At the end of this program, we expect support to cover 800 young entrepreneurs, while encouraging the entry into production of more than 240 companies and the creation of 2,300 jobs by 2021.
You talked about improving the indicators of the textile sector. Can you confirm this recovery? And what are the reasons?
Indeed, the sector that has gone through a very serious crisis, over the last seven years, is returning to growth and we can even say that the crisis is now behind us. In 2017, investments increased by 60% and exports grew more than 25%.
The competitiveness of the Tunisian site has improved significantly for a number of reasons, in part, after the decline in the value of the dinar, but mainly because of the quality of our product and therefore we must work to further increase this sector’s export.
At the ministry level, we are working to strengthen the capacity of the textile sector, which employs 140,000 people, but the problem is the lack of manpower due to the lack of adaptation of training to the needs of this market.
For this purpose, we are working with the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment to respond to this demand and to remove the barriers that professionals face in recruiting manpower to meet their needs.
What are the most attractive sectors at the moment and is there a strategy to give more visibility to niches that can guarantee added value to the national economy?
In addition to traditional sectors, such as textiles / clothing, leather and footwear and agri-food, our goal is to boost the automotive components, aerospace, pharmaceutical and military industries.
Tunisia has established itself today as a faithful site in terms of quality, competitiveness and in terms of attractive prices, except of course human capital and that is why I always say that foreign investors already present in Tunisia are the best advertisement to promote the image of the country as an attractive site, especially in the advanced industrial sectors
At the level of the automotive components sector, we are the 2nd largest exporter to Europe and we still have significant potential in this sector. In 2018 alone, the companies Léoni and Draxlmaier, for example, intend to recruit between one thousand and two thousand people.
Both companies plan to continue this momentum in the coming years as economic growth resumes in Europe.
Automobile assembly is another promising sector for Tunisia where 45 international brands are already sold. If 10 of them invest in assembly projects in Tunisia it is a real dynamic that will be created.
What do you plan to do to redress the situation of public enterprises under the supervision of your department?
The situation of these companies is problematic, since they face conflicts that slow down their production.
In the coming days and weeks, the government will unveil a program to restructure the financial situation of these companies to ensure their sustainability, because by letting them down, it is the parallel trade that is encouraged and the official import that costs us billions in currency.
So the question of the privatization of these companies is not an option at the moment?
I would say that the privatization of these companies is a secondary issue; we need to restart the dialogue with the support of the workers ‘union and the employers’ organization on the possibility of finding a strategic partner who can help them to turn their situation around.
Moreover, the policy of dialogue between our department, that of social affairs, the UGTT and the UTICA allowed the resumption of the activities of the Tunisian-Andalusian Company of White Cement (SOTACIB), which has the monopoly of the production in Tunisia and STIP (Tunisian Society of Pneumatic Industries).
The question of attracting a strategic investor arises with El Fouledh and we will review it once gain with the UGTT to find a structural solution to this company.