The United Republic of TUNISIA : Economic Perspectives

Tunisia was deeply affected by the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, protests driven by poor living conditions in the population:

  • High Unemployment
  • Inflation in food prices
  • Corruption
  • A lack of Political freedoms

The Revolution led to the ousting of long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. However, Tunisia has never recovered economically.

In 2020, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic worsened the already precarious economic situation of the country. GDP reached a negative rate of -8.8% in 2020. The IMF expects growth to recover to 3.8% in 2021 and stabilize at 2.4% in 2022, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery.

The country suffered further political upheaval due to the fall of the government for by Elyes Fakhafakh in July 2020 and labor unrest affected mining production.

  • The Primary sector accounts for 4% of the country’s GDP and employs up to 12.7% of the workforce. Improvement in production methods helped develop and modernize the cultivation of olive trees, fruit trees and palm ones. Tunisia is one of the most productive countries in Africa, the country reached a level of food sufficiency.
  • The Industrial Sector contributes to 7% of GDP and barely employs 32.5% of the working population. The country’s industrial sectors are mainly export oriented: the chemical, textile and clothing sectors are growing whereas leather and footwear industry, plastics, wood and construction represent sectors in decline.
  • The Tertiary Sector contributes to 7% of GDP and employs about 55% of the total working population. Tourism recovered in 2019 from the terrorist attacks that hit the country with an increase of 13.6% yoy. Professional training and research are the booming sectors in Tunisia. Tourism revenues have fallen by nearly 30%, affected by the pandemic. Transport is the second most affected service sub-sector, losses are estimated at 60% in 2020.

With more than 11 million inhabitants, the 29th most populous country in Africa, Tunisia is the continent’s 15th richest country with an estimated GDP of USD 39.55 Billion in 2020. Unemployment increased in the country from 15% to 18% in 2nd quarter of 2020 (World Bank). However, the extreme poverty (poverty line of USD 1.90 per day) is still below 1% in Tunisia.

Population (2020, INE)36.9 million inhabitants
GDP / Capita USD (2020, IMF)USD 3
HDI (2020, UNDP)121st over 189
Doing Business (2020 World Bank rank) 53rd over 189
Corruption Perceptions Index 202086th over 180
Unemployment rate (World Bank 2020)11.9%

On a Demographic point on view, almost 70% of the population live in urban areas. 98% of the population are Muslims, 1% are Christians and the remaining 1% are Jews. Density is at 74 inhabitants per Km², and literacy rate reaches 80.9% of the population (2019, source: Ministry of Social Affairs).

On a Political point on view, Kaïs Saïed has been the President of the Republic of Tunisia since October 23, 2019. He won with 72.71% of the vote and the turnout reached 56.8% (like the 2014 presidential election. In September 2020, the Tunisian Parliament finally invested a government of technocrats to help reverse the country’s economic situation.

On an Economical point of view, public debt was recorded at 87.6% in 2020 and is expected to increase to 91.2% in 2021 and 93.9% in 2022 (IMF). Budget deficit has increased to 9.8% of GDP in 2020, especially due to the emergency measures taken by the government to contain the economic and social consequences of the pandemic. A 9.3% slight decrease of the budget deficit is expected in 2021 and 6.9% in 2022 (IMF).

Inflation, estimated at 5.7% in 2020, is expected to increase to 5.8% in 2021 and 6.3% in 2022. A better management of imports in 2020, improved Tunisia’s current account deficit in 2020, 6.8% compared to 2019 when it was at 8.4% of GDP, as imports decreased faster than exports.

Economic Indicators201820192020e 2021e 2022e
GDP ($ Billion current price)117.92119.70113.55124.00131.31
GDP growth (%)3.02.5-7.04.53.9
Inflation rate (%)1.60.20.60.81.2
Public debt (% GDP)65.365.276.177.177.4
Current balance (% GDP)-5.3-4.1-2.2-3.8-4.0

Focus on Exports and Imports

In 2019, Tunisia was the number 93rd economy in the world in terms of GDP (current US$), the 77th exporter in the world and 127th importer in the world. The country exported USD 16.6 Billion and imported USD 21.6 Billion, resulting in a negative trade balance of USD 5 Billion.

The top exports of Tunisia are Insulated Wire ($1.99B), Non-Knit Men’s Suits ($881M), Crude Petroleum ($653M), Non-Knit Women’s Suits ($517M) and Pure Olive Oil ($502M). Tunisia exports mostly to France ($4.82B), Italy ($2.74B), Germany ($2.1B), Spain ($686M), and Libya ($539M).

The top imports are Refined Petroleum ($2.37B), Petroleum Gas ($1.5B), Low-voltage Protection Equipment ($551M), Cars ($525M) and Insulated Wire ($433M). It imports mostly from France ($3.69B), Italy ($3.37B), Germany ($1.66B), China ($1.65B) and Algeria ($1.43B).

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