Although the Tunisian government is committed to taking urgent and swift action to improve the purchasing power of Tunisians, smuggling continues to undermine any policy of the country and the announced war against rising prices.
In order to provide further clarification on the subject, Africanmanager contacted Habib, Dimassi, Director General of Fair Trading and Financial Research in the Department of Commerce. The situation of smuggling in Tunisia, the measures put in place and forecast for the month of Ramadan are the highlights of this interview.
What is the current state of smuggling in Tunisia?
Like all countries of the world, smuggling has existed in Tunisia for several years, but the phenomenon has worsened after the Revolution and especially in the year 2012. We have experienced different periods of smuggling following a precarious security situation. We are witnessing situations of illegal exports every day. Smuggling operations were carried out mainly on fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, which has created a lack of supply of these products, causing an unprecedented rise in prices.
It is because of smuggling that we have experienced unimaginable increases. The price of 1kg of potatoes was around 1,200, onions at 1,400 and tomatoes at 3,200. This increase has led to the deterioration of the purchasing power of Tunisians who have found themselves unable to fill even their basket.
How to deal with smuggling?
Fight against smuggling requires much more effort than before. It is necessary that all departments work together to control illegal exports that could not only destroy the purchasing power of the Tunisian consumer. Associations and stakeholders should fight against this scourge. The media should also help to raise awareness about the harmful effects of smuggling.
What are the sectors most affected by smuggling?
The sectors most affected by smuggling are fruits and vegetables, eggs and industry, mainly textiles and clothing. From May 3 to 16 of the current year, within fifteen days, about 35 tons of tomatoes, 136 head of cattle, 3.5 tons of potatoes, 1.9 tons of bananas, 1,800 liters of fuel and 150,000 eggs were seized. These products are intended for export to the Libyan market. Only bananas came from Libya to the local market.
Is there a strategy in place to fight against smuggling?
The strategy of Tunisia is rather to take measures regarding products subsidized by the national fund for equalization. The price difference makes that these bands take advantage of these prices which are generally lower than prices applied in their own country. We must develop a strategy and revise the price upward to be at the level of prices internationally.
However, we must find solutions for families who have limited incomes by providing a compensation bonus included in wages. We need to increase prices taking into account the poor and middle families. It is a long-term strategy.
It is essential also to revise downward customs duties, VAT and various other taxes like energy tax so that domestic products will not be exported illegally. Equalization of products has to be beneficial only for Tunisian consumers.
What are the forecasts for the month of Ramadan?
Forecasts for the month of Ramadan are good. We have taken measures to export products to the Algerian and Libyan markets. You must have an authorization from the services of the Ministry of Commerce. We started to build up stocks for the month of Ramadan. For eggs, consumption is estimated at about 200 million eggs. We have a production of 140 million per month. We need to stockpile. We have now stockpiled 20 million eggs, but we can catch up if there is no contraband. For milk, we have a stock of 30 million liters of milk. These quantities are sufficient if there is no smuggling and illegal export of those products. Ditto for subsidized products such as vegetable oil, food and sugar.
Our industry is working well, but exports should be conducted in a lawful manner. For subsidized products, the exporter must pay the price difference to the state treasury to avoid these problems. Therefore, there should be coordination between Tunisia, Algeria and Libya to prevent uncontrolled and illegal exports.