CI VIEW: Tunisia economic revival linked to Baltimore/Bizerte Sister City initiative UPDATE

BALTIMORE/BIZERTE (CI MENA) — (Updated on December 19, 2017 to add comment from Bechtel Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brendan P. Bechtel) -America’s fastest growing city is becoming the key driver in reviving the fortunes of the Arab world’s first representative democracy – Tunisia through the nascent Sister City partnership between Baltimore, Maryland and the ancient and strategic port city of Bizerte,Tunisia.

[Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Tunisian Member of Parliament and highest elected official of Bizerte, Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass agreeing on Sister City partnership during Congressional Black Caucus Foundation ALC in Washington, DC. September 20, 2017]

Tunisia’s strategic importance was formalized by President Barack Obama when he declared the North African nation as America’s most strategic non-NATO US ally and the nation’s strategic importance for the US continues with President Donald J. Trump under the leadership of US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Ali Belakhoua, a Tunisian Member of Parliament and highest elected official of Bizerte, met with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington DC on September 20 and agreed to go ahead with a formal signing during the IMF World Bank Annual meeting on October 10-15, 2017.   

Now the Mayor of Baltimore Catherine Pugh and the highest elected official of Bizerte, Tunisian-American Deputy Ali Belakhoua are connecting the most influential leaders of the global economy such as Baltimore natives The Carlyle Group co-CEO and co-Founder David Rubenstein and Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman along with Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) founder and CEO Kevin Plank and the business leaders of the future economic powerhouse of Africa. 

[Tunisian MP for Bizerte Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass speaking with The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-CEO David Rubenstein at Greater Washington Urban League 2017 Philanthropy Award discussing Baltimore, Maryland and Bizerte, Tunisia Sister City.]

Bizerte, Tunisia and Baltimore, Maryland almost mirror themselves They are both important port cities located only a 45 minutes drive from their respective national capitals and are noted for excellence in culture/education and diversified industries.

Tunisia — like Baltimore — celebrates its diversity where Muslims, Christians and Jews truly pray, work and play together and is also the country in Africa and the Arab world with the longest and strongest tradition of women empowerment and protection of fundamental civil rights.

Because the country serves as a model for the Arab world and Africa, Tunisia has been target of ISIS terrorism and underhanded sabotage from certain developed and developing countries that either want the Tunisian democratic experiment to fail or fear Tunisia as an economic competitor.

Tunisia is only recently coming out the devastating terrorist attack in June 2015 where an ISIS attack on the beach resort of Sousse killed 38 people, of which 30 were British citizens.

[UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Bizerte’s Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass during interview by Algemeen Dagblad Economics Editor Sandra Phlippen on  the Port of Bizerte at IMF World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington DC. October 13, 2017]

Following the beach massacre, than UK Foreign Secretary and now UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond placed a travel ban on UK tourists visiting Tunisia that was only lifted in July 2017.   

Ali Belakhoua, a Tunisian-American MP and business owner has been fighting for years to re-establish Bizerte as a leading port in the southern Mediterranean. Belakhoua — a Tunisian-American engineer who started his career working for Towson, Maryland-based Black & Decker —  is the hands-on favorite to be the first elected Mayor of Bizerte in direct municipal elections at end-2017.

Belakhoua has already initiated formal Sister Cities partnership talks between Bizerte and Baltimore with the city’s newly elected mayor, Catherine E. Pugh. 

The main focus of the partnership, says Belakhoua, will be a knowledge transfer related to the Port of Baltimore and business-to-business alliances between Baltimore-based small-to-medium size businesses with their counterparts in Tunisia. 

[Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at US CEO Luncheon of the US Chamber of Commerce US-Africa Business in Washington, DC. July 12, 2017]

Belakhoua as a official participant to the IMF World Bank Spring meeting he spoke with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) CEO Phillippe Le Houreou and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) about regarding obtaining USD 400m in project financing and loan guarantees to re-modernize the strategic port of Bizerte. 

