under startup

Tunisia's minister of investment, Zied Ladhari, talks to Courtney Fingar about the country’s digitalisation plans, its strengths in ICT and its ambitions to generate 1000 start-ups. 

Q: What do you see as the most interesting opportunities that foreign investors should consider at this moment in Tunisia?

A: We have some sectors that are very dynamic in different parts of the country. One is renewables: this is an area with huge potential in the country, because of the weather and climate here in Tunisia and the availability of various sources [of renewable energy]. We are in the preliminary stage of a huge programme to develop the renewables sector. 

ICT is another growth area in Tunisia. We have very good skills and a strong labour force: our engineers and IT specialists are well versed in the different industries of ICT. We have excellent schools and a good start-up sector, so ICT is [promising] and we will continue to work on it and promote it.

And there are dynamic industrial sectors, such as automotives, in which investors are [increasing their investments substantially]. Tourism is back and the market is doing really well. We need to upgrade the quality of infrastructure, hospitality and services here [and that presents an opportunity] for investors.

Q: You have said a big priority of yours is the digital economy: digitising government services, interaction with investors, and the economy in general. It is quite a big task, so how do you plan to achieve this?

A: We are mobilising different areas of international cooperation to finance major programmes in digitalisation. We have programmes with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and US agencies to support [digitalisation]. 

We are working to modernise the digital infrastructure of the government, especially putting in place an integrated information system [for government services and interactions with the state]. This is a very transformative project that will establish a platform to cover the full interaction between administration, government and businesses. We launched a platform [in June at the Tunisia Investment Forum 2019] to cover the interaction between the Tunisian investment authority and the investors offering new digital services. We’d like to enlarge this platform to cover all the different services between government and the start-up sector.

We are also strengthening our start-up ecosystem. In 2018 we adopted a new law called the Startup Act and this is the first piece of legislation in the region dedicated to start-ups. It is already considered [to be a regional template] by the World Bank and many neighbouring countries are looking at it very closely.

It is a tailored and customised approach to support start-ups, with the goal to generate 1000 startups by 2023 and, from this 1000, to have some unicorns.

Due to the availability of a skilled workforce, our IT background, and the strength of the digital ecosystem within the country, as well as Tunisia having the best business-friendly legislation in terms of support for start-ups, the country can play a major role in the development of startups in the digital economy in the whole region. We are already seeing some success stories and the potential for the IT sector in this country is huge.  

Q: There are elections coming up later in 2019. How confident are you in the process of continuing to focus on foreign investment and improving the business environment regardless of outcome? 

A: There is a shared consensus here in the country that Tunisia is an open country and should stay open. We are a small country, so it is in our interest is to be as open as possible to attract financing and investment. Tunisia is very well positioned to be the gateway to the whole region. We already adopted many free-trade agreements and [we have access to a market of] 500 million people. 

Tunisia has succeeded in its transition [to democracy] and the key words here have been 'dialogue' and 'compromise'. We expect this compromise-based process to continue, so we are not worried about the elections. We’ll have our fourth free elections in just eight years, which is unique in the region, and we are quite sure that things will continue in the right direction. We have challenges ahead, but the Tunisian way of thinking is based on negotiating good deals and compromises.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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