Industrial Policy in Tunisia

Erdle, Steffen

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2011/3335/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: DIE - Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
Schriftenreihe: Discussion paper // Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
Bandnummer: 2011, 1
ISBN: 978-3-88985-529-9
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2011
Publikationsdatum: 05.09.2011
Originalveröffentlichung: http://www.die-gdi.de/CMS-Homepage/openwebcms3.nsf/(ynDK_contentByKey)/ANES-8DEE7C/$FILE/DP%201.2011.pdf (2011)
SWD-Schlagwörter: Tunesien , Wirtschaftswachstum , Industriepolitik , Entwicklungsländer
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.55 (Politische Entscheidung), 83.46 (Entwicklungsökonomie)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

Tunisia’s industrial policy has achieved very respectable results during the past two decades. A previously semi-closed and inward-oriented statist economy (heavily dominated by the public sector and insulated from foreign competition) has increasingly been turned into an outward-oriented and export-fuelled market economy, which is based on the manufacturing sector, and run by private entrepreneurs. In this way, a largely rent-based, lower middle-income developing country has been transformed into an increasingly skill-based, and industry-driven ‘emerging economy’, which has produced growth rates and welfare gains well above the regional average and not too far from the world’s frontline economies. Importantly, Tunisia has absorbed the numerous shocks that have shaken the MENA region since the beginning of the 21st century relatively smoothly. It has done so better than most of its neighbours, and much better than analysts predicted some time ago. Why has Tunisia managed to prosper, economically speaking, despite the ongoing presence of structural constraints? Because of four main factors: first, its geographical proximity to, and cultural familiarity with, its European partners and clients, which provided it with an important competitive edge over rivalling countries; second, the ability of the government to correctly identify, and exploit Tunisia’s main comparative advantages vis-à-vis competing nations, which enabled it to make use of the economic opportunities and market niches in its near abroad, and face up to the increasing presence of East European and Asian producers on these same markets; third, its ability to translate these analytical insights into reasonably consistent policy choices; and finally, its ability to make a critical number of stakeholder groups in their society adhere to and support these choices. What has allowed Tunisia to achieve these results? First, there are very cohesive ruling elites whose leading representatives have achieved a substantial agreement on core policy issues (including on a ‘national project’ of industrial development). Second, when implementing their policies, they can fall back on both a broadly meritocratic and professional civil service that is able to ‘deliver’, and a broadly inclusive and cohesive ruling party that is able to ‘follow up’. Third, their choices are largely compatible with the structures built up by their predecessors, as well as with the key preferences pursued by their main allies at home and abroad. All of this has substantially added to the coherence, consistency, credibility, and effectiveness of their policy. But it also must be recalled that the country is only half on its way toward becoming an industrial society: A first major problem is that the economic foundation of the Tunisian ‘miracle’ is still rather fragile: The country is still highly dependent on both a handful of foreign markets, and a handful of economic sectors, whose main focus is moreover on simple assembly activities (although there is a qualitative upward trend in many sectors). A final problem is the still high degree of fragmentation: between on-shore and off-shore sectors, between import-substituting and export-oriented businesses, and between the few large and the many small firms. In fact, the Tunisian economy is still essentially a ‘dualist economy’, which has so far only been very partially integrated into global value chains. These problems are compounded by the fact that the Tunisian government continues to be torn apart between two conflicting goals: On the hand, it seeks to support the acceleration of local capital accumulation, and the deepening of industrial value chains, in order to prepare for a comprehensive upward shift towards more sophisticated goods, and thereby achieve the qualitative breakthrough towards a fully developed economy. This would require a concerted and sustained effort of both public and private actors, and absorb the country’s limited financial and human resources for years to come. At the same time, however, Tunisians are still very concerned with the preservation of the economic fabric (predominantly made up of financially and technologically weak family and micro-enterprises, active in the most protected sectors of the national economy) and the creation of new employment opportunities in order to absorb the country’s growing workforce and maintain socio-political stability. However, any wholesale opening of the national economy would inevitably lead to the forced market exit of many business actors (and the concurrent loss of many jobs). Even though the constitution of more integrated economic entities (with a more sophisticated product policy and larger international export radius) is still a declared industrial policy goal of the Tunisian government, it is difficult to enforce in the light of incompatible social policy concerns. The problem is that it is very difficult for such a small country ‘to have it both ways’; i.e. ‘to eat its cake and have it, too’. It must also be remembered that there are still a certain number of structural problems at an institutional level, which could jeopardise the success of this policy. First, the political system is still largely devoid of effective and institutionalised ‘checks and balances’, which could ensure the impartiality and accountability of policy making and policy enforcement. As there are no truly independent control mechanisms vis-à-vis key decision makers, this means that the necessary consistency of policy choices and their implementation on the ground entirely depend on the cohesion and determination of the political leadership and the inner circle elites. Second, the legal-institutional framework is still full of politically motivated loop-holes, such as special clauses and waivers for politically important pressure groups and clients, despite recent improvements at this level. Even though the government has generally pursued a policy of non-discrimination, it has maintained special legislation for supposedly sensitive sectors. The combination of political concentration with legal-institutional fragmentation, however, heightens the sense of insecurity for the majority of business actors, fosters opportunities and incentives for rent-seeking, and thereby prevents from investing heavily in skill-intensive sectors, which would be a conditio sine qua non for the long-term success of the government strategy.


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