Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid and his Ivorian counterpart Daniel Kablan Duncan agreed to ‘promote the ties of bilateral cooperation and stressed the importance of diversifying and intensifying cooperation’ at the conclusion on Tuesday April 26, of a two-day official visit to Cote d’Ivoire by a sizeable Tunisian delegation that included three Tunisian government ministers and private business representatives for the 8th session of the Joint Tunisian-Ivorian High Commission which included a Tunisian-Ivorian Economic Forum.
Prime Minister Essid also met with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara in what were described as “fruitful discussions” by the Ivorian Press Agency (AIP) according to whom Ouattara said “We know that there are avenues of cooperation that are possible and that can be strengthened, and our commitment is to ensure that we can strengthen these links and we can especially move forward and enjoy the Tunisian experience in training, tourism, technology,”
At the visit’s conclusion Prime Ministers Essid and Duncan issued a statement agreeing to ‘promote the ties of bilateral cooperation and stressed the importance of diversifying and intensifying cooperation in many fields’ through over a dozen cooperation agreements involving higher education and scientific research, professional training and employment, including:
- A Tunisian government offer of 100 scholarships for Ivorian students during the 2016-17 academic year and fifty vocational training scholarship grants.
- The introduction of Tunisian banks into Cote d’Ivoire for a ‘win-win partnership in the banking industry’.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by Minister of Vocational Training and Employment Zied Laadhari, the Minister of Public Works, Housing and Spatial Planning Mohamed Salah Arfaoui and the Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts Selma Elloumi Rekik; reflecting the other sectors of focus which included social affairs, health, forest resources, water resources management in wetlands and coastal areas, agriculture Small and Medium Enterprises, promoting the artisanal handicraft industry, and promoting tourism.
The Tunisian-Ivorian Economic Forum, which included the General Confederation of Enterprises of Côte d’Ivoire (CGECI), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) and the Confederation of Tunisian Citizen Enterprises (CONECT) as well as individual businesses from both nations resulted in a protocol of cooperation between private companies of the two countries concerning industrial property and standards.
Prime Minister Essid and Minister of Tourism Elloumi Rekik also visited the seaside resort of Grand-Bassam, which suffered a Sousse style shooting attack on targeting tourists almost exactly one year after the attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. Prime Minister Essid laid a wreath in memory of the victims and called for ‘increased coordination, particularly in intelligence, to stand up to terrorism.’
Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire agreed upon a bilateral meeting to be held next year ‘to determine the extent of progress in the implementation of the recommendations and legal frameworks.’
Côte d’Ivoire which aspires to become a central hub of West African regional trade is seen by Tunisia as a potential partner in accessing trade in the region. Tunisian trade policy has in the past been almost singularly focused on Europe although there are, belated, moves to change this.
Côte d’Ivoire has the second highest growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa, and according to Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) ‘Côte d’Ivoire is the third largest economic partner of Tunisia in Sub-Saharan Africa, the overall volume of trade is approximately 86 million TND.’
The Carthaginians could probably have fit that on a single wooden trireme, with an eye towards someday having a trade policy with sub Saharan Africa that could actually fill a cargo ship, as Morocco has wisely done, Tunisian Minister of Commerce Mohsen Hassan announced in March that Tunisia has submitted official requests to join Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as the Central African States (ECCAS) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)”
According to recent statements by Mounir Mouakhar, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tunis (CCIT), the volume of Tunisian exports to sub-Saharan Africa is a mere 800 million TND or 3-4% of total exports.
The move, into geographically defined trade blocs to which Tunisia would normally not be considered a part of, is the result of a decades long lack of progress on the formation of a Maghreb economic zone, under the auspices of the Arab Maghreb Union.
While the Arab Maghreb Union is beginning to show signs of life, the Maghreb region is nonetheless still the world’s least integrated economic zone. In 2012 the World Bank, in an effort to push for reviving the Arab Maghreb Union, noted “Trade among the countries of the Maghreb was less than three percent of the region’s total trade in 2008. In contrast, trade within the European Union for the same time period was 63.6 percent of the region’s total trade, 24.6 percent within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and 15 percent within Latin America’s Common Southern Market.”
While the Arab Maghreb Union’s failures are not Tunisia’s fault alone, it’s lack of any coherent or focused attempt to with sub Saharan Africa is. It’s beyond time that change.