NNA – An International Monetary Fund team led by Mr. Bjِrn Rother visited Tunis from July 26 to August 3 to discuss the economic outlook and the authorities’ policy intentions under Tunisia’s economic reform program supported by a four-year IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement approved in May 2016 (See Press Release 16/238). At the end of the visit
Mr. Rother, made the following statement:
“The outlook for the Tunisian economy is slowly improving, but challenges remain. Growth is on track to reach 2.3 percent in 2017, supported by a pick-up in phosphates, agriculture, and tourism. But structural obstacles in the economy continue to weigh on exports. Strong consumption, fueled by wage increases, is leading to inflation (core inflation moved up to 5.5 percent in June) and is pushing already elevated fiscal and external deficits higher. These dynamics are putting downward pressure on the dinar. Public and external debt increased to 65 percent and 73 percent of GDP, respectively, in June. Slow job creation and limited economic opportunity continue to affect the Tunisian people.
“The Tunisian authorities have already accelerated their response to the economic pressures. The government increased administered fuel prices in July to reduce inefficient energy subsidies. The recent escalation in the government’s fight against corruption met wide public support. Finally, Tunisia’s participation in the G20 Compact with Africa initiative has helped the country to demonstrate its significant investment potential.
“The Central Bank of Tunisia has moved to greater exchange rate flexibility to help bring the dinar in line with its fundamentals and keep reserves at an adequate level. A tighter monetary policy, with two increases in the policy rate to 5 percent and new macroprudential limits, has helped ease inflationary pressures and supports the dinar.
“During the visit, the authorities have expressed commitment to build on the recent reform momentum. Avoiding any further deterioration in the fiscal deficit this year and preparing a fair and sustainable budget for 2018 are critical. It is also paramount to contain the wage bill, which at 14.1 percent of GDP last year was among the highest in the world. Major adjustments this year and next are necessary to compensate slippages and bring the wage bill back on track to reach the target of 12 percent of GDP in 2020. Continued monetary tightening as well as exchange rate flexibility are also essential in reducing persistent macroeconomic imbalances.
“Far-reaching structural reforms remain front and center in Tunisia’s quest for inclusive growth and higher living standards for all. Modernizing the civil service, putting the pension system on a sustainable footing, and enhancing access to credit will boost growth, reduce imbalances, and free up space for priority investments in infrastructure, education, and health. An effective high anti-corruption authority will improve the arsenal of the government in its fight against corruption and illicit business practices.
“The team had constructive discussions with Interim Minister of Finance and Minister of Development Abdelkefi, the Head of Government’s Chief of Staff Chalghoum, Minister Counselor Rajhi, and Central Bank Governor Ayari as well as their staff. It also had discussions with the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), academia, and civil society. The team will continue working closely with the Tunisian authorities on the reform program under the EFF in the coming months. It would like to thank the authorities and all those with whom they met for their warm welcome and the frank and productive discussions.” — IMF