In her welcoming remarks as chair, the Rt Hon Baroness Symons described Tunisia as a wonderful country where business opportunities were now increasing across the range of sectors.
Britain and Tunisia were taking a very positive attitude towards improving their relations and the time was now right to focus on increasing the level of trade.
Baroness Symons informed delegates that the ABCC was planning to lead a trade mission to Tunisia in early 2020 and urged companies to take advantage and participate.
Opportunities in Tunisia took place in the presence of His Excellency, Mr Nabil Ben Khedher, the Ambassador of Tunisia to the United Kingdom and had been organised in collaboration with the Embassy of Tunisia, along with the Tunisian-British Chamber of Commerce and FIPA Tunisia. It was also held in association with the UK’s Department for International Trade.
Mr Bandar Reda, CEO & Secretary General, ABCC, expressed thanks to His Excellency the Ambassador for his continued support for the Chamber and for his presence at the event. Mr Reda praised the longstanding partnership between the UK and
Tunisia and hoped that the event would help stimulate closer bilateral engagement in future.
H E Nabil Ben Khedher, the Tunisian Ambassador, delivered a detailed overview of the latest developments in Tunisia and explained the factors that made the country attractive to investors. The recent well-run elections had demonstrated that Tunisia wasbecoming increasingly stable and as an emerging democracy in process of transition, the country deserved support, H E the Ambassador stated.
Tunisia was as safe as any other country for people to visit and the number of UK tourists was on the rise. While the transition had had an impact on the economy, Tunisia retained strong fundamentals and was showing signs of growth.
It had important assets for doing business as shown by the fact that 3,000 foreign companies were active in the country. It had a strong manufacturing base and had been exporting to Europe since the 1970s.
H E Nabil Ben Khedher explained that Tunisia was well integrated within its region and enjoyed good relations with neighbouring countries. It should be seen as a gateway to Africa and a regional business hub.
Opportunities for UK investors were available in a range of sectors from traditional industries of agriculture, textiles and clothing. Tunisia had set itself the aim of increasing the value of trade with the UK from £380 million to £1 billion in bilateral trade within the next couple of years.
The Ambassador welcomed the recent association agreement signed with the UK which would ensure no disruption in trade once the UK leaves the European Union.
He believed that there was great potential to improve the trade exchange and that, with an equal determination shown by both sides cooperation would become stronger and new partnerships built.
Finally, the Ambassador thanked the ABCC for its ongoing work and commended the guide, Doing Business with Tunisia, which was launched at the event.
Mr Mehdi Ben Abdallah, President, Tunisian British Chamber of Commerce (TBCC), stated that Tunisia was making much progress. It was stable, on the right path and its economy was reviving.
He praised the long history of relations between the ABCC and the TBCC. Public and private sectors were working closely to create an attractive environment where new business could develop.
Tunisia had shown a great capacity for recovery and was assisted by its cooperation with the UK.
A new investment law, good governance, reform to the administration and new regulations had been introduced to ensure security and offer protection for investors, Mr Ben Abdallah said.
The main aim of reforms had been to make investment in Tunisia much easier. Tunisia and the UK were committed to working more closely together to enable trade and investment to improve. UKTunisia cooperation was already extensive
in various commercial fields, he explained, mentioning the energy sector, finance, agri-business, healthcare and education. Mr Ben Abdallah looked forward to further progress in UK-Tunisian business and hoped to see increased exports to the UK. He also hoped to see Tunisian olive oil becoming available in its own right in the UK market rather than only as a blend with European produced olive oil.
Young Tunisian entrepreneurs were increasingly eager to learn English which was opening up new opportunities for cooperation with UK education providers.
Mr Ben Abdullah welcomed the more active collaboration between the two countries and mentioned in particular an initiative of the London Stock
Exchange to help Tunisian start-ups to finance their projects. He looked forward to the achievement of further success in the UK-Tunisian partnership.
Mr Wedad Kurukgy, Export Finance Manager, UK Export Finance, the British government’s export credits agency, spoke about the financial support available to UK exporters to Tunisia. Staff at the UKEF had years of experience in the Middle East markets and were keen to hear from UK companies in need of their support, he said.
He further stressed that UKEF was able to support companies of varying sizes from SMEs to large corporations. Butto be eligible for support companies must be established in the UK and have a history of trading activity.
Mr Kurukgy explained that the key role of UKEF was to step in where the banks are unable to provide support. The agency did not compete with the services available from the banking sector and companies were advised to approach their own banks prior to contacting UKEF.
UKEF offered various products such as export insurance cover, bond insurance, supplier and buyer credit and direct lending.
The final speaker, Raymond Asfour, CEO, Expectation State, introduced the work of his company in Tunisia, where it had a branch. The company of advisers worked closely with private sector investors in emerging states to stimulate economic growth that brings benefits to the entire society. It cooperated with private and public sectors.
It was working on strategic projects with public organisations in Tunisia such as the country’s digital policy. The company was also working in the UK to boost investment in Tunisia.
Mr Asfour believed that Tunisia was undervalued as a destination for investment because there was a mismatch between what could be achieved and what investors perceived was possible. He urged companies to look more closely at the potential of Tunisia in future.
He welcomed the numerous strategic reforms that the Tunisian government had introduced in recent years such as the 2016 Investment Law and other initiatives that improved the outlook for investors.
The country enjoyed many attractions such as its strategic location, which enabled it to play the role of gateway to Africa. The country also had a reputation for innovation and for its skilled workforce. Following the formal presentations, questions taken from the audience raised to matters such as labour market reform, international standards, education and exchange programmes, among others.
The successful meeting attracted around a hundred delegates.