Tunisia is a project site, says minister

FM Khemaies Jhinaoui told ANBA his country hopes to bring Brazilian investors and businesses into infrastructure ventures in his country. He is currently in Brazil with a delegation of executives to encourage deal-making and bilateral cooperation.

Tunisia’s minister of Foreign Affairs Khemaies Jhinaoui said his country is hoping to draw Brazilian investors and businesses into projects in his country. “Tunisia today is a big project site,” he said in an exclusive interview to ANBA this Tuesday (25) while visiting the premises of the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce in São Paulo. The foreign minister is in Brazil with a delegation of executives and officials from several Tunisian government bodies in a bid to encourage deal-making, investments and bilateral cooperation.

He stressed that there are numerous infrastructure projects underway in Tunisia, including roads, ports and railways, and the new Investments Code affords increased freedom and makes the country more appealing to foreign investors. “We want our Brazilian friends to learn about these projects and to take part in their execution,” he asserted.

The minister also said the Tunisian economy is recovering. According to him, March saw foreign investments increase by 9%, and this year the country hopes to welcome some 7 million tourists, which is 30% more than in 2016. He also stressed that the phosphate industry is on its way back up, and that he hopes it will regain its share in fertilizer sales to Brazil. “Evidently, the recovery is slow, but the trend is upward,” he said.

The minister will have appointments this Wednesday (26) in São Paulo, including an economic forum at the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), and on Thursday and Friday he will be in Brasília. Read below the highlights of the interview:

ANBA – What are your priorities in this visit to Brazil?

Khemaies Jhinaoui – This is my first visit to Latin America as the minister of Foreign Affairs. I started with Brazil because it is a friendly country whose historical ties to Tunisia go back to pre-independence days. Tunisia’s national movement was in touch with multiple Brazilian leaders as Tunisia fought for independence, and Brazil was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Tunisia. We have always sustained cordial, friendly relations, for there are no political or economic issues standing between our countries. Of course, geographical distance has prevented sustained exchange from taking place in trade and investments, but the new Tunisia, the democratic Tunisia has decided to get back in touch with this friendly country and to explore the possibilities for cooperation in all areas.

We are beginning with trade, after all we are at the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. The trade balance tilts heavily towards Brazil, but Tunisia – an exporter of phosphate and phosphate-based fertilizers, among other goods – hopes to regain its foothold in Brazil. We also export agroindustry products such as olive oil and dates, and we wish to increase Tunisia’s share in a market that is important and immense.

Apart from trade, we wish to engage in cooperation with Brazil, especially in agriculture – Brazilian agriculture is known worldwide –, we wish to harness Brazil’s vast experience in developing smallholder farming, because farms in Tunisia are small.

We also wish to cooperate in healthcare. As you know, this is a very well-developed sector in Tunisia as well as Brazil. Brazil is very advanced as pertains to science research, so we will get Brazilian and Tunisian teams in touch to see what they can achieve together in scientific research, especially medical research.

Will you enter into agreements in these areas?

Yes. We have several agreements to sign along with my colleague, the minister of Foreign Relations [Aloysio Nunes]. Not so in healthcare, I believe; that is still under discussion, but in other areas such as trade, economy, scientific research, and education. We hope this visit – the first by a Tunisian foreign minister in 11 years – will be a landmark in our bilateral relations.

You are travelling with a delegation of business executives. Does it represent the economy of Tunisia, the goods Tunisia intends to export?

I am travelling with an important delegation of executives and officials from a number of ministries. Tomorrow (Wednesday 26) here in São Paulo we will hold an economic forum that will get Tunisian entrepreneurs with their Brazilian counterparts. We will present to our Brazilian friends the opportunities available in Tunisia regarding trade, investment and partnerships. Tunisia today is a big project site. There are lots of infrastructure projects, such as roads, ports, and railways, and we want our Brazilian friends to find out about these projects and to join us in bringing them to fruition.

There is no reason that Brazilian executives and companies should not take advantage of the opportunities that Tunisia offers. We have approved a new Investments Code that is very advantageous to foreign investors, as it practically affords them freedom of investment, allowing them to freely repatriate the benefits and dividends of projects, and we hope that our Brazilian friends will join us for this development effort that is taking place in Tunisia today.

Our goal is to convey to Brazil’s government and private sector that they can utilize Tunisia as a hub for trade and partnerships not only locally, but in all of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. We are in key strategic location. We are at the heart of the Mediterranean, at the intersection of Africa and the Arab world and Europe, and Tunisia can be thought of as a launching pad for Brazilian companies looking to do business in the Arab world, in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Europe.

To access other markets?

Right, to access other markets. And we also want to get to know better the Brazilian scenario to likewise use the country as a platform to work together in Latin America.

The Brazilian government is negotiating with Tunisia an agreement to facilitate investments.

Yes, we have ongoing negotiations over this agreement and we want to move them forward. This is a new agreement, not a classical agreement, so we have to understand it better and see if it’s suited to the Tunisian legislation, but the process is going forward and we wish to take it further to conclude it as soon as possible.

There are also negotiations on a free trade agreement with Mercosur. How advanced is it?

We are in touch, our goal is to establish a partnership with this bloc to develop a trade exchange, but Tunisia, likewise, is a member of many regional trade organizations, so we need to look into how to adapt an agreement with the others. Tunisia is part of the Arab Free Trade Area, the Agadir Agreement – which is an association agreement between Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt, and we just signed with Palestine and Lebanon – and we also have a free trade area with the European Union, so it’s rather complex, but there are negotiations among experts from Tunisia and the Mercosur to make progress in this issue.

Sergio Tomisaki/ANBA

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