- After the development successes during the last decade, Tunisia has gained international support for its new 2004-08 development strategy. Tunisia's new aims focus on the challenges posed by a still-high unemployment, a low national level of education and the need for more ample social programmes.
As Tunisia's principal and influential financial partner, the World Bank this week voiced its support for Tunisia's new development strategy. It was adopted as the Bank's new country assistance strategy (CAS) for Tunisia, "aimed at supporting the government ... in tackling pressing socio-economic challenges for the period July 2004 to June 2008," according to the Bank.
Although Tunisia is not the North African region's richest country measured in GDP per capita, the Tunis government may boast of having succeeded in making the country North Africa's most socially balanced country. The new development strategy mostly aims at securing recent gains and meeting new challenges.
The World Bank executives were impressed by Tunisia's recent gains. "With an average life expectancy of 72 years and low infant, child and maternal mortality rates, Tunisia has made steady and rapid progress in social development," the Bank assesses. "Poverty was sharply reduced in the second half of the 1990s from about 8 percent of the population in 1990 to 4 percent - or 400,000 people - in 2000."
According to a World Bank release, Tunisia has also "significantly closed the gender gap in education, reduced fertility and built strong legal rights and privileges for women." Today, Tunisian women's participation in the labour force is high by regional standards, though "the country's potential to integrate women into the economy has yet to be fully realised," the Bank holds.
- Reform efforts since the early 1990s, sound macroeconomic policies and deeper trade integration in the global economy have improved the economy's competitiveness, according to the World Bank. "Growth has been resilient, even when Tunisia faced an unfavourable external environment, reaching 5.5 percent in 2003."
Despite these gains, Tunisia was now meeting new challenges as the country entered an environment of heightened international competition. The new development strategy, which is to receive financial support from the World Bank - and therefore has an enhanced change to attract other donors - focuses on three "major challenges".
The first and most urgent challenge is to reduce unemployment which remains high at 15 percent, reflecting demographic pressure and increased competition from the neighbouring European Union (EU). Tunisia is now increasingly becoming integrated into the EU's inner market as most of North Africa is slowly tarring down trade hurdles with the EU in the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. A free trade zone is to be established by 2010.
Tunisia's second challenge lies in "improving the quality, relevance and financial sustainability of the education system and strengthening research and innovation systems in order to establish a knowledge economy," according to the World Bank. In order to export more advanced products - which will give Tunisian labour higher salaries - the workforce must have a higher education level.
The third challenge was to "boost the performance of social programmes while maintaining budget balances," the Tunisian government and the Bank agreed. The World Bank and other finance institutions insist developing countries first enhance revenues before strengthening their social services.
The World Bank, through adopting its new Tunisia country assistance strategy, today pledges supporting the government in Tunis in response to these challenges. It aims at strengthening the business environment to "support the development of a more vibrant private sector and improve the competitiveness of the Tunisian economy," the Bank says in its statement.
The Bank's strategy paper also proposes to enhance the skills of graduates so that they are able to find jobs in a knowledge economy. Finally, the Bank's new Tunisia strategy is to focus on "improving the quality of social services through enhanced efficiency of public expenditure."
- The country assistance strategy for Tunisia has a strong focus on results and quality and provides for additional flexibility in the approach and choice of instruments, said Theodore Ahlers of the World Bank in Tunisia. "This will allow the World Bank to respond quickly and appropriately to demands and continue to forge a strong partnership with the government of Tunisia and other key constituencies," he added.
The Bank's country assistance strategy is to be implemented over a four-year period starting fiscal year 2005, and will include a lending program in the range of US$ 200-300 million a year to achieve its key development objectives.
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