The country’s success in trade stems back to ancient times, when it was the breadbasket for much of the Roman empire. By the same token, Tunisia has been boosting its international trade since gaining independence from France in 1956. In fact, it now has one of the best-established middle classes of any Arab or African country.
Tunisian Ambassador to Indonesia Faysal Gouia told The Point that Indonesia is capable of being an important player in the globalization era due to its rich natural resources. The following are excerpts of our recent interview with him.
Q: How would you explain Tunisia’s tremendous economic change?
A: It’s a long process, but Tunisia has made a lot of changes in all domains, such as in political affairs and setting up a democratic and pluralistic system. In the economic side, Tunisia has one of the most dynamic economies in the region. Tunisia is not an oil rich country. We do not have natural resources like gold and gas, but our manufacturing industries and tourism have accounted for 70% of exports. The World Economic Forum in Davos recently ranked Tunisia first among the Arab and African countries.
Q: Are you talking about Tunisia being number one in terms of competitiveness?
A: Yes, and the competitiveness is not only in one area, but also in terms of the global market, quality of services, distribution of wealth, etc. It’s also been taking place in the social aspect, such as human resources. Our government has been promoting free education from kindergarten to university level to every citizen regardless of age. Promoting education is meant not only to boost the literacy rate, but is also an investment to build better quality human resources, which can contribute significant assets in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries. With today’s unemployment rate of less than 3%, I must say that we have been doing well in economic reform, particularly in the era of globalization.
Q: How is Tunisia dealing with it?
A: Globalization is a new notion and should be taken as an opportunity. If you want to be a good player in the world’s economy, we should adopt the new way and an effective approach in doing global business. For instance, Tunisia has not only actively been a member of World Trade Organization, but also the country’s market-oriented economy is open in the surrounding area. Looking up with European Union, we are the first non-European Union member to sign the Free Trade Agreement with the EU. The agreement, signed in July 1995, also called an association agreement, means that we, though not an EU member, are associated with the union. Either the EU or Tunisia can go back and forth without charges, such as taxation. We have been adapting from a traditional to a global trading culture since we signed the agreement in 1995. Next year it will be fully implemented, where all doors between the two will be wide open.
Q: How do you see Indonesia facing globalization?
A: Being the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, I think Indonesia is capable of contributing much to the world’s economy, which should also benefit the nation. To me, you have very good assets, and the economic indicators now are good in terms of inflation, employment, gross domestic product, income per capita, etc.
Q: Do you think Indonesia will succeed?
A: If you say a country is not succeeding, that means all the economic indicators are in the red, such as high inflation, higher imports than exports. And if the GDP figure is starting to decline amid short reserves, a country’s economy is in peril. However, in the aggregate, Indonesia is ready to compete in the global economy despite facing obstacles. To me, Indonesia’s inflation rate and currency reserves are competent. I can see from the country being capable of paying off its IMF debt. Most importantly, the country has lots of natural resources.
Born on July 10, 1959, Faysal Gouia earned both his bachelors degree in business administration and doctoral degree in public administration at Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Tunis, and his masters degree in finance management at the Finance School of Paris. He served as the Tunisian Embassy’s press attache in Washington, as well as cultural and press attache, economic consulate and DCM from 1995 to 2001. On return to Tunis he served as director of the Americas at the Foreign Affairs Ministry from 2001 to 2005 before coming to Jakarta to serve as ambassador to Indonesia.