Ambassador Donald Blome’s Remarks at the the Sfax Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Webinar

U.S. Ambassador Donald Blome joined the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Sfax, Ridha Fourati, the Director General, Ikram Makni, and a group of Sfaxian business owners during a webinar to discuss U.S. economic support and investment in Sfax and throughout Tunisia.

The U.S. Embassy in Tunis has a long-standing partnership with the Sfax Chamber of Commerce aimed at engaging the private sector and spurring economic growth in Sfax. This partnership translates into a variety of economic support projects that aim to increase local investment, strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises, and create local employment opportunities by increasing exports of Tunisian products locally and internationally. The U.S has also contributed $36.7M to respond to the immediate health crisis caused by COVID-19 and to mitigate the long-term economic impacts of the pandemic.

The U.S. Embassy in Tunis is committed to further strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation with the Tunisian people through mutual work on the ideals and values of democracy, good governance, and free economic trade.

Ambassador Blome’s remarks:

I am delighted to join you today to promote private enterprise in Sfax and throughout Tunisia. I would like to thank Chamber of Commerce President Ridha Fourati and Director General Ikram Makni, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person during my visit to Sfax in November 2019.  I had the opportunity to visit a number of Sfax-based companies and was impressed by the quality of their products and the successful business relationships they had built with U.S. partners.

Creating jobs and fostering private sector-led growth are priority areas for U.S. assistance in Tunisia. Since 2011, the United States has provided close to $2 billion in foreign assistance to strengthen the country’s economy and security, and support Tunisia’s democracy.  The United States has also provided support to Tunisia through $1.5 billion in sovereign loan guarantees and has provided strong support in the IMF and World Bank for Tunisian programs.

During this pandemic, the United States has provided $36.7 million in COVID-related assistance to Tunisia.  Through USAID we are working with SMEs as they struggle to stay afloat under COVID, by providing direct grant support to more than 13,000 small businesses throughout the country, including in Sfax.  We are also working with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense to distribute lifesaving protective equipment, and even DNA extractors to increase COVID-19 testing capacity.   Finally, I note the good news that the Tunisian Government and the U.S. firm Pfizer announced an agreement to provide millions of doses of the COVID vaccine over the coming year.  So there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I think we all understand, however, that the effects of COVID on the economy will last even beyond the pandemic.  For this reason, we are launching shortly major new USAID projects that include a $50 million “Visit Tunisia” project to mitigate the immediate impact of COVID and accelerate the tourism sector’s growth.  USAID is also launching a$60 million energy project to meet Tunisia’s increasing demand for electricity and to promote energy conservation.

In addition, The Millenium Challenge Cooperation is working closely with the Tunisian government to sign a five-year compact agreement.  The value of the compact has not yet been determined but the average compact size is about $350 million. The compact will have two projects:  The Transport and Trade Project will expand and improve management of Rades Port and make it easier to trade. The Water Project will help the government decentralize groundwater management to promote sustainable water use and repair irrigation networks, especially in the south.

We have also seen the necessities of COVID accelerating the digitization of the Tunisian economy and government.  Tunisia has the capability to benefit enormously from this transformation, using its entrepreneurial spirit and tech-savvy young population to take advantage of new opportunities.  These opportunities will in part be linked to new technologies such as 5G wireless technology, which could transform our lives through applications like self-driving vehicles and more efficient electrical grids.  However, untrusted 5G vendors carry tremendous privacy and security risks to governments, citizens, and businesses. We are asking Tunisia to join the more than 50 countries that have already joined our “clean network,” by committing to use only trusted 5G vendors.  Tunisia’s ability to attract new investment in technology fields will require making the right decisions to ensure its technological infrastructure is safe and secure.

The U.S. Embassy is honored to partner with all the Sfax Chamber of Commerce to improve private sector development and economic growth in Sfax and throughout Tunisia.

Thank you.