Tunisia has begun a program to sharpen the competitive edge of 760 firms to take advantage of the country's trade association with the European Union, the Industry Department said last week.
The Tunisian government has earmarked $1.2 billion for the program that will at first cover about 200 firms, the department said.
The EU-Tunisia association accord provides for the creation of a free trade zone in 2007. The free trade area, which will suppress customs barriers between the two parties, will force Tunisian firms to promote their products to be able to keep pace with European competition.
The accord, signed in 1995, took effect in March 1998. Some 1,400 Tunisian firms, mostly small and medium sized, have joined the program. It will seek to modernize the Tunisian firms through training and giving them the necessary equipment and management skills to help them survive in the new environment.
Some upgraded firms already have started to reap fruits, as their turnover increased by 15 percent, while 35 percent of these enterprises, which never exported their products until 1998, have started to do so.
Employment also improved within these firms, going up at a rate of 6 percent, the Industry Department said. The second phase of the modernization program will cover 2,000 firms employing more than 10 people. The figure will bring to 4,300 the number of Tunisian firms to benefit.
Morocco is also bound to the Union with a similar agreement. Their neighbor Algeria and their partner in the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) has criticized Tunisia and Morocco for embarking on the EU association.
Algeria argues that Tunisia and Morocco should first promote integration within the UMA before looking for partnerships in other regions.
UMA - set up in 1989 by Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania—is meant to promote economic integration among the five North African nations. However, political differences between the five countries prevented the group from becoming a full-fledged union. –(Albawaba-MEBG)
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