As a first step, Belakhoua has met with US Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to request that the US Army Corps of Engineers carry out a detailed environmental impact and economic feasibility study for the Port of Bizerte.

Senator Van Hollen — who insiders say is eyeing a run for President in 2020 — told Capitol Intelligence that he supports a US led P3 investment for Bizerte and that such a project can create significant jobs and opportunities for companies such as Peter Bowe‘s Baltimore-based Ellicott Dredges LLC. 

In fact, Ali Belakhoua has formally requested University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UCMES) Professor Dr. William C. Dennison carry out the study on the part of OPIC and IFC as the UCMES works closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers in the United States and elsewhere.

[Tunisian Investment and Development Minister (than Commerce Minister) Zied Ladhari speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on the impact that President- elect Donald Trump will have on Tunisia at Tunisia 2020 Investment Summit in Tunis. November 30, 2016.]

The estimated USD 400m deep sea port project is likely to be one of the projects that Tunisian Investment and Development Minister Zied Ladhari and newly restored Tunisian Finance Minister Ridha Chalgoum at the upcoming IMF World Bank Annual meetings on October 13-15 in Washington, DC.

In fact, one of the issues raised during the IMF World Bank Annual Meetings was pursuing a strategic partnership and alliance with the Port of Rotterdam to operate and manage the new deep sea port of Bizerte.

Economic development of Tunisia is a top priority for the new Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) under President Donald Trump. In fact, OPIC is now chaired directly by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the newly appointed OPIC President Ray Wasburne has been elevated to the National Security Council under the General H.R. McMaster.

The US administration is becoming increasingly concerned that if it does not move on Bizerte, it will be beaten out by Chinese companies linked to the Chinese government.

Ali Belakhoua told Capitol Intelligence that he stumbled on a group of Chinese managers representing Chinese government companies who told him that they are looking at investing in the Port of Bizerte.

[Bechtel Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brendan Bechtel filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI GCA using CI Glass answer question on President Donald Trump naming China as “strategic competitor” and takeover of Pireaus (Greece); Djibouti and Bizerte, Tunisia. CSIS Dec. 18, 2017]

During a major National Security policy speech on December 18, 2017, President Donald Trump said the United States said rival powers of China and Russia “seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest.”

In the White House released National Security Strategy went on say that “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.”

While speaking at conference on Chinese infrastructure investment hosted by Washington’s most influential think tank, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, Bechtel Chairman and CEO Brendan P. Bechtel noted that America’s largest construction group has been pushed out of the global top ten construction groups by Chinese state-owned companies.

[White House National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster speaks to Capitol Intelligence using CI Glass on Overseas Private Investment Corporation at Center for Strategic and International Studies event on the NSC at 70 years in Washington, DC. October 10, 2017]

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Prince George’s County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III told Capitol Intelligence that they both support the Baltimore-Bizerte Sister City partnership with its key “knowledge transfer” exchange between the Port of Baltimore and the Port of Bizerte.

 The Port of Baltimore is seen as a model for private-public partnership as it partnership with Oaktree Capital Management unit Highstar Capital that allowed the State of Maryland to reap USD 1.8bn in economic benefits and create 5,700 jobs without spending a cent in tax payer money. Baltimore, with its deep sea (Panamex) port has become the most efficient port on the East Coast.

Baltimore is also one of the most important financial centers in the United States as it is the headquarters of US asset management giant Legg Mason and the United States headquarters of TransAmerica Corporation subsidiary of Dutch multinational financial services conglomerate Aegon NV (NYSE: AEG).

[NASDAQ, INC CEO and President Adena T. Friedman speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on Baltimore after interview with fellow Baltimore native, The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-CEO David Rubenstein at The Economic Club of Washington DC. May 5, 2017]

 In fact, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU) CEO Sergio Marchionne put Baltimore on the footing as Wall Street by holding one of the legs of the global Ferrari (NYSE: RACE) pre-IPO roadshows by Inner Harbor. .    

