I. Introduction

1. Economy

Economic growth of Tunisia has been quite impressive during the last 20 years: between 1975 and 1995, the GDP rose from 4.3 to 17.5 billions US $. Now, with a GNP per capita of about US $1860 in 1995, Tunisia ranks above the mean of the Middle-East and North African countries ( US $1700). However, due to a series of bad harvests and to the stagnation of the European markets, real growth which averaged around 4% in the recent past (1985-1995) was kept at 3.3% in 1994 and 2.6% in 1995.

Table 1 : Key economic indicators for Tunisia

   1975  1985  1995
 Gross Domestic Product (US $ billion)  4.3  8.3  17.6

Structure of the economy ( % of the GDP)

  • Agriculture
  • Industry
  • Manufacturing
  • Services
Source: World Bank 1996


Table 2 : Long term economic trends (average annual growth)

1975-84 1985-95 1994 1995
GDP 5.2 4.0 3.3 2.6
GNP per capita
Export of goods and non-factor services 5.2 7.2 14.9 1.3
Source: World Bank 1996


Tunisia's economy is dominated by services ( 53.9% of GDP in 1995 cf. Table 1 ), within which tourism plays an increasing role, with about 3.6 million visitors per year. The banking and financial services sectors have also grown rapidly to the point where Tunisia has become a financial centre of Mediterranean importance, being ranked as the first banking centre in North Africa and one of the largest in the Arab World.

But the most striking feature is perhaps the expansion of the manufacturing sector (20.5% of GDP). With about one third of the output of this sector traditional industries such as textiles, shoes, leather remain very strong but newer activities such as electronics, automobile components, manufacturing services... are also rapidly expanding. Of the nation's 2000 manufacturing plants, half are either joint-ventures with, or owned by, foreign companies, and this external investment and the associated technology transfer has played a major role in Tunisia's economic growth as well as in the growth of its exports.

On July 1995, Tunisia became the first country in the Middle-East and North Africa to sign a free trade agreement with the EU. As the EU is the main trade and commercial partner of Tunisia with 75% of its imports and exports this agreement will set the stage for the future economic development of the country. In particular this will imply a continuous effort to strengthen its industrial basis and to adapt it to the international competition