In accordance with Decree No. 2014-209 of January 16, 2014, the mission of the Ministry of Transport is to establish, maintain and develop a comprehensive, integrated and coordinated transport system in Tunisia. The ministry is responsible for:
- The development and implementation of state transportation policies and programs;
- to give an opinion on on regional development programs and on infrastructure projects relating to transportation;
- carry out sectoral research and prospective studies, implement strategies for the development and modernization of the transport system, draw up transport master plans in coordination with the parties concerned and ensure their implementation;
- ensure the development of human resources in the field of transport;
- draw up programs and plans relating to transport safety and the quality of services and ensure their implementation;
- oversee the development and monitoring of the implementation of national civil aviation, commercial seaports and maritime transport security programs;
- participate in the development of tax policies in transportation;
- study and prepare draft legislative and regulatory texts relating to transportation;
- participate in the development and execution of programs to control energy consumption, the use of alternative energy and environmental protection, in collaboration with the ministries, professionals and organizations concerned;
- develop the statistical system relating to the fields of its competence;
- develop international cooperation programs in transportation, in coordination with the bodies concerned and consolidate relations with international and regional institutions and bodies dealing with matters falling within the competence of the ministry and participate in bilateral or multilateral international negotiations;
- develop the information and communication function in transportation, in collaboration with the bodies concerned and consolidate relations and coordination with civil associations and national organizations.
The logistics infrastructure have played a long key role in Tunisia’s development, given the country’s focus economy on exports, imports and tourism. A combination of low logistical costs and proximity to European markets helped the country attract investors and visitors, and export everything from olive oil to airplane components. Foreign tourist inflows increased 23.6% in the first two months of 2017, while exports were up 4.7% in the same period. In total, the logistics operations drew in €2bn in 2016, accounting for about 5% of Tunisia’s €40.5bn in GDP. The transport sector only employed some 160,000 workers.
Logistics Infrastructure Investment
Tunisia’s logistical competitiveness has gradually deteriorated since the mid-2000s as a result of ageing infrastructure, a lack of investments, and a rising number of social and administrative bottlenecks. The country saw its position downgraded from the 61st to the 110th place in the World Bank logistics performance index between 2010 and 2016, though the bank awarded the country a weighted score of 93 when taking into account its overall performance.
Still, the declining score is the result of the constrained ability of the government to fund new infrastructure projects in recent years, on the back of slow growth in export revenues. To tackle this problem, in 2015 the government announced the ambitious Tunisia 2020 five-year development plan, worth $60bn and aimed at reinforcing transport infrastructure, levelling out regional disparities and laying the groundwork for more inclusive economic growth. The plan outlines more than 50 major infrastructure projects for the rail, aviation, maritime and road segments, and relies on an increased role for the private sector – a distinct change from past policy, which has resulted in state-owned entities accounting for roughly 70% of sector ownership. 40 of the plan’s projects have been designated as public-private partnerships (PPPs).
As elsewhere in the region, freight by road accounts for the bulk of cargo transport, with a share of 85%, prompting authorities to systematically prioritize road infrastructure to boost connectivity. However, road transport has been structurally affected by deep fragmentation and poor performance of the road hauler subsector, characterized by a limited service supply, predominance of the informal sector and a low level of investment. For example, the sector offers very little refrigerated transport service or courier services. As a result, half of industrial companies assume their own transportation operations, encouraged by a system of tax cuts for vehicles they transfer to subsidiaries. Tunisia also suffers from a shortage of adequate storage infrastructure, but the government has proposed PPP projects to develop logistical zones in Zaghouan, Zarzis, Ghannouch and Radès that will produce new warehousing areas, totaling 380 hectares.
Tunisia has a road network of 20,000 km with 419 km of highways. The sector is managed by Tunisie Autoroutes, a state-owned concessionary company in charge of the construction and maintenance of the whole network. The existing highway system includes a 51-km section between Tunis and Bizerte (A4), a 67-km section between Tunis and Oued Zarga (A3) and a 247-km section between Tunis and Sfax, each equipped with a toll system, with the tolls going back to Tunisie Autoroutes. Another 54-km section between Oued Zarga and Boussalem was completed in November 2016, for TD430m (€184m). Several other sections are also under construction, including a 140-km extension of the highway between Sfax and Gabès – which was nearing completion in early 2017 – and a TD817m (€350m) 84-km section from Gabès to Ras-Jedir at the Libyan border, part of the Trans-Maghreb highway, a corridor that is to connect Morocco to Libya over an 800-km route.
The Tunisia 2020 development plan set a target of 1000 km of highways by 2020, which means over a third remains to be built. The strategy includes the development ofa highway section between Bousalem and Jendouba to reinforce road connections with Algeria, a 100-km highway section between Le Kef and the A3 as well as an 188-km highway section between Tunis and Jelma. This latter constitutes the first phase of a larger $570m road development plan aimed at connecting Kairouan, Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Gafsa to Tunis.
In recent years, authorities have also been looking to upgrade the primary and secondary road networks. The Ministry of Equipment, Housing, and Territory Planning has recently invested TD530m (€227m) for the doubling of a 60-km road section between Siliana and El Fahs and a 55-km route between Kairouan and Sousse. As part of Tunisia 2020, authorities are looking to further upgrade its road network, with plans to double all expressways between the western governorates (Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid and Gafsa) and the coastal governorates (Sfax and Gabès) and refurbish 1450 km of rural roads for $570m and $225m, respectively. However, much of the recent work is focused on rehabilitation and maintenance of existing routes, with financing supported by donor institutions. In 2016 the African Development Bank granted a $210m loan to support the implementation of Tunisia’s Road Infrastructure Modernization Project, a plan aimed at rehabilitating 719 km of roads in the country’s west, center-west and north-west governorates as well as ensuring periodic maintenance of 2500 km of roads. In addition, the European Investment Bank granted a €150m loan to upgrade large stretches of roadways south of Greater Tunis and build new roadways in remote regions such as Sfax or Nabeul.
The aviation segment accounts for 2% of GDP and around two-thirds of tourist arrivals. Tunisia’s air transport infrastructure consists of nine international airports: Tunis-Carthage, Sfax-Thyna, Enfidha-Hammamet, Gafsa-Ksar, Tabarka-Aïn Draham, Tozeur-Nafta, Gabès-Matmata, Monastir Habib Bourguiba, and Djerba-Zarzis. All are managed by the state-owned Office of Civil Aviation and Airports (Office de l’Aviation Civile et des Aéroports, OACA), with the exception of Monastir Habib Bourguiba and Enfidha-Hammamet, which are managed under concession by Turkey’s TAV Airport Holdings. Traffic at the nation’s airports has been on a downward trend in recent years, as a result of political uncertainty, which was exacerbated by a broader economic slowdown and regional volatility.
Air Transport Concerns
The air market has not been liberalised, which is common within the region. Following several years of negotiations, an Open Sky agreement with the EU is expected to be signed mid-2017. As it stands, the deal would include all airports except for Tunis-Carthage, which would be liberalised in 2019 as part of the same plan, in order to give national carrier Tunisair time to restructure. Tunisair, the national flag carrier, has grappled with competitiveness issues in recent years.
As part of its 2016-20 development strategy, OACA is planning to invest approximately TD1bn (€400m) to upgrade Tunisia’s air infrastructure. Aside from some refurbishment work on airstrips at Djerba and Gafsa’s airports, most of the investment will be directed toward upgrading the 830-hectare Tunis-Carthage airport and bringing it into conformity with international standards. Estimated to cost TD700m (€300m), the project is intended to increase the airport’s capacity from 5m to 10m passengers per year, via the development of a new terminal fully dedicated to Tunisair. There have also been proposals by the government for an airport in Bouhnach, about 25 km from Tunis and connected to the Tunis-Medjez El Bab highway. According to OACA’s estimates, the construction of this new airport would cost nearly $1bn and could take between seven and 10 years to be completed.