Tunisia is currently the world’s bets market for direct foreign investment as the major mulilateral private sector funding organization such as the United States government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the IFC, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EBRD, the African Development Bank (AfDB) have billions of dollars earmarked to support private sector investment in the country and major private-public infrastructure projects such as the expansion of the Port of Bizerte..

[International Finance Corporation CEO Phillipe Le Houerou and Bizerte’s Ali Belakhoua filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on proposed national airport in Bizerte and the Port of Bizerte at the IMF World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, DC. April 21, 2017]

While Bizerte is destined to become a major port in SEMED (southern and eastern Mediterranean region), most probably the destination of choice for fast moving consumer goods, specialty manufacturing (oil services) and agriculture, Enfidha located 45 minutes south of Tunis is destined to become the air cargo hub for African continent

Memphis, Tennessee-based  FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) has already started looking at Enfidha airport as its regional logistic hub for the North Africa and Africa. In previous comments to Capitol Intelligence, Fedex chief executive Fred Smith said he has asked his management team to study the option.

Enfidha airport, which now only serves only a handful of flights a day, is a USD 200m plus green-field airport financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and operated by Turkey’s TAV Group.

[FedEx Corporation Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass ahead of testimony to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, DC. February 1, 2017]

US Marine Corps veteran Fred Smith is not the only major operator looking at Enfidiha.  According to UPS sources, Atlanta, Georgia-based UPS CEO David P. Abney is looking at transferring the company’s current cargo operations from Tunis-Carthage International to Enfidha.

“Dubai makes sense for cargo moving from Asia to Africa and Europe and Tunisia is perfect for Europe to Africa and US to Africa and North Africa,” one air freight executive said.

Tunisia is seeking to hold direct talks with Ford Motor Company in the latest of years-long efforts to get money for a low-cost car manufacturing plant in the nation, former Tunisian Investment Minister and Ennahda party coalition partner Riadh Bettaieb said in an interview with Capitol Intelligence in Tunis.

Ford Motors Company Chairman William C. Ford, Jr told Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA following a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, DC that one critical issue regarding a potential investment in Tunisia will be the current state of free trade agreements between Tunisia and major markets such as the United States and the European Union.

[Ford Motor Company Chairman William C. Ford Jr. speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on possible auto manufacturing plant in Tunisia at the Economic Club of Washington, DC. October 5, 2016]

Tunisia has rapidly become the Detroit of the Mediterranean with Tunisian automotive parts company supplying all the major manufacturers and the recent decision India’s TATA Group (owner Jaguar/Land Rover) to assemble their Xenon pick-up trucks and light commercial vehicles in partnership with Tunisia’s ICAR.

Examples of Tunisian automotive success stories in the automotive sector is the Tunis Stock Exchange listing of automotive parts supplier One-Tech and the USD 1.1bn automotive parts multinational Coficab owned by Hichem Elloumi.

In a previous interview with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA during Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa‘s meeting with President Obama in April 2014, One-Tech owner and general manager Hedi Sellami said the group with annual turnover of USD 350m is experiencing double-digit sales and profit growth.

[Daimler AG Chairman of Management Board Dr. Dieter Zetsche speaks with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on Tunisia/Africa growth strategy following speech at Economic Club of Washington, DC. November 5, 2015]

One-Tech had initially sought out a US private equity investor to join the International Finance Corporation as a company shareholder, but is now talking instead to European investment banks for a dual listing on a European exchange as London, Paris, Milan and Warsaw.

Both Elloumi’s Coficab and Sellami’s One-Tech are already important US auto part suppliers such as Troy, Michigan-based Delphi (NYSE:DLPH) and Southfield, Michigan-based Lear Corporation (NYSE: LEA).

Tunisia is also a center for European OEM suppliers such as Nurenburg, Germany-based Leoni AG (ETR:LEO); Nanterre, France-based Faurecia (EPA:EO) and Canadian parts giant Magna International (NYSE:MGA).

