By Monia Ghanmi
Post-Kadhafi Libya will provide major economic opportunities for its neighbours in North Africa, according to a recently released report from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The report, “New Libya, new neighbourhood: What opportunities for Tunisia?”, was released April 30th and suggests how increased integration in North Africa could boost the region’s post-revolution economies.
The AfDB acknowledged that the Libyan revolution at first had negative effects on Tunisia but the presence of up to 900,000 Libyans seeking refuge in the country drove an increase in demand for Tunisian products, contributing to economic growth.
In spite of the challenges that Tunisians face in the new Libya, such as security woes and instability, the bank said that Libya represents an opportunity for Tunisian investors and job seekers, especially with Libya’s reconstruction.
In this regard, the report noted that Libya provides a chance to flood the market with a Tunisian workforce that is five times greater than the number that has returned home since the Libyan revolution.
“The Libyan labour market could absorb 200,000 to 500,000 Tunisian workers within the next two years, far exceeding the 95,000 Tunisian workers officially residing in Libya in 2010,” the report stated.
This is in spite of the numerous obstacles to trade, investment and movement of labour that are expected to continue in the short term. The impediments include residence and work permits for Tunisians in Libya, business creation and transport problems, the presence of contraband goods and the development of a black market.
The AfDB report urged Tunisian investors and workers to look for mechanisms that would enable them to play a central role in Libya’s reconstruction.
The report indicated that the most important measures that could benefit the Tunisian economy include development of the banking sector and the harmonisation of payment procedures, given that the banking system will play a crucial role in promoting bilateral trade and investment and in boosting transport networks between the two sides.
The report concluded that Tunisia and Libya can reach an advanced stage of economic integration through the liberalisation of trade, establishment of a common market and the creation of a unified economic community between the two countries.
“I believe it’s about time we moved and entered the Libyan market to take a good position there because Tunisia’s economic recovery will be through Libya,” economics professor Abdejalil Badri said.
“Tunisia’s experience and the quality of its human resources, as well as its strategic geographical location are all major differential features that make it play a distinguished role in the new Libya,” he added.
Badri stressed the need to remove obstacles between Maghreb states, to move towards more integration and to improve regional relations to benefit from opportunities in neighbouring countries. He also urged the creation of a free trade zone that would contribute to further economic and social development in these countries.
Tunisia and Libya are already working together to remedy the fallout from their respective revolutions. The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding at the end of last year under which they agreed to facilitate co-operation in trade and to establish effective communication channels that would help promote investments and encourage joint projects.
Before the outbreak of the Libyan uprising in February 2011, Libya was Tunisia’s second largest trade partner with exchanges estimated at $1.25bn at the end of 2009, according to the AfDB.