By Monia Ghanmi
A recent visit by the heads of several US corporations is raising hopes about Tunisia’s economic recovery.
A US business delegation has just wrapped up a trip to Tunisia where the heads of seven major companies explored the potential for investments in order to support the country’s transition to democracy.
“The democratic transition won’t be successful without an economic support and assistance that can revive development,” said William Burns, United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, in Tunis on Monday (June 27th).
Speaking at a press conference about the business delegation’s trip, Burns said his country was determined to increase assistance to Tunisia and establish a long-term partnership.
He noted that the US “increased the budget allocated for Tunisia assistance by 15 fold since the outbreak of the revolution, and that as a result, such assistance reached $30 million over the last six months”.
He also confirmed the US president’s personal commitment made during the recent G-8 summit to convince industrial countries of the need to help the Tunisian economy. Burns said that the United States was keen on encouraging US tourists to visit Tunisia, especially after the “Open Skies” project entered into force.
Burns’ press conference came just two days after representatives from seven US corporations – General Electric, Bechtel, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemicals, Exxon Mobil and Marriott – finished a visit to Tunisia where they met with government officials and explored business opportunities.
The American executives expressed their determination to create projects in Tunisia in the future. Marriott will develop two tourist projects in the country, according to Edwin Fuller, the company’s managing director of international lodging.
Additionally, Coca Cola announced plans to double its investments in Tunisia. Curt Ferguson, the president of the company’s North Africa and Middle East division, said the soft drink mater was keen to expand its network in Tunisia.
Boeing representative Jeffrey Johnson also praised the developed level of Tunisia’s aircraft component manufacturers. He revealed his company’s intention to expand its investments in Tunisia.
“We have a real desire to expand our investments in Tunisia,” said Jeffrey Immelt, the Chief Executive Officer of General Electric. He said that the transitional period in Tunisia may be very fruitful for US multinational corporations, noting that US businessmen who visited Tunisia were optimistic about the country’s economy.
“We don’t have any specific projects, but the corporations that are here are aware that Tunisia needs projects which can be carried out in the short run and which can have an impact on the long run,” he said.
He added that talks would be held between US businessmen and their Tunisian counterparts to help identify the investment opportunities, noting that the focus would be on the infrastructure sector.
Nearly 80 American companies directly invest in Tunisia, providing about 14,000 jobs. The investments total more than $750 million. The activities cover a wide range of industries, ranging from telecommunications and manufacturing to pharmaceuticals.
In addition to the visit by the US business delegation, Tunisian Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed said at a recent conference in New York that American businesses should get to know opportunities in Tunisia. Ayed added Tunisia could serve as a gateway to European, Arab and African markets.