Speaking with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA at the Tunisia Investment Forum held in Tunis, Elloumi said Coficab continues to expand into new markets such as Mexico, the United States and Eastern Europe through mainly organic growth. He said the company is on track to double its current sales of about USD 1.1bn in 2020, an incredible feat considering that much of its expansion does not involve M&A acquisitions.  

[Coficab founder and Chief Executive Hichem Elloumi speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass during annual Tunisia Investment Forum, June, 2015]

Elloumi’s Coficab is North Africa’s biggest multinational and also the  largest employer in the Bizerte region.

Tunisia is also shaping up to become an industrial center for trucking, building and agriculture vehicle production.  India’s Hinduja Group Europe Chairman Prakash Hinduja said the Indian conglomerate is looking to locate factory of its  UK-based Askhok Leyland rapid transit group while Daimler AG‘s Russian trucking interest Kamaz has already started talks to open a factory to build trucks for the African and Middle Eastern market in Tunisia.

Another trucking company that may eye Tunisia both a major manufacturing hub Volvo‘s Hagerston, Maryland- based Mack Trucks as the US truck manufacturer is discovering surprising growth and demand in emerging markets, West Virginia’s Wheeling Trucks part-owner and COO Chad H. Remp told Capitol Intelligence/BBN.

[SETCAR Chairman and CEO Ferid Abbas speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at US Chamber of Commerce luncheon for Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed in Washington, DC. July 12, 2017]
The man who will be central to the entry of any truck manufacturer in Tunisia is SETCAR Chairman and CEO Ferid Abbas whose company already produces Volvo Renault public transit buses in the country.

Abbas, who studied at Georgetown University with Tunisian-French media tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar, is also the Vice Chairman of the Tunisian Arab Bank (ATB) and a board member of the Tunisian American Enterprise Fund (TAEF).

Tunisian Minister Youssef Chahed has been working closely with Tunisian industrialist, Group Loukil Chief Executive Bassem Loukil, to market Tunisia as the true gateway for Africa for US, European and Asian companies.

[Groupe Loukil Chief Executive Bassem Loukil speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at cooperation signing agreement ceremony with Benin at FIPA Tunisia Investment Groupe Forum Tunis, Tunisia. November 9, 2017]

During an interview at the FIPA Tunisian Investment Forum on November 9, 2017 in Tunis, Groupe Loukil Chief Executive Officer Bassem Loukil said that he is building out his business that involves healthcare, construction and energy storage business in countries such as Burkina Faso, Benin and now the newly re-opened market of Sudan.

Loukil said that he is ready and more than willing to work with US and European companies in partnership or an a turn-key basis in African high growth market. Bassem Loukil said he is also willing to entertain selling minority stakes in some of Loukil’s subsidiaries to qualified US, European or Asian private equity investors on a pre-IPO basis.

Loukil said foreign partners can exploit Tunisia’s access to funding and loan guarantees from the EBRD, IFC, MIGA, US OPIC and African Development Bank combined with the safety and political stability of an almost EU nation

Tunisia, like Baltimore, punches well over their perceived weight class and the real gems are country’s small-to-medium family owned companies such as Bizerte-based Almia Refrigeration Group that builds, designs and supplies leading luxury hospitality groups such as Toronto, Canada-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Saudi Arabia wealthiest businessman Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal; Bethesda; Ritz Carlton brand of the  Bethesda,Maryland-based Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR); and China’s HNA Group owned McLean, Virginia-based Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

[Almia Refrigeration Marketing and Sales Manager and part-owner Selim Almia speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at Almia-owned Anadalucia Beach Resort Hotel in BIzerte as part of Baltimore-Bizrete Sister City. Bizerte, Tunisia. June 8, 2017]

In a recent interview in Bizerte, Alimia part-owner and Marketing and Sales Manager Selim Almia said the company would now like to expand into United States and is talking to several US based refrigeration groups for the roll out.

