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Tunisia Seeks Economic Development at U.S. Forum
November 18, 2011

The United States hosted a Tunisia Partnership Forum November 15 that focused on three areas of economic development: tourism, trade and information technology.

17 novembre 2011

The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people in their drive to build a democracy and a dynamic economy, a senior State Department official says.

More than 200 U.S. investors, business leaders, Tunisian Americans, and visiting Tunisian business executives joined officials from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) at a partnership forum in Washington November 15.

The forum focused on business agreements that would generate fresh income and encourage job creation and economic opportunity to benefit Tunisia and the United States, said acting Assistant Secretary of State Mike Hammer. Tunisian government and business officials identified three priorities for this initial effort: tourism, trade and information communications technology, according to the State Department.

Hammer noted that the revolutions sparked in Tunisia were about jobs, dignity for citizens and respect for the individual. “Nearly 40 percent of the population in Tunisia is under age 24, yet youth persistently had almost three times the national average unemployment rate,” Hammer said in a blog post after the forum.

The Tunisian ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Salah Tekaya, told the forum that it represented “a powerful testimony about America’s support of the people of Tunisia.”

“America will do all we can to ensure that the free and open democracy that has begun to take root in Tunisia will be sustained by new investments in order to create a free and open economy,” Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides told participants at the forum.

“This is a new day for Tunisia, and the opportunities for investment in the U.S.-Tunisian relationship have never been greater,” Nides said.

The North African nation of 12 million became the first Arab nation to launch a massive reform movement in January, known as the Jasmine Revolution. It brought significant political and social change to the Tunisian people and ended a 23-year dictatorial regime. The movement for political and social justice inspired reform movements across North Africa and the Middle East. The nation held its first free election October 23 for an assembly to draft a new constitution and shape a new government.

In September, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tunisian Foreign Minister Mohammed Mouldi Kefi signed a new framework for cooperation: the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership. The forum, held November 15 in Washington at the State Department’s George C. Marshall Conference Center, is the first step toward fulfilling one of the main objectives of the framework, linking potential international investors to Tunisia, the State Department said.

The World Bank said in its most recent assessment that despite short-term challenges, Tunisia’s economic outlook remains positive. The assessment said the interim government has announced a stimulus package of $1.5 billion and an economic and social emergency plan. “The plan outlines 17 main measures covering aspects of security, employment, private-sector growth and financing support, regional development, social actions targeting the poorest families and the return of Tunisian immigrants from Libya,” the World Bank said.

OPIC President and Chief Executive Elizabeth Littlefield said the forum aimed to put Tunisia on the minds of U.S. companies for the first time. During the forum, Tunisian companies, including Tunivest and Mazars, met with executives from U.S. companies IBM, Intel and others, at sessions hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.