Tunisia is one of the most economically developed
countries in Africa, with steady economic growth over a long
period of time, but with relatively modest natural
resources. The growth is based on political stability and a
relatively high level of education, as well as an expanded
infrastructure and a complex business sector with a
significant industrial base. Liberalization of the economy
after an economic crisis in the early 1980s contributed to
financial stability and growth, which in turn made the
country more attractive to foreign investment.
The crisis came, among other things, as a result of
excessive dependence on oil revenues, aid and money
transfers from Tunisians abroad. Liberalization, including
privatization and deregulation, led to renewed growth, but
also to increased unemployment and poverty. Proximity to
European markets and trade agreements with the EU has also
contributed to growth, as has the focus on tourism, which
has contributed to increased employment and currency income.
High unemployment, especially among young people, is a major
political, social and economic challenge. Tunisia has
relatively modest natural resources, and oil deposits are
far less than in neighboring Algeria and Libya. From being
the country's main source of income, exports of oil from the
mid-1980s declined; bypassed by textiles and agricultural
products. Recovery increased in the 1990s, but domestic
consumption has also increased, with limited export surplus.
The deposits of calcium phosphate are significant, and
Tunisia is the world's fourth largest producer of the
countryaah, Tunisia has a considerable degree of industrial travel,
but a lack of raw materials and power, as well as a small
national market, are an obstacle to economic development.
The textile industry has a central position, also for
export. The country has a viable agriculture and a large
service industry, where tourism plays an important role.
Production of dates, fruits and olives is important for the
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
Tunisia has partly good natural conditions for
agriculture, and the agricultural sector is important for
the country's economy, both for employment and export
earnings. In 2002, the sector accounted for approx. 12% of
GNI and employed approx. 22% of the working population.
Around two-thirds of the country's land is suitable for
agriculture; well a third is cultivated, other areas are
used for animal husbandry. The former French colonial
properties from the colonial period were nationalized, and
in the 1960s an attempt was made to transform them into
cooperatives. This failed, and agriculture was partly run on
large, modern and partly on small, traditionally run farms.
Particularly wheat, barley, olives, citrus fruits, figs,
dates, tomatoes and grapes are grown. Wine and grains are
the most important products in the fertile valleys and
plains of the north. In northeast Tunisia with the Cap Bon
Peninsula, citrus fruits and vegetables are grown, and along
the east coast olive oil is grown; dates are grown in the
oases in the south. The crops vary widely, depending on the
rainfall; only a small proportion of the animal area is
irrigated artificially. A larger water development program
was initiated in the 1980s, with the construction of several
ponds for irrigation and flood control. The groundwater
reserves are already heavily exploited, with fear of
continued water shortages. Several agricultural products are
exported, especially to the EU. Of particular importance is
olive oil, of which Tunisia is the world's fourth largest
producer; olive oil accounts for about 50% of agricultural
exports, and approx. 5% of total exports.
Only around 4% of Tunisia is forested, but some forestry
is used, essentially for fuel.
The fishing industry has been subject to increased
efforts by the authorities, and an important export
commodity. In particular, fishing has been conducted mainly
on the east coast, but overfishing in the Gulf of Gabes has
led to increased activity further north. The main fish
species are sardines. The fishing industry is centered
Mining and energy
Tunisia has high deposits of calcium phosphate in the
central parts of the country and is the world's fourth
largest producer. Until the 1980s, most of the extraction
was exported without machining, after which local
utilization was initiated, especially in the production of
mineral fertilizers. Iron ore is extracted from two mines,
the largest of which is at Jerissa; production has been
declining since independence. Lead is mined in the north,
zinc in the northwest.
Oil was found in the al-Bormah field, all the way south
in the country, in 1964, and the second field, at Douleb
further north, came into production in 1968, two more in
1972. Major offshore discoveries have also been made in the
Gulf of Gabes; with higher prices, several smaller fields
were later put into operation. A territorial discrepancy
with Libya in the Gulf of Gabes was appended in 1982. In the
1970s and until the mid-1980s, oil became Tunisia's major
source of export revenue. In 2003, the country's proven oil
reserves were estimated at 500 million barrels; production
reached a peak of 5.6 million tonnes in 1980. The country
also has deposits of natural gas, estimated at approx. 100
000 m 3. Until 1995, production came essentially
from the al-Bormah field; then also from offshore deposits.
A gas pipeline from Algeria to Italy passes through Tunisia;
a cable from Libya to Tunisia is planned. Tunisia was a
member of OAPEC, 1982–86.
Tunisia's production of electrical energy is essentially
based on heat power plants that use natural gas as an energy
source. Installed capacity in 2016 was 4.8 GW. An effort is
now being made to supplement fossil energy with other energy
sources such as solar and wind energy. In 2016, renewable
energy contributed about 5 per cent of power generation. The
country is also in talks with Russia to build a nuclear
power plant. The need to increase power generation is great.
Between 1990 and 2016, the consumption of electrical energy
increased by 4.5 per cent per year.
Tunisia has a broadly composed industrial sector, which
is largely based on the processing of the country's
minerals, especially phosphate and oil, and agricultural
products. Heavy industry has been developed at
Menzel-Bourguiba, with steel production, chemical industry
in Tunis and Sfax - otherwise cellulose, sugar and other
food industries, as well as a variety of consumer goods.
Associated with the oil business is a refinery at Bizerte.
Textile production is the most important part of the
industry, accounting for over 40% of total exports, and
employs over a quarter of a million workers. A lot of
footwear and leather goods are also produced for export.
From the 1980s, several large companies, among others.
cement factories, privatized. Since the 1990s, considerable
investments have been made in, among other things,
metallurgical and mechanical industry, and it is focused on
the development of the technology sector.
Tunisia has a deficit on the trade balance with foreign
countries, which is partly covered by tourism revenues,
partly by loans and subsidies, especially from the EU, and
money transfers from Tunisians abroad. France is the largest
aid provider. Petroleum and petroleum products were the most
important export goods until the mid-1980s, followed by
textiles and clothing. Other export products are phosphate,
olive oil, wine and fruit etc. The main trading market for
both export and import is the EU, especially France, Germany
and Italy. Tunisia signed a free trade agreement with the EU
in 1995, and in 1998 signed a new, comprehensive trade
agreement with the EU. Tunisia also participates in economic
regional cooperation in Maghreb, through l'Union du Maghreb
Arabe, established in 1989.
Transport and Communications
Tunisia has a relatively well-developed transport system,
with widespread road networks and railways, from the
colonial era, which has subsequently been modernized and
upgraded. The road network consists of around 22 490 km of
road, most of which with a fixed tire. The railway network
is 2190 km and connects all the major cities in the northern
part of the country. Main port cities are Tunis and on the
east coast of Sousse, Sfax and Gabès. La Skhirra (at the
Gulf of Gabes) is the shipping port for petroleum from
Algeria. The most important of several international
airports is Tunis-Carthage.