Russia, Tunisia to Replace Lost European Markets

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At a press conference in Moscow the Tunisian ambassador to Russia, Ali Goutali, expressed a desire to see greater cooperation between Russia and Tunisia on food exports and Russian tourism to Tunisia, in conjunction with a series of meetings in Moscow and Tunis. Russia announced it would lower tariffs on Tunisian exports to Russia by 25% on Saturday.  A day after the Tunisian ambassador to Russia, Ali Goutali, on Friday from Moscow announced the that Tunisair would restore direct flights between Tunis and Moscow which had been suspended two years ago in the coming weeks in an effort to boost both Tunisian exports to Russia and attempt to draw Russian tourists to Tunisia.

Tunisia's tourism industry is desperate to replace the flow of Western European tourists which evaporated after the two major attacks in 2015.

The attacks, claimed by Islamic State affiliated Jund al-Khilafa on the Bardo National Museum in March, and Imperial Marhaba Hotel at Sousse's Port El Kantaoui in June, killed sixty all but one of whom were tourists. While Russian tourists are looking for new destinations after Egypt and Turkey were ruled out as destinations in 2015.  Russia imposed restrictions on travel to Egypt after a plane carrying Russian tourists from Sharm el Sheikh to St. Petersburg exploded over Egypt's Sinai peninsula in October killing all 238 passengers, Islamic State claimed responsibility.  Russia then imposed a tourism ban travel to Turkey, after Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Turkish Syrian border in November. Goutali announced the that Tunisair would restore direct flights between Tunis and Moscow which had been suspended two years ago in the coming weeks in an effort to boost Tunisian exports to Russia and attempt to draw Russian tourists to Tunisia. "I think 2016 will be a promising year for the Tunisian tourism industry in terms of tourist flow from Russia," Goutali told Sputnik New, adding "we [Tunisia] have lots of chances, particularly, in light of what had happened with other countries, I mean, Egypt and Turkey." Referring to Foreign Minister Jhinaoui, Goutali told the Russian news agency TASS that "A new foreign minister was appointed. He was Tunisia’s ambassador to Russia who did a lot for strengthening Tunisia’s relations with Russia. We seek to continue a policy of developing ties with Russia, including the economic ones. The foreign minister is doing a lot to develop bilateral relations," Tunisia's newly appointed , Khemaies Jhinaoui, had previously served as the ambassador to Moscow from 2008 to 2011. Ambassador Goutali also told Tass that "this year, a number of events will strengthen even more the Tunisian-Russian cooperation. There will, for example, coming in late March and early April, the signing in Moscow of a number of important agreements by the Intergovernmental Joint Commission. " Tunisia is seeking to have its exports fill the void left by a Russian imposed ban on European food imports.  The ban was announced in response EU sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea.  Though the maritime route between the two countries would have to pass through the Turkish waters, and trade could be jeopardized any further deterioration in Turkish Russian. In Tunis, Mohsen Hassan, who like Jhinaoui was appointed last week in Prime Minister Habib Essid's government reshuffle, held a press conference on Friday with representatives from the Russian Federal Customs Services and the Russia-Tunisia Business Council. Where, according to Tunis Afrique Press (TAP), Hassan "underlined the imperative to develop the Tunisian exports towards Russia, which are about 36 million dollars and made essentially of agricultural products and food industry against imports worth 1,7 billion dollars."

The Tunis and Moscow meetings were held ahead of the sixth annual Intergovernmental Joint Commission between Russia and Tunisia which is due to be held in Moscow at the end of March.

 Khemais Jhinaoui is not the only Tunisian political figure involved in fostering Russo-Tunisian relations.  In June 2015 Mohsen Marzouk, then Secretary-General of Nidaa Tounes, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. According to a press release from the Russian in addition to delivering a written message from Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Marzouk and Lavrov: "emphasized the firm mutual commitment of Moscow and Tunisia to give a vigorous new momentum to the friendly relations between the two countries and to fully exploit the potential of the Russian-Tunisian Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation."