CI VIEW: Tunisia set for Trump-led economic boom as Hillary cabal makes hasty exit UPDATE

TUNIS/BALTIMORE (CI MENA) (Updating on March 14, 2017 to add The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-CEO David Rubenstein) — Tunisia, the Arab world’s first democracy, is set for an unprecedented economic boom as the administration of President Donald Trump makes a clean sweep of a cabal of cronies tied his opponent and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

[Secretary of State and former Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XTO) Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson speaks to Capitol Intelligence/BBN using CI Glass on mega mergers in oil and gas sector following United States Energy Association Energy meeting at National Press Club of Washington, DC. May 5, 2016]

Tunisia set the stage for its economic renaissance following the Tunisia 2020: Road to Inclusion, Sustainability and Efficiency donor and investment summit headlined by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin al-Thani and than French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and raising more than USD 8bn for public-private infrastructure projects, with USD 1.2bn from Qatar alone.

Notwithstanding President Barack Obama elevating Tunisia as America’s most strategic non-NATO US ally, the United States angered the Tunisian government headed by the country’s pro-American Prime Minister Youssef Chahed by sending an insultingly low-level US delegation to the conference.

On February 17, 2017, President Trump phoned Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to “re-affirm” the historic US-Tunisian relationship and seek additional ways to cooperation between the two countries.


The United States delegation was headed a mere US Commerce Department Assistant Secretary, Arun Kumar and GE Sustainable HealthCare Solutions CEO Terri Bresenham while Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Secretary of State John Kerry were conspicuous by their absence.

[US Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on the importance of Tunisia for the United States at the US Senate, Washington, DC. January 18, 2017]

Much of the blame for Tunisia’s economic problems can be laid at the feet of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who used her family’s Clinton Global Initiative to steer State Department contracts and jobs to US NGOs filled with her loyalists such as the Middle East Investment Initiative of former Secretary of State and USD 750m emerging market Albright Capital Management owner Madeleine Albright; “Clinton” law firm DLA Piper co-chaired  by former US Senator George Mitchell; and The Aspen Institute’s State Department funded PNB Napeo.

Tunisia Commerce Minister and a leading member of the governing coalition Ennadha party, Zeid Ladhari, said he is confident that Tunisia’s close relationship will not change under the new administration led by Donald Trump. Ennadha, a conservative party, has deep friendship in the Republican party head by US Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Senate Foreign Relation Chair Bob Corker and numerous House Republicans, including US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

[Tunisian 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 after the defeat of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Tunisia 2020 Investment Summit in Tunis. November 30, 2016.]

In fact, the relationship with Congressional Republicans give hope that that US-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement could be passed directly in Congress as there is broad bipartisan support, including from outgoing US House Ways and Means Ranking member Sander Levin (D-MI).  Congressman Levin, who worked in Tunisia when he was a senior official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told Capitol Intelligence that Tunisia is too small of an economy to pose any threat to US businesses. Tunisia signed the first bilateral trade agreement with the United States under the presidency of John Quincy Adams in 1799. 

The Trump administration is destined to take a no nonsense approach to a strategic country such as Tunisia with the naming of a great Texan oil man like ExxonMobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson as Secretary of State. Tillerson,  who rose through the ranks to become one of the world’s great oil executives, is a leading expert on North Africa due to Exxon’s activities in Libya and Algeria.

Tillerson is an expert diplomat from years of deal making with foreign leaders on oil rights and production sharing agreement and has a good personal relationship with almost everyone that matters across the globe.

Tillerson will not have any patience with gross ineptitude such as Hillary Clinton forcing close confidant and  Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) President Elizabeth Littlefield to spend nearly five years pushing a pet project of former President Bill Clinton to establish a credit facility for a measly USD 50m so Tunisia can have McDonald’s.

[GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA about Tunisia using CI Glass at IMF World Bank annual meetings in Washington, DC. October 6, 2016]

Notwithstanding the disgraceful of absence of the United States at Tunisia 2020, major US companies such as GE (NYSE: GE), Honeywell International (NYSE: HON), Delphi Automotive (NYSE:DLPH) Caterpillar INC (NYSE:CAT) are rapidly expanding their profitable businesses in the country and have begun or will begin using Tunis as a hub for the North Africa West Africa market with a population of 350m and an average GDP growth of around 7 percent.

The most successful company in Tunisia is GE that is continuing to grow its its renewable and power business in the billions following its acquisition of French industrial giant and NAWA market leader Alstom Energy SA.

Under the leadership of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt is also destined to become the oil services leader in NAWA and Africa with its acquisition of American oil services giant Baker Hughes.

The Tunisia 2020 investment summit also opened the door for the development and expansion of the Port of Bizerte in possible cooperation with the Port of Baltimore, Maryland’s pro-business and Republican governor Larry Hogan  and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

[Tunisian Member of Parliament 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, winner of the Greater Washington Urban League 2017 Philanthropy Award discussing Baltimore, Maryland and Bizerte, Tunisia Sister City Partnership.]

Ali Belakhoua (Nida Tounes), an US-Tunisian member of parliament from the city of Bizerte has been fighting for years to re-establish Bizerte as the leading port in the southern Mediterranean.

Belakhoua has already taken the initiative of proposing the Sister Cities partnership between Bizerte and Baltimore with the city’s newly elected mayor, Catherine E. Pugh. The main focus of the partnership, says Belakhoua, would 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. 

[Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh speaks with Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on attracting foreign direct investment at theAtlantic The Renewal Summit in Washington, DC. March 30, 2017]

During his recent visit to Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, Belakhoua spoke with the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to provide up to USD 400m in project financing to a company such as San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation to re-modernize the strategic port.

As a first step, Belakhoua said he will be writing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to to request that the US Army Corps of Engineers carry out a detailed environmental impact and economic feasibility study for 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 United States’ East Coast.

The junior Senator of Maryland, Chris Van Hollen, told Capitol Intelligence, he is receptive to a Sister Cities between Baltimore and Bizerte and by having the US Corps of Engineers help Bizerte to develop and expand its port operations.

[US Senator (D-MD) speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on proposed Sister City partnership between Baltimore, Maryland and Bizerte, Tunisia and Port of Baltimore at Visit Baltimore’s Legends & Legacies Jubilee at Inner Harbor, Baltimore.  February 17, 2017]

Mr. Belakhoua said he has been struggling for years to convince the central government to drop plans for greenfield deep sea port in Enfidha some 40 kilometers south of Tunis in favor of Bizerte which they believe are tied to real estate interests in Tunis and Sousse.

However, the debate between Bizerte and Enfidha may be easily resolved with Memphis, Tennessee-based  FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) taking over Enfidha airport as its regional logistic hub for the North Africa and the entire African continent. 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]

Telnet CEO Mohamed Frikha told Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA that he is currently relaunching a new low-cost airline Phoenix Wings after a series of unprecedented terrorist attacks in the country and Libya doomed his last tourist centered low-cost airline, Syphax airline.

Frikha said that he and his US investor will build Phoenix into a passenger and cargo operation with a planned service between Tunisia and the United States.  Frikha said his US partner is also entering into a long-term concession to operate Aerodrome Tabarka airport on the border with Algeria in northern Tunisia.

The tepid success of Tunisia 2020 to bring major “deal signing” CEOs from the United States and Europe may be an opportunity in disguise as companies such GE, Honeywell, Fedex and German giant Siemens AG’s  CEO Joe Kaeser can use their resources to bring profitable infrastructure investments without needless interference from unqualified, but politically connected, economic development experts.

[Telnet Chief Executive Mohamed Frikha speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass on new Phoenix Wings airline venture and micro-satelite venture with Airbus at Tunisia 2020 Investment Summit in Tunis. November 30, 2016.]

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 — makes the country ideal as GE continues to win billions of dollars in contracts throughout Africa.

GE is currently eyeing taking a USD 100m plus wind farm project initially developed by Miami, Florida-based  developer UPC Renewables at Cap Bon peninsula near the port city of Bizerte in northwest Tunisia.  UPC Principal Peter Gish told Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA that his company has spent years negotiating land rights and regulatory approvals to build the wind farms.

GE is currently talking to Italy’s state controlled utility ENEL unit ENEL Green Power to team-up in the development of UPC’s and other renewable energy project in the region.  The US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is especially motivated to provide up to USD 400m in either corporate or project finance to any qualified operator in the renewable energy sector in Tunisia, one of OPIC’s strategic markets.

Enel Green Power is already the largest operator of wind power in the United States and it recently sold a 49 percent stake in its North American renewable energy assets to GE Energy Financial Services for USD 440m and operates 21.6 gigawatts of renewable power in Europe and North Africa.

One reason Tunisia 2020 did not meet the government expectations was the decision by than Economic Development Minister Yassine Brahim to award the contract hold and promote the conference to little known Paris-based investment advisory boutique Arjil Associes Banque rather than the other two contenders as leading global investment banks Lazard and Rothschild.

The problem of awarding Arjil was further compounded by the French bank hiring disgraced former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the main promoter for Tunisia 2020.

[Former IMF Managing Director and Arjil & Associes Banques D’Affaires principal Dominique Strauss-Kahn speaks to Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at Tunisian 2020 event in Washington, DC. October 7, 2016. Deloitte Consulting Director Mohamed Malouche was event co-organizer.]

“Americans and business leaders are conservative in nature but having Strauss-Kahn out selling Tunisia scared a lot of people away,” one American business owner at Tunisia 2020 said. “We are still wondering why our US Ambassador Daniel Rubenstein did not want Secretary of State John Kerry about the problem?”

The Tunisian-American Deloite Consulting Director and founder of the Tunisian Young American founder Mohamed Malouche prides himself of being the Tunisia facilitator for US agencies such as OPIC, US AID, Albright’s MEII and the PNB Napeo and was a co-organizer of Tunisia 2020.

The economic potential of Tunisia has already been proven by the decision of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to be the keynote speaker at Tunisia 2020.

[Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani filmed by Capitol Intelligence/CI MENA using CI Glass at Tunisia 2020 Road to Inclusion, Sustainability and Efficiency in Tunis, Tunisia. November 29, 2016. Also making exit is US Commerce Assistant Secretary Arun Kumar.]

With over USD 50bn 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 right before Eastern and Central European nations such as Poland and Slovakia joined the European Union.

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

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