Authors : Philippe Trape
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in Tunisia in 2016 was 1.0%, well below the projection of 2.6% made in the 2016 budget. The previous figure for growth in 2015, of 0.8%, has been revised upwards by the national statistics institute (INS) to 1.1%, since agricultural GDP rose more than foreseen. This means that the economy stagnated in 2016. Economic growth has been affected by security requirements and by an uneasy social climate. As was the case in previous years, growth in 2016 was driven chiefly by the services sector, with internal public and private consumption sustained by pay rises in the public sector still being the main engine of growth in the national economy. The rate of investment remained beneath the “psychological threshold” of 20% because of the dropping back of foreign direct investment (FDI), which fell by 25.4% during the first half of 2016, and financing constraints.
Weak growth, persistent major macroeconomic imbalances in the management of the public finances and delays in the practical implementation of strategic structural reforms (especially in the areas of tax, the public administration, the labour market, and public enterprises) have prevented the country from meeting the main challenge that Tunisia has been facing since 2011, which is the high level of structural unemployment. The average rate of unemployment in 2016 was 15.6% of the working population, compared with 15.1% in 2015, in spite of substantial recruitment in the public sector since 2011. Unemployment is higher for women (23.2%) than for men (12.5%), and it particularly affects those with a higher education qualification (31.9%).
In 2016, the overall unemployment rate remained on average 50% higher than the national average in the most disadvantaged regions, in the interior. Nonetheless, growth should recover in 2017 and 2018 as a consequence of the expected acceleration of investment linked to the launch of major projects outlined in the 2016-20 strategic development plan (Plan de développement stratégique) and the speeding up of the implementation of structural reforms, especially to the public administration under the programme implemented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the backing of development partners. Even so, the pressures on the public purse should remain significant in 2017 and 2018. Inflation should rise slightly in 2017 before dropping back again in 2018. In 2016, Tunisia showed all the hallmarks of a “dual economy”, with a modern industrial base composed of 5 600 businesses with more than ten employees and a spread of under-capitalised small enterprises, most of them with a single person, and 80% concentrated in the services sector, particularly in commerce, transport and storage.
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