Tunisia is a net importer of agricultural products. In 2021, leading agricultural imports were wheat ($595 million), Soybeans ($278 million), barley ($265 million), corn ($265 million), vegetable oils ($207 million), and sugar ($73 million). The leading agriculture-related exports were olive oil ($564 million), dates ($236 million), fish products ($204 million), and citrus ($8 million).
Tunisia applies an average import duty of 32% on U.S. agricultural exports. In 2021, U.S. agricultural exports to Tunisia totaled $187 million, with soybeans and corn accounting for over 95%.
Tunisia is a beneficiary of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). However, legal authorization for the GSP program expired on December 31, 2020 and U.S. Congress has yet to reauthorize it. In 2021, Tunisia’s agricultural exports to the United States totaled $259 million, 92% of which was accounted for by olive oil and dates. Tunisia supplies the United States with 13-35% of its imported dates and 4-20% of its imported olive oil.
In comparison with other countries in North Africa, agriculture plays a relatively modest role in Tunisia’s economy, accounting for 16% of the country’s workforce and 12% of the country’s GDP while growing at around 2% per year. While larger agricultural enterprises are increasingly prominent, the sector remains politically sensitive and heavily regulated. Due to historic and geographic reasons, the European Union heavily influences Tunisia on agriculture policy. Tunisia also maintains significant market controls throughout the agriculture value chain, which, to some extent, limits growth and investment opportunities. Public land may be leased from the government to private farmers or managed directly by the Ministry of Agriculture. Foreigners cannot own agricultural land but may obtain long-term leases.
The Food-processing Sector
In 2021, the food-processing sector accounted for an estimated 1,280 enterprises that each employed 10 or more people. Approximately 20% of these companies produce only for export. The production value of this sector is around $12 billion annually and is continuously growing due to changes in eating habits toward consumption of processed products versus fresh ones. The food-processing sector’s demand for imported high-value ingredients is steadily increasing, with more sophisticated products licensed by multinational food companies. However, this trend has temporarily slowed down because of the COVID-19 related declines in demand, including the contraction of the tourism industry. Cereals and cereal products, oilseeds, vegetable oils, and sugar derivatives account on average for 90% of Tunisia’s food imports.
The Food Retail Sector
Over the last decade, the modern retail sector has seen in-depth development fueled by the expansion of modern distribution outlets, supermarkets, and hypermarkets through joint ventures with foreign investors. These have mostly been with France. However, the sector lost market share over the last year to boutique retail and mom-and-pop grocery stores due to temporary pandemic-related closures of malls and hypermarkets. Pandemic-related movement restrictions have also fueled the growth of online food purchases.
The Food Service Sector
In addition to domestic customers, this sector caters to the many tourists that visit Tunisia each year. Most hotels and restaurants either source their food through annual tenders or through the same distribution channels used by households. High-end hotels import spirits, wines, and specialty cheeses either directly or via import companies. Tourism has declined significantly due to COVID-19, driving down food service sales.
The most significant market opportunities exist for goods and services supportive of the local agriculture and agro-processing industry, including soybeans and crude vegetable oil, feed grains and additives, modified starches, enzymes, genetics, grain silos, elevators, tractors, harvesters, irrigation systems, pesticides, and food processing/bottling machinery. The GOT offers tax incentives of up to 50% under the 2016 Investment Law to encourage acquisition of agricultural equipment. From 2017-2019, the United States and Tunisia also agreed on multiple health certificates to facilitate new market access for U.S. bovine and equine semen, day-old chicks and hatching eggs, breeding cattle, sheep and goats, beef, poultry, and egg products exports to Tunisia. Consumer-oriented products with prospects to perform best in the Tunisian market include tree nuts, dried fruit, condiments and sauces, dairy products, cookies and crackers, chocolate and cocoa, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) (https://www.fas.usda.gov/) has an office in the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and may be reached at email@example.com. Its reports, including an Exporter Guide, can be found online at https://gain.fas.usda.gov/#/.