CI VIEW: Tunisia seeks major new US investments on Washington, DC mission, Ministers say UPDATE

WASHINGTON/TUNIS (CI MENA) — (Updated on October 7,  2016 to  add Ford Motor Company Chairman William C. Ford, Jr and GE CEO Jeff Immelt) – A Tunisian delegation led by Tunisian Development and Investment Minister Fadhel Abdelkefi will be in Washington this week (October 6-10) seeking billions of dollars in investments for  the nation’s aviation, automotive, energy and textile sections by Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F), FedEx (NYSE: FDX), and Honeywell  International (NYSE: HON).

[President Barack Obama and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi Oval Office filmed by Capitol Intelligence/Tunisia’s Express FM using CI Glass (Google Glass) at Oval Office. May 21, 2015. Express FM Chef de Service Khadija Sfar operated the CI Glass during Oval Office meeting.]

Tunisia’s strategic position as a stable and developed economy compared to its neighbors makes it attractive for  major corporations in the United States, Europe and Asia that want to tap a growth market of over 350m consumers in North/West Africa (NAWA)..

In an interview with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA, Tunisian Minister for Investment and International Cooperation Fadhel Abdelkefi said he hopes his US visit during the World Bank IMF Annual meetings can lay the ground work to attract new US investment to build on the success of current American investors such as the Boston-based General Electric (NYSE: GE) in energy, Jacksonville, Florida-based FIS (NYSE:FIS) unit SunGard and Chicago-based Boeing (NYSE: BA).

[Tunisian Minister for Development, Investment and International Cooperation Fadhel Abdelkefi speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI Africa using CI Glass at IMF World Bank in Washington, DC. October 6, 2016.]

Tunisia is seeking to hold direct talks with Ford CEO Mark Fields 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/CI MENA in Tunis.

Notwithstanding the noteworthy wins by Tunisia in attracting direct foreign investment by the likes of GE, Sungard and Honeywell, unemployment among Tunisia’s highly educated youth is the greatest threat to Tunisia’s future.

In an interview with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA, Tunisian Commerce Minister  Zied Ladhari and Ennahda member said that the government considers the country’s human resources, or intellectual capital, as “the main wealth of the country.”

Ladhari, who many see as the rising star of Tunisia’s new political class, said that Tunisia’s success will serve as a model and concrete instrument in the global fight against ISIS terrorism.

[Tunisian Commerce Minister Zied Ladhari speaks with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass (google glass) at UTICA event ahead of meeting with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at National Dialogue on Employment summit in Tunis on March 29, 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.

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 Economic Club of Washington, DC. October 5, 2016]

However, there is a bipartisan movement in Congress led by US Senate Armed Service Chairman John McCain (R-Az) and other in Congress to push a US-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement during the lame duck session prior to the inauguration of a new American president on January 20, 2017.

A key person to help push a free trade agreement is US House Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Michigan).  Levin had spent time in Tunisia as an official with US AID and said he sees no trade issues between the US and Tunisia considering the relatively small size of the Tunisian economy.

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 350mn is experiencing double-digit sales and profit growth.

[One-Tech GM Hedi Sellami speaks to Capitol Intelligence using CI Glass during PM Mehdi Jomaa Oval office meeting with President Obama, April 4, 2014.]

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 major European market such as London, Paris, Milan and even Warsaw.

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

[Coficab founder and Chief Executive Hichem Elloumi speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at Tunisia Investment Forum.]

Speaking with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA at the Tunisia Investment Forum held in Tunis in June 2015, 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.

FedEx is reviewing whether to use the Enfidha airport located just south of Tunis as its regional logistic hub for the North Africa and the entire African continent.

In previous comments to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA, 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.

The government of Tunisia is planning a deep water port in Enfidha and has been working closely with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Another Tunisian company destined from dynamic growth is high-end gourmet food producer Sopraco which is already distributing its products at upscale Monrovia, California-based Traders Joe’s and is currently holding talks with US retail giant Walmart (NYSE: WMT), Sopraco Chairman Sami El Ouni said.