Tunisia is experiencing a veritable renaissance in its agriculture sector thanks to the economic sanctions against Russia and the EU for Russian President Vladmir Putin‘s decision to annex Crimea and the Kremlin’s tacit support for eastern Ukraine separatists.

In ancient time, the fertile North African country Carthage served as the bread basket of Rome and now the country serves as a breadbasket for the Russian Federation.

One of the beneficiaries to the US/EU agriculture export ban is the Misurata, Libya-based diary group Al-Naseem Food Industries founder and CEO  Mohamed Raied.  

[Al-Naseem for Food Industries Chairman and CEO Mohamed Raied speaks with Capitol Intelligence/MENA using CI Glass at Al Waddan Hotel in Tripoli, Libya on March 3, 2015]

Not only was Mr. Raied able to run his business during revolution to our Libyan dictator Muammar Qadaffi’s but been able to keep producing and distributing western quality ice cream, milk and yogurts in the chaos of Libya today.

Mohamed Raied recently acquired the Tunisian operations of Vevey, Switzerland-based food giant Nestle SA (VTX: NESN) and is the controlling shareholder of Tunisia’s Generale Industrielle Alimentaire Slama (Slama-Gias) known for its Goldina margarine brands.  

Tunisia’s unique position between two major oil producing countries such as Libya and Algeria; a developed economy with a strong equities market and proximity to Milan; on top of Tunisia’s good neighbor foreign policy — has already become the market of choice for Fortune 100 companies such Boston-based General Electric (NYSE:GE), Chicago-based Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), and Morris Plains, New Jersey-based Honeywell International (NYSE:HON).

[US House Ways and Means Member Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass on the future US-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington,, DC. September 25, 2017]

Tunisia is also getting closer to signing a US-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement that has been in the works since 2012.  There is currently bi-partisan support for an agreement in the US House Ways and Means Committee and the Trump administration.

A US-Tunisia Free Trade agreement would give the Tunisian economy a dramatic boost in its two key industrial sectors: Automotive and textiles.  In fact, the United States signed the “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” with Tunisia in 1797, first bilateral treaty signed by the United States with a foreign power.

Another notable Baltimorean is Naim “Ali” McNair, the top hip-hop music executive for Universal Republic Records in Santa Monica, California who overseas leading global acts such as Afro-Canadian Aubrey “Drake” Graham and Aliaune “Akon” Thiam.

[Universal Republic Records (Universal Music) SVP Naim “Ali” McNair meeting on Afro hip-hop artist Stanley Enow filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI Africa using CI Glass at Universal Republic Music Group global headquarters in Santa Monica, California. November 18, 2015]

Like Carlyle’s David Rubenstein and Nasdaq’s Freidman, McNair’s influence is also global as Universal Republic’s owner is no other than Paris-based Vivendi (EPA:VIV) Chairman Vincent Bollore, the world’s biggest foreign investor in Africa through his Bollore Group and Europe’s top telecom owner with his recent takeover of Italy’s TIM (NYSE: TI).

With over USD 50 bn dollar in shovel ready infrastructure project and a gateway to most exciting early growth markets in the world, Tunisia is destined to boom as financial powerhouses such as The Carlyle Group, KKR, Citigroup quickly realize the southern Mediterranean country is the best economic opportunity since Eastern and Central European nations such as Poland and Slovakia joined the European Union.

Tunisia revived economic prosperity will be seen when Bizerte’s Ali Belakhoua and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh sign a historic Sister City agreement in front of the USS Constellation moored on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA on Bizerte, Tunisia and Baltimore, Maryland Sister Cities and US Constellation at National Press Club of Washington, DC.  June 19, 2017]

The USS Constellation was the American merchantman from which a contingent of eight US Marines trekked 600 miles across the Libyan desert during the Battle of Derna in 1805 and the origin of the Marine Corps Hymn “to the Shores of Tripoli” and the US Marine Corps’ Mameluke sword.

By PK Semler in Bizerte, Tunisia and Baltimore, Maryland. For more information please call +1-202-549-3399 or email

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