- Although Tunisian exports were adversely affected by the global crisis, real GDP growth exceeded 3 percent in 2009. This year, growth could be back at pre-crisis levels.
The Tunisian economy is strongly dependent on exports to its European neighbours. And as Europe was badly hit by the global crisis in 2009, the outlook for the Tunisian economy seemed bleak. But, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) review of Tunisia's economy, the impact of the crisis was less than expected.
"Real GDP growth exceeded 3 percent in 2009 and the financial soundness indicators continued to improve," an IMF team that visited Tunisia this month concluded today. Growth fell to 1.8 percent on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter of 2009, but gradually picked up and had reached 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2010.
According to data provided by Tunisian authorities, the new growth was driven by "the upturn in demand for manufacturing sector exports, especially mechanical and electrical goods and textiles." This had been achieved despite a very slow growth in the European Union (EU).
The EU is by far Tunisia's largest partner, accounting for 76 percent of revenues from goods exports, 84 percent of tourism revenues, 88 percent of transfers from Tunisians abroad, and 73 percent of foreign direct investment inflows over the 2007-08 period.
Tunisian authorities however plan to lessen their economic dependence on the EU to assure higher growth rates in the future. A 2010-14 economic diversification government programme is to develop a geographic and product diversification strategy to bolster access to new markets.
But with the global economy picking up, the IMF agrees with Tunisian government economists that stronger growth rates are well within range. Before the crisis, Tunisian annual growth rates typically were between 4 and 6 percent. Projections indicate such rates will now return.
The IMF analysts expect the Tunisian economy to grow by almost 4 percent this year. Projections for 2011 foresee a 4.8 percent GDP growth, while in the 2012-15 period, growth rates will be at 5 to 6 percent.
While all major macroeconomic indicators were showing positive signs, Tunisia still was struggling with several social indicators. Of special concern to authorities are the high unemployment levels.
Tunisia's unemployment rate, already relatively high, increased slightly in 2009 as a result of the economic slowdown. Joblessness is particularly high among young graduates and represents the most pressing challenge for the authorities, eager to avoid social unrest.
"Efforts will need to be made on export markets diversification to boost the growth potential of the economy and bring down unemployment over the medium term," the IMF advisors told Tunisian authorities.
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