Speech transcript: EBRD First Vice President Phil Bennett at the International Conference in Tunis on 8 September 2014

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Speech delivered by: Phil Bennett
Event: International Conference, Tunis
Date: 10 September 2013

 Prime Ministers, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important conference and to express the EBRD’s support for Tunisia’s political and economic transition.

Tunisia has made remarkable political progress over the last three years and has become a model for democratic change in the region.

Significant steps have been taken with the creation of a progressive, modern constitution based on which landmark elections are now scheduled over the next three months.

At the same time important decisions are also being taken on the economic front.

It is precisely this combination of economic and political reform that we see as critical for Tunisia’s future.

At the EBRD we see no trade-off between economic and political progress. They are two sides of the same coin. Economic stability promotes political stability and vice versa.

We know well, however, that tough economic challenges remain and sustained recovery here – as in much of the rest of the world – remains elusive.

We therefore particularly welcome the government’s ambitious and comprehensive new economic model and programme that is at the centre of this conference.

The programme is well positioned to put the country back on a path to recovery with its five pillars of: restoring macroeconomic balance; reviving growth and employment; implementing economic reforms; regional development; and strengthening social inclusion.

These initiatives will help build on the economic progress that has already been made. We have seen gradual cuts in energy subsidies that are supporting fiscal consolidation and the new procurement law which recently came into effect will speed up the roll out of public sector investments, especially in the regions.

Steps have been taken to reform and thus strengthen the banking sector to be in a better position to provide finance to the economy. The economy will benefit from a strong and level playing field investment code. The planned improvements to rules on transparency, competition and public-private partnerships will encourage private stakeholders to invest in the country.

EBRD well placed to help

As the only international financial institution with a political mandate, the EBRD is particularly well placed to accompany Tunisia on its journey of political and economic transition.

In the two decades of our work to support evolving democracies, primarily in eastern Europe, we have gathered extensive experience in twinning financial investment with active policy dialogue to support economic progress.

We work closely with authorities to support our investments in the private sector but also in the public sector.

The EBRD extended its activities to a number of countries in North Africa in the wake of the political changes of 2011. We opened our first permanent office in this new region in Tunisia where we have already invested more than 150 million euros.

We also promote energy efficiency and the use of sustainable energy resources and we are ready to finance much-needed new infrastructure such as roads, rail, water, wastewater, solid waste, and so on, which are also the key priorities of the new economic model for which we are very well equipped with our products.

Our financing has helped strengthen the financial sector, fund private enterprise and develop small and medium-sized companies.

Our first project in Tunisia – and in fact in the whole new region – was an investment with a leading regional private equity fund that provides financing to SMEs to help them grow their business and improve governance and efficiency.

Our four direct long-term loans to local banks and leasing companies in Tunisia have also supported this important segment of the economy.

Through our Small Business Support team, we provide advice to small local firms. With our wide range of financing products and technical services, we have so far reached out to almost 200 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We expect to commit more than 100 million euros in the private sector in Tunisia this year and we will assist some 75 SMEs with business advice. We have a good pipeline of projects for the coming years.

As we know from our experience over the last 20 years, transition is a complex and lengthy process that presents many challenges; it has its ups and downs as it is not a linear process and it has to be sustainable.

Rest assured that Tunisia can rely on the EBRD as a trusted and committed long-term partner.

Thank you for your attention.

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