Air Freight Concerns
As is the case in many of the MENA region’s markets, the bulk of freight is transported internally by road and externally by ship. Air freight accounts for only 3% of total cargo transportation, however, the air cargo market has seen double-digit growth over the past three years. Express Air Cargo, a new Tunisian firm started activities in November 2016, operated its maiden flight from Tunis to Paris in February 2017. Express Air Cargo will operate its fleet of 10 aircraft from hubs in Tunis and Enfidha, along with facilities in Paris and Casablanca by 2018.
Given that 96% of Tunisia’s foreign trade is conducted by sea, Tunisia has a substantial port infrastructure, with a total of eight ports, including: Radès Port in Tunis which accounts for 25% of total traffic and 63% of container activity and specializes in container and roll-on/ roll-off traffic; Sfax, which is multi-purpose; the ports of Bizerte and Skhira, whose traffic is dominated by oil products; Tunis-La Goulette, which is a key destination for passengers and cruisers; Sousse, which is used for general cargo; Gabès, which is used for chemicals; and Zaris, which handles salt and oil. The sector is regulated by the port authority, the Merchant Marine and Ports Authority (Office de la Marine Marchande et des Ports, OMMP), while the state-owned Tunisian Stevedoring and Handling Company (Société Tunisienne d’Acconage et de Manutention, STAM) serves as the handling concessionaire in all ports bar Skhira. Roughly 80% of the country’s container traffic is handled by three multinationals, namely Maersk, MSC and CMA-CGM.
Port Development related issues
Tunisia’s ports have long been limited to handling smaller feeder vessels, generally up to 1200 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), due to a maximum draught of 10 meters. This in turn contributes to higher costs and congestion, limiting the ability to handle larger trans-shipment activity. The authorities have been looking to build a 17-metre-draught deep water port in Enfidha, as a means to improve logistical competitiveness and capture a slice of the increase in trans-shipment activity in the Mediterranean basin. Estimated at a TD3.2bn (€1.2bn) cost, the project falls under the Tunisia 2020 strategy and is slated to be tendered as a PPP. Authorities are seeking to create a logistical zone behind Radès Port in order to reduce congestion and enhance storage container capacity. As it stands, the Port of Radès has seven docks, with four of them exclusively dedicated to roll-on/roll-off shipping and three to container traffic, with a handling capacity of 450,000 TEUs. STAM has acquired six new gantry cranes for TD40m (€17m), in an effort to improve handling capacities to 15 containers per hour.
Customs Clearance Concerns
Tunisia has also launched a number of initiatives to streamline port procedures, including the implementation of an online one-stop-shop, Tunisia Trade Net, which has substantially reduced Custom clearance times. In addition, a new Customs Code was recently implemented, which simplifies storage management, packaging, consolidation and deconsolidation operations for firms.
Tunisia’s railway network comprises 13 lines, stretching over 2167 km with 267 train stations. The National Railway Company (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Tunisiens, SNCFT) has operated the network since 1956, with passenger transportation making up most of its activity. The SNCFT’s commuter lines carried 37m passengers in 2015, along with 6m via long-distance trains. The SNCFT is currently looking to increase capital spending over the coming years, with funds going to, among other objectives, extending the existing coastal line between the eastern cities of Moknine and Mahdia, both near Monastir. Initially scheduled in 2012, the $60m project is expected to strengthen the inter-connectivity of cities within the coastal region and support the development of tourism in Mahdia. In addition, the country is part of a trilateral proposal to build a high-speed railway line through the Maghreb. The plan would see a rail link stretch to Algeria and Morocco from the east of the country, with commercial operations currently slated to begin by 2025. The first phase of the Tunisia portion of the project includes the $90m construction of a first 75-km section between Gabès and Medinine.
While the country’s passenger traffic has been comparatively steady, freight activity is far more limited, with nine-tenths of the country’s internal trade occurring by road. The bulk of freight activity by train is tied to the phosphate sector, which transports 8m tons of phosphate by rail annually. However, as part of the Tunisia 2020 strategy, the authorities have been looking to increase freight usage, in a bid to reduce shipping costs and encourage industrial investment in the interior of the country. Among other projects, the plan envisages the development of a link between the coastal tourist town of Sousse and Kasserine in the interior. Estimated to cