Le Palace, Tunis
Speech prepared for delivery by Alain Pilloux, EBRD Vice President Banking.
Mr President of the Republic of Tunisia,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends and Colleagues
I am very grateful on behalf of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to be able to participate in this crucial conference.
I am certain it will play an important role in supporting Tunisia as it moves further down the road to a more inclusive, more sustainable and more robust economic future.
By taking part today, the EBRD is also making clear that it aims to use all the instruments and tools at its disposal to ensure that Tunisia achieves its goals.
As in all of the countries where it invests, the EBRD will help promote qualities that underpin the development of well-functioning market economies, making them competitive, inclusive, well-governed, green, resilient and integrated.
These are the measuring sticks that we apply as we seek to promote a successful transition process to ensure our countries are capable of dealing with the economic challenges of today.
Tunisia has made remarkable progress in a comparatively short time since the dramatic developments in the wider Arab world – events that had their seeds right here in Tunisia.
In an atmosphere of cooperation, consensus and consultation, Tunisia very quickly embarked on a journey of political transition, holding elections in the wake of the 2011 revolution and taking measures to strengthen the country’s institutional framework.
One key element in that political transition was the work undertaken by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning National Dialogue Quartet and we were delighted to be able to recognise their achievements at an event at the EBRD’s Annual Meeting in London this year.
This group has done so much to forge a spirit of productive collaboration.
It is that greater sense of inclusion that is also embodied in Tunisia’s new unity government. Reaching out to wider sections of society is especially important as the country addresses significant challenges still facing the economy.
Tunisia has already been putting in place the building blocks that form the basis for sustainable economic growth, growth which is capable of delivering the jobs that this economy needs to prosper.
The EBRD is proud to have been able to contribute to a process that will further improve Tunisia’s business climate and make it increasingly attractive to both foreign and domestic investors.
We remain committed to Tunisia’s 2016-20 development plan and stand ready to support the authorities as they put in place reforms that will be needed to deliver growth and employment opportunities, especially for young people and others who live on the fringes of the economy and society.
In addition to helping create jobs, we are eager to support Tunisia as it rolls out infrastructure projects that can underpin the successful development of a thriving economy by providing those links that oil the wheels of commerce.
The EBRD has been investing in Tunisia since 2012, having extended its traditional geographic remit to include the southern and eastern Mediterranean, a region which also includes Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
For the previous two decades, the EBRD had been promoting the development of open-market economies in emerging countries, primarily in the post-communist nations of central and eastern Europe.
It was on the back of its successful track record in these countries, especially in supporting the private sector, that the international community asked the EBRD’s shareholders to allow the Bank to become part of the global economic response to the developments in the Arab world.
We discovered that our new and traditional regions faced many common issues. The private sector, which has the potential to drive forward innovation and help to create employment opportunities, was under-developed.
Crucial services that can help enhance the quality of life for the citizens of the countries where we invest needed to be upgraded and modernised. Financial sectors needed to be stabilised.
A sustainable supply of reliable energy is a problem in a number of our newer countries, so a priority has been placed on the development of renewable energy and on the efficient use of energy and other resources such as water, particularly relevant in this region and in Tunisia.
Tunisia quickly became an important focus of our work. We set up an office here in June 2013 and the head of that office, Marie-Alexandra Veilleux-Laborie, runs a team of 18, supported by many other colleagues from various other disciplines elswhere in the region and at our London headquarters.
Just last month, the EBRD opened up a second office in Tunisia, in the city of Sfax, the country’s second largest economic centre.
This step will help the Bank strengthen its role in the country, reaching out especially to the small and medium-sized enterprises and manufacturers that are so economically important to this region in the south east of Tunisia.
The Bank is very eager to continue to play its role in helping Tunisia address the challenges that it still faces as it works towards economic transition and social stability.
We know from our long experience in other transition countries just how complex a task Tunisia faces.
It is not easy to balance the need for fiscal consolidation when budgetary demands are continuing to increase.
It is not always easy to maintain the support of ordinary people who have great aspirations for their own future and for the future of their children but who are still waiting to enjoy the fruits of change.
But we also know from eastern Europe that there is no subsititute for often difficult and sometimes painful reforms. Driving these reforms forward, even when it might be politically expendient and more popular to postpone them, is the most effective recipe for long-term economic success. Such determination takes political courage.
In the face of popular impatience, it is also particularly important to build on the momentum of the international support for Tunisia’s economic programmes.
Conferences such as this one are an excellent platform for the effective communication of the long-term significance of the reform agenda.
The EBRD’s economists now expect a cautious upturn in the Tunisian economy, with growth seen nearly doubling this year to 1.5 per cent and rising further to 2.5 percent in 2017. The economy has the potential to grow more strongly with steady and swift implementation of reforms.
It is of course particularly important for the tourism industry to recover from the shocks of the recent past and stabilisation of the security situation remains crucial.
The EBRD will stand by Tunisia as it works towards a future economic strengthening. We have already invested some 350 million euros in the country, primarily in the private and financial sectors. We have provided both direct and indirect support for close to 3,000 small and medium sized enterprises.
Our future work in Tunisia will reflect the six qualities that underpin our the Transition Concept for the for the countries where we work, a concept that was updated just this year to ensure it is fit for the development requirements of the 21st century.
Looking ahead, we shall also step up our support for reforms in this country which make it easier for others to invest and also for the EBRD to provide financing.
Our focus on the policy front will be in the financial sector, in the energy industry, in the infrastructure space and also in the promotion of private-public partnerships. We aim to cooperate in areas where we can help improve the business climate for private investors.
Over the five-year life of Tunisia’s current development plan, I am glad to say we have the ambition to invest at least €650 million in this country, with continued support for the private sector and also for projects in the infrastructure and energy and sectors.
I am particularly pleased that we can make a start on realising that ambition today with a number of important signings and announcements that also reflect our transition goals.
We shall be providing a €46 million loan to Tunisia’s electricity and gas utility company STEG to strengthen the electricity transmission network in the north east of the country. This is an important step towards ensuring a more secure and resilient supply of electricity in the country.
We shall be unveiling the first local currency loan in Tunisia by an international financial institution with a credit to the microfinance institution, Microcred, as an example of our determination to deliver local currency to the real economy.
The European Union is a very important partner for us in the region, and we rely on its support for our work in a number of economic sectors in the region, including competitiveness, integration and financial inclusion.
We are therefore planning a €28 million Financial Inclusion Programme for the region and for Tunisia, funded by the EU which will help bring innovation and financial support to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
We will also launch today a €25 million Trade and Competitiveness programme for Tunisia, and also for Morocco, that is funded by the EU and which will provide a much-needed boost to the agricultural, manufacturing and services, and information, communications and technology sectors.
This will help to build a competitive and inclusive market and increase SMEs’ access to the EU market place.
We shall also be unveiling two key policy initiatives with the Ministry of Finance in order to further develop a framework for factoring and debt collection companies, which are important steps to make the wider economy more efficient.
We are here at a very important time for Tunisia and decisions taken here and the commitments of support that are unveiled here will play a crucial role in determining how quickly Tunisia moves further down the road to economic stability.
The people of Tunisia chose an ambitious new path for themselves just over five years ago.
The international community owes it to Tunisia to help it make its vision for the future a reality – the ambition of a more prosperous and fairer and more secure society.
The EBRD is very happy to play its role and will remain a strong and supportive partner in the years to come.
Thank you for your attention.