[Sopraco Chairman Sami El Ouni speaks with Capitol Intelligence/MENA using Google Glass during US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker visit to Tunisia. March 4, 2015]

Sopraco’s El Ouni said see his company growing to about EUR 76m in 2010 from current annual sales of about EUR 8m this year through added production capacity and the roll-out of a gourmet line in the United States and Europe.

Ironically, the Russian sanctions against EU agriculture produce — in retaliation to EU sanctions against Russia — has led to a boom in Tunisian agriculture exports to Russia and a visible recovery in vital and labor extensive sector of its economy.

A major US investor in Tunisia is General Electric (NYSE: GE). In November 2013, GE Global Operations head Shane Fitzsimons made a high level visit to Tunisia to confirm the company’s commitment to the country as Tunisia remains an investment priority for GE CEO Jeff Immelt.

[GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt speaks to Capitol Intelligence/SmartCEO using CI Glass (google glass) at IMF World Bank annual meetings in Washington, DC. October 6, 2016]

During the visit, Fitzsimons signed MoUs for major projects in priority sectors for Tunisia such as road and rail infrastructure, renewable energy, water desalination and health.

Caterpillar, the Peoria,Illinois-based construction machinery and power group, is also set to make a major return to Tunisia in the near future.

Caterpillar had created its first foreign subsidiary in Tunisia in 1926 and Tunisia represents an important growth market for the company suffering from serious self-made set-backs in China.

Speaking with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA at the US Export-Import Bank Annual Conference in Washington, DC, Caterpillar Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman said the company is looking for further expansion opportunities both in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

 [Caterpillar Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at Export-Import Bank of the United States Annual Conference. Washington, DC. April 24, 2015]

Speaking with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENAHoneywell International Inc (NYSE:HON) chief executive Dave Cote said Tunisia and the greater North Africa and western African region offers interesting opportunities for the US multinational.

In fact, Cote gave a huge vote of confidence to the Tunisian economy when he went to Tunis — the first-time that a Honeywell CEO has visited Africa — in October 2012 and met with than Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

[Honeywell CEO Dave Cote speaks with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at US House Financial Service Committee. March 25, 2014]

Cote’s visit occurred a little over a month after US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American diplomats were killed in Benghazi and the US Embassy in Tunis was attacked.

Cote’s visit had marked the opening of Honeywell’s operations in Tunis in April 2012.  The office has been experiencing double digit sales increases in its markets of Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and western Africa, according to Honeywell’s regional manager in Tunis, Farouk Cherif.

It is also possible that German industrial giant Daimler AG could build a truck manufacturing plant on behalf of Kamaz and fund the major manufacturing plants with EBRD, IFC and the EIB, financial sources said. It is understood that German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently raised the issue with Daimler AG Chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche.

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

One of the main reasons that Tunisia never has never reached its potential and achieved subsequent economic stability has been the lack of global investment bankers operating in the market that is still seen by banking chiefs as “too small.”

One key person that can help change this “too small” perception is Tunisian born media and banking tycoon, Tarak Ben Ammar.

As the owner of North Africa’s largest private television network Nessma and board member of Telecom Italia; France’s Vivendi and Milan-based investment bank Mediobanca — Ben Ammar is already playing a key role in bringing together US, European and Gulf-based investors to his native Tunisia.

Ben Ammar’s close friendship to the United States stems from having produced George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steven Spielberg‘s Raiders of the Lost Arc in Tunisia in the 1980s and having been the first Tunisian graduate of Georgetown University.

[Nessma owner Tarak Ben Ammar speaks with Capitol Intelligence/MENA using Google Glass during Amcham Tunisia’s Investment & Entrepreneurship Conference in Tunis, Tunisia. March 5, 2015]

An almost immediate game changer for the Tunisian economy will Tunisia’s upcoming Tunisia 2020: Road to Inclusion Sustainability and Efficiency investment conference to be held on November 29-30, 2016 to outline the country’s investment priorities and economic opportunities for the next five years.

By PK Semler in Washington and Tunis. For more information please call +1-202-549-3399 or email pks@capitolintelgroup.com

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