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Tunisia: the Upgrading program, a difficult but necessary choice and ultimately beneficial

What conclusions can be made of the Upgrading program, 15 years after its launch? What is especially the degree of satisfaction of the program managers and businesses that have benefited and how the program was able to withstand the effects of international economic crisis?  The Director General of the Industry promotion agency, Mohamed Ben Abdallah answers these questions. Interview:

Are you satisfied with the results achieved by the Upgrading program?

In my capacity of  Director General of Industry promotion agency  , I see that in 1995 we started this program upgrade with great risk, as several observers, as stated by the Prime Minister ,questioned the resilience of the Tunisian industrial sector to compete, and there were even some economists who predicted that a third of our industries will disappear.

But now, as Tunisians, we are proud of our choice which was difficult but necessary for the development of our industry, and the results are there.  Today, we have over 2,000 companies with a workforce exceeding 20 employees and more than 5,800 businesses employing over 10 employees. Our industrial base has become diversified. We speak today of the aircraft industry and car components and nobody thought that Tunisia will be an industrial and technological center of the Euro-Mediterranean area.

We speak today, also, of the pharmaceutical industry which meets 47% of our needs.  Our exports increased from 4.5 billion dinars in 1995 to 16 billion dinars in 2009. This figure shows that we managed to master costs and our products quality that enabled us to promote our exports and which keep being challenges given the competitive pressure.

What are the repercussions of the crisis on the PMN?

The economic and financial crisis has affected all countries in the world, but what is positive in Tunisia, is the speed to act and take decisions. In this regard, presidential decrees have been implemented since January 1st, 2009 to protect our businesses against this crisis. It is true that we have experienced problems and hardships, but despite everything, we managed to save 38 000 jobs between 2008 and 2009 while FDI grew by 2.5%. In addition, 10 new projects were created mainly in the automotive and textile, and this, at the height of the crisis.

The Maghreb countries experienced virtually the same economic problems, according to the  latest World Bank Report, is there any joint project to address these problems?

I want to remind you that Tunisia was the first country that signed an Association Agreement with the European Union and therefore we are the first country which launched an upgrading program prior to getting means provided by EU. So there is no comparison in terms of experience with the other countries of the Maghreb. Tunisia is now leader in terms of upgrading. However, we have agreements with Algeria and Morocco and you know very well that the Maghreb Union can give more, not only in Tunisia but also for all countries.


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