Economic studies
Tunisia

Tunisia

Population 11.5 million
GDP per capita 3,465 US$
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Synthesis

MAJOR MACRO ECONOMIC INDICATORS

  2016 2017 2018 (e) 2019 (f)
GDP growth (%) 1.1 2.0 2.6 2.9
Inflation (yearly average, %) 3.7 5.3 7.8 7.7
Budget balance (% GDP) -5.6 -6.1 -5.1 -4.5
Current account balance (% GDP) -8.8 -10.5 -9.6 -8.6
Public debt (% GDP) 66.8 70.3 72.0 71.8

(e): Estimate. (f): Forecast.

STRENGTHS

  • IMF Extended Credit Facility
  • Economy in the process of diversifying
  • Close to the European market; association agreement with the EU
  • Tourist potential
  • Mining production (phosphates and oil)

WEAKNESSES

  • High social and geographical inequalities
  • High unemployment rate, mainly among young people
  • Tourism sector facing political and security problems as well as increased competition
  • Social tension leading to increased demonstrations and social unrest
  • Structural imbalances in public and external accounts and significant increase in external debt
  • Unstable political situation

RISK ASSESSMENT

The upturn is set to continue in 2019

Tunisian growth strengthened in 2018. After a long period of struggle, tourism enjoyed a recovery, boosting the tertiary sector’s contribution to activity. Export-oriented manufacturing, particularly the electrical and mechanical industries, also performed well, helped especially by renewed competitiveness thanks to the dinar’s depreciation and robust external demand. The cooling expansion in the eurozone, Tunisia's main trading partner, is expected to have little effect on activity in 2019, with growth poised to strengthen further. Domestic demand will remain vigorous thanks to strong public and private investment. New pro-business measures are set to round out the reforms to the Investment Promotion Act, which include cutting the corporate tax rate from 25% to 13.5% and doubling the budget allocated to the fund created to support export sectors (electronics, automotive, textiles, agro-industry). In addition, newly created companies are in line to benefit from tax exemptions. The government also plans to increase the budget allocation for infrastructure investment. Several projects are being mooted, including construction of the Bizerte bridge and three new dams in Satta, Khalled and Raghay. Household consumption is expected to remain sluggish, however, due to continued high inflation. The central bank will likely continue tightening monetary policy, a process that it began in 2018, which should slightly contain the price increases.

 

Large twin deficits and high debt

The consolidation of public finances undertaken with IMF support, coupled with the upturn in activity, led to a reduction in the government deficit in 2018. The tax measures contained in the 2018 Finance Act, along with improved tax and arrears collection, contributed to higher revenues, while current expenditure was lower than expected. The 2019 Finance Bill sets the government deficit target at 3.9% of GDP with a growth assumption of 3.1%. A brighter economic outlook and a broader tax base should bring about a slight increase in budgetary revenues, but spending is expected to be higher than forecast, as 2019 is an election year. In this setting, public debt is unlikely to be reduced.

Although it remains very large, the current account deficit shrank slightly in 2018. Nevertheless, Tunisia's external accounts continue to be in a worrying state. The country, which is a net importer of oil, is expected to face high crude prices and rising import prices. Although increases in tourism and export revenues (electrical and mechanical industries) should reduce the current account deficit, the external accounts will remain in a precarious situation. The external debt ratio is significant and approaching 90% of GDP. Disbursements on maturing external debt combined with debt service payments will continue to put pressure on foreign exchange reserves, which remained below three months of imports in 2018. The Tunisian dinar, whose value has depreciated significantly since the beginning of 2018, is likely to come under downward pressure, which will have an impact on the burden of external debt and inflation. The Tunisian central bank has made a commitment to the IMF to continue to make the exchange rate more flexible, notably viacompetitive calls for tenders.

 

2019, an election year in a tense social climate

Protests in January 2018 against the austerity policy marked the beginning of a very tense political year. The rift between the ruling party, Nidaa Tounes, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has worsened the climate of political crisis and weakened the government. The Prime Minister was suspended by the party in September 2018, but was not forced to resign, narrowly avoiding dissolution of the government. Although the president ended the agreement between the ruling party and the Islamist Ennahda party, the head of the government has continued to get backing from the National Coalition, a parliamentary group formed around the prime minister and supported by Ennahda. Internal disputes and defections by deputies also continue to undermine Nidaa Tounes, which has lost its majority in the People's Assembly. The party, which is chaired by Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the son of the current president, was the big loser in the May 2018 municipal elections. Four years after the presidential elections that built on the achievements of the revolution, the Tunisian political class has never been so fragmented. This reconfiguration of the political scene is likely to foster a climate of uncertainty in a context of mounting social unrest supported by trade unions, including the Tunisian General Labour Union. This increasingly fragmented political landscape will serve as the backdrop for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2019.

 

Last update: February 2019

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