France and Tunisia

Political relations

Tunisia is a priority for France, as shown by the numerous bilateral visits. The President of the French Republic made a State visit to Tunisia on 31 January and 1 February 2018. Very soon after his investiture, the President of the French Republic met his Tunisian counterpart, President Essebsi, on 27 May 2017 alongside the G7 summit in Taormina.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe chose to make Tunisia the destination of his first visit outside the European Union. He was received in Tunis on 5 October 2017 by President Essebsi and the head of the Tunisian government, Youssef Chahed, with whom he inaugurated the “Rencontres Africa” and co-chaired the first Franco-Tunisian High-Level Cooperation Council. This High-Level Cooperation Council aims to bolster bilateral cooperation in four key fields: the economy, security, higher education and research, culture and francophonie.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, also chose Tunisia for his first visit to the Arab world and his first visit outside Europe, travelling to Tunis on 4 and 5 June 2017. He made the journey to Tunis on 22 July, on his way to Libya.

President Beji Caïb Essebsi met with the French President on 29 May alongside the conference on Libya at the Élysée. He was also received on 11 December 2017 before participating in the One Planet Summit the next day. He made a State Visit to France in April 2015 and a visit in November 2015 following the attacks in Paris. The head of the Tunisian government, Mr Youssef Chahed, made an official visit to Paris on 9 and 10 November 2016.

President Hollande visited Tunisia three times during his term in office (State visit in July 2013, visit in February 2014 for the adoption of the Tunisian Constitution, and March 2015 following the Bardo attack).

France is committed to helping Tunisia respond to the security and economic challenges it is facing. Local cooperation in an enlarged G7 format has been developed in these fields and at the instigation of France, Germany and the United Kingdom since the Sousse attacks on 26 June 2015.

Visits

  • 21-22 October 2018: Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
  • 25 June 2018: visit by Mr Sabri Bachtobji, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, received by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs to co-chair the monitoring and preparatory committee for the High-Level Cooperation Council
  • 29 May 2018: Mr Beji Caid Essebsi, President of Tunisia, participated in the conference on Libya (side meeting with the French President)
  • 31 January and 1 February 2018: State visit by the French President
  • 12 January 2018: visit by Mr Zied Ladhari, Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation
  • 11 December 2017: Visit by Mr Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisian President, received by the President of the French Republic the day before the One Planet Summit.
  • 5 October 2017: visit from Mr Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister
  • 23-24 July 2017: visit by Mr Gérard Collomb, Minister of the Interior
  • 14-15 July 2017: visit by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
  • 4-5 June 2017: Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
  • 6-7 April 2017: Visit by Mr Bernard Cazeneuve, Prime Minister
  • 24-27 February 2017: Visit by Mr Samir Taieb, the Tunisian Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, at the agriculture trade show in Paris
  • 23-24 February 2017: Visit by Mr Slim Khalbous, Tunisian Minister for Higher Education
  • 9-10 February 2017: Visit by Ms Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture, to participate in “5+5 Culture” meeting in Tunis
  • 25-26 January 2017: Visit by Ms Lamia Zribi, Tunisian Minister of Finance to participate in “5+5 Finance” in Paris
  • 13 December 2016: Visit by Mr Hedi Majdoub, Tunisian Minister of the Interior
  • 28-29 November 2016: Visit by Mr Manuel Valls, Prime Minister, to represent France in the economic investor conference “Tunisia 2020”
  • 9-10 November 2016: Visit by Mr Youssef Chahed, Head of the Tunisian Government, accompanied by: Mr Fadhel Abdelkefi, Tunisian Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation, Selma Elloumi Rekik, Tunisian Minister of Tourism and Crafts, and Iyad Dahmani, Tunisian Minister of Parliamentary Relations
  • 22 January 2016: Visit by Mr Habib Essid, Head of the Tunisian government, accompanied by: Saïd Aïdi, Minister for Health, Kamel Jendoubi, Minister in charge of Relations with Constitutional Institutions and Civil Society, and of Human Rights, and Ridha Ben Mosbah, Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister. Announcement by France of a support plan of €1 billion over 5 years and signature of a conversion of €60 million of debt into a development project.
  • 14 November 2015: Visit by Beji Caid Essebsi, President of the Republic of Tunisia, to offer his condolences to President Hollande following the Paris attacks
  • 7-8 April 2015: State visit by Beji Caid Essebsi, President of the Republic of Tunisia, accompanied by: Taïeb Baccouche, Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Latifa Lakhdhar, Tunisian Minister of Culture and Heritage Conservation, and Kamel Jendoubi, Tunisian Minister to the Head of Government in charge of Relations with Constitutional Institutions and Civil Society
  • 29 March 2015: Visit by François Hollande, President of the French Republic, Claude Bartolone, President of the French National Assembly, and Harlem Désir, French Minister of State for European Affairs, for the Tunis march against terrorism
  • 7-8 September 2014: visit by Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Matthias Fekl, French Minister of State for Foreign Trade, the Promotion of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad
  • 28-30 April 2014: visit by Mehdi Jomaa, Head of the Tunisian Government
  • 7 February 2014: visit by François Hollande, President of the French Republic, for the adoption of the new Tunisian constitution
  • 5-7 December 2013: visit by President of the Tunisian Republic, Moncef Marzouki, and Othman Jerandi, Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the occasion of the Élysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa
  • 5 November 2013: visit by Moncef Marzouki, President of the Tunisian Republic
  • 4-5 July 2013: State visit by François Hollande, President of the French Republic
  • 17-19 July 2012: Official visit by the President of the Tunisian Republic, Moncef Marzouki

Economic relations

France has special economic relations with Tunisia, both as its leading trade partner (in 2016, France received approximately 30% of Tunisian exports and provided 16% of its imports) and its leading foreign direct investor. While Tunisia has a structural trade deficit, France has a bilateral trade deficit with Tunisia which is set to stand at approximately €1 billion in 2017. In recent years, France has lost market share and in 2017 lost its position as leading supplier falling behind Italy.

In 2016, trade between Tunisia and France stood at €7.4 billion, an decrease of 2.5% compared with 2015. They should be about the same in 2017. While bilateral trade has increased by 4% per year over the last 10 years, growing from €5.6 billion to €7.4 billion, it has stagnated since 2011.

France has a bilateral deficit with Tunisia while Tunisia’s overall foreign trade is very much in deficit. The deficit has been very volatile for 10 years, fluctuating between a near balance (2009) and €930 million, a record level reached in 2016. The deficit should be similar in 2017.

French exports to Tunisia stood at €3.2 billion in 2016, down 10% on 2015. They should stabilize at this level in 2017, while at the same time the country’s total import volume has increased by 2.5%. Excluding the years when aerospace equipment was delivered, France’s exports to Tunisia are tending to lose market share, mainly in favour of emerging countries such as China or Turkey. France has historically been Tunisia’s leading supplier, but saw its market share fall from 23% to 16% between 2006 and 2016 and, in 2017, lost its position of leading supplier, falling behind Italy.

France’s imports from Tunisia increased in 2016 by nearly 5%, reaching a record €4.2 billion. While imports are expected to fall slightly in 2017, France will maintain it’s traditional position as Tunisia’s leading customer with nearly 30% of its exports going to France.

The mechanical, electric and digital equipment sectors account for an increasing proportion of France’s imports (40% in 2016 vs 20% in 2006), illustrating the success of the outsourcing model chosen by Tunisia in the 1970s.

With Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) of nearly €1.4 billion in 2016, France is the second-largest investor in Tunisia (16% of FDI), behind the United Arab Emirates (24%). This represents roughly 1,400 companies and 137,000 jobs, making France the leading job creator in Tunisia.

But France accounted for 15% of capital entering Tunisia between 2011 and 2016, making it the leading foreign direct investor since the revolution. It is a leading investor in manufacturing industries and services.

France’s foreign direct investment stock is mainly concentrated in industry (currently the aerospace and automobile industries are the main sectors): the electronics industry has 13.8% of France’s FDI in Tunisia while metal and mechanical industries have 13.5% and textile and clothing industries 10.8%. The telecommunications sector represents 11% of French FDI.

It is in the textile/clothing industry that French FDI creates the most jobs: 45,000 jobs depend on it. This is followed by the electronics industry (21,600 jobs), the mechanical and metal industry (14,700 jobs) and call centres (12,000 jobs). Plastic processing (7,300 jobs), agrifood (7,000 jobs), the leather and shoe industry (5,800 jobs), tourist accommodation (3,800 jobs), construction materials (3,000 jobs) the banking sector (4,000 jobs), IT services (3,700 jobs) and the pharmaceutical industry (2,400 jobs) are also sectors in which French businesses creates many jobs.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

Our cooperation and cultural action are now geared to three priorities:

  • Supporting Tunisian civil society and the development of its relations with French civil society
  • Supporting the establishment of democracy and the rule of law
  • Contributing to the initial and continued training of Tunisians

French cultural cooperation is aimed in priority at young people and new audiences within civil society. This is achieved by artistic exchanges, debates and support for new media outlets. Promoting our expertise in museums and heritage as well as supporting young artists and cultural players are also important aspects of this cooperation.

Promoting the French language is an important part of our cooperation. As a “foreign language with special status” in Tunisia, it is taught at all levels of the educational system. The diplomatic post helps to promote the French language through the Language Centre of the French Institute in Tunisia and the network of French schools (AEFE, Agency for French Education Abroad) hosting more than 3,200 Tunisian children out of a total of 7,200 students.

Furthermore, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) has played a central role in French-Tunisian cooperation since 1992 through the volume of its commitments and by supporting major economic and social reforms. Tunisia is the AFD’s second largest intervention country in terms of volume and the largest in terms of interventions per capita. The AFD is the main operator of the €1.7 billion plan that will take us up to 2022.

Updated: 12 October 2018