Noureddine Ferchiou and Amina Larbi Ezzine of Ferchiou & associés in Tunis look at the latest developments in the Tunisian legal and financial markets
In January 2011, the Arab Spring toppled the country’s 25-year presidential dictatorship. Today, Tunisia continues to serve as a beacon as to how the Arab Spring will fare in the face of important challenges politically, socially and economically.
Tunisia took a positive step in early 2014 with the resolution of political deadlock, the adoption of a new Constitution, and the appointment of a new government focused on restoring security and laying the foundation for economic recovery.
Although Tunisia does not have the natural resources of its neighbours, it is geo-strategically positioned and is regarded as an ideal country for business opportunities by offering a highly qualified and inexpensive labour force and legislation suitable to direct foreign investment.
Tunisia has a diversified economy with manufacturing leading its export sector. The Tunisian government has also made progress in opening up the telecommunications sector to drive economic growth and recovery.
Political instability plagued Tunisia's economic growth in 2013 resulting in a decline to 2.6%and a decrease in FDI of an estimated $700 million. However, both markets recovered once the political crisis was resolved in early 2014. The Central Bank anticipates a decrease in inflation from 6.3% to 5.5% in 2014 and expects a 3.5-4% growth rate, which is expected to increase after the elections at the end of 2014.
To accelerate Tunisia's economic recovery, the government has initiated reforms to diversify financing sources:
First, the Government created a legal framework for micro-finance activities as incentive to small businesses. Second, the Government introduced Islamic finance provisions to broaden the range of services offered by financial institutions and to allow local and international Islamic Project Finance.
A liberal economic policy
The international community has provided generous financial support to Tunisia during its transition phase:
In April 2014, The World Bank announced the second of three loans titled Governance, Opportunity, and Jobs Development Policy Loan (GOJ DPL) to create suitable conditions for social and economic change. This is a $250 million program focused on the urgent reforms needed to stimulate investment, increase competition, restructure the financial sector and improve the accountability of social services, public policies, and finance. The program also supports important reforms in the governance of public banks to stabilise the banking sector and make financing more accessible.
On June 7 2013, Tunisia and the IMF entered a 24 month$1.78 billion SBA program and has disbursed a total of $888.4 million thus far.
The EU has also been a strong economic supporter of Tunisia and doubled their financial assistance in 2013 to just under €160 million. To strengthen their commitments under the European Neighborhood Policy Treaty Agreement, the EU offered an additional €300 million for economic and structural reforms in 2014.
Several financial institutions have opened their lines of credit for Tunisian businesses including multiple loans made available by the EBRD for small and medium enterprises. MSME’s are the backbone of Tunisia’s economy and will contribute to an increase in economic performance. The Islamic Development Bank has also guaranteed $435 million in available loans for 2014.
Finally, the Central Bank of Tunisia plans to issue $1.8 billion in bonds guaranteed by the United States and Japan on the international market in 2014. These positive transactions mark Tunisia's return to the international bond market and its efforts to renew investor's confidence.
A business friendly environment for foreign investors
Tunisia is a signatory to several preferential treaties granting its businesses access to foreign markets. The Free Trade Associative Agreement allows Tunisian businesses to export its’ agricultural products with preferential conditions and industrial goods duty/tax and quota free to the EU market. In 2012, Tunisia was granted Advanced Partner Status offering additional trade advantages and priority to Tunisian exports in the European market.
The enactment of new legislation intended to organize PPP (public-private partnership) projects is currently underway to accelerate and improve the health, education, social and infrastructure projects by involving the private sector in their development.
In 1994, Tunisia adopted the Investment Incentive Codes which cover most activity sectors and provide tax exemptions, investment bonuses, no cost infrastructure and custom duties exemptions for certain capital goods. The Code is under revision with the intent to; provide a single cohesive reference for all relevant regulations, optimise the incentives accompanying high added value projects and provide additional guarantees to protect foreign investment in Tunisia.
In the interim, new incentives were introduced to the Code in 2014 for 100% exporting companies; reduction in profit taxes on export transactions, full tax exemption on reinvested profits, and the possibility to sell 30% of corporate turnover on the local market. Depending on the investment sector, the legislator provides funding for certain aspects of the investments and/or payment of social security contributions for employees.
The revisions and incentives added to the Code confirm the government's goal to encourage foreign investments and will be reflected in the new Code once completed.
Trade in Tunisia complies with international standards
Trade is strictly regulated in Tunisia and must be authorised by the Central Bank and the Trade Minister when performed by foreigners on the local market. Most commercial activities must comply with specific terms and some activities have to be pre approved by the Minister of Trade.
Business practices in Tunisia comply with international standards and provide guarantees generally recognised in international transactions. The Tunisian Dinar is fully convertible and its financial institutions are able to respond to its client’s demands by furnishing letters of credit or by financing projects.
Transactions involving foreign currency are highly regulated and may be subject to the approval of the Central Bank. Under normal operations, the transfer of foreign currency is free and foreign investors have the legal guarantee that he can repatriate his investment without the requirement of approval.
With elections scheduled for the end of 2014, now is the time to prospect future business opportunities in a country where both the government and its people have demonstrated their commitment to democracy, transparency and economic development.
Ferchiou & associés
Ferchiou & associés
About the authors
Providing exceptional legal skills for more than 30 years, Noureddine Ferchiou, has guided Tunisia’s most successful businesses in industry leading transactions and has built a reputation for finding innovative and successful solutions for his client’s business challenges. Noureddine Ferchiou laid the foundation of integrity and skill that the Firm is recognized for today.
Amina Larbi Ezzine was recently named partner at the Firm having spent more than a decade developing her expertise in all areas of business law at an international law firm based in Tunisia. Acting both for government bodies and foreign private companies, Ms. Larbi has gained recognition for her involvement in Tunisia’s most prominent investment projects in the real estate, infrastructure, energy, and telecom industries.
Together, Ms. Larbi and Mr. Ferchiou have advised on Tunisia’s highest profile matters in almost all industry sectors, thereby developing a deep global network of relationship law firms and financial institutions and making Ferchiou & associés the most connected law firm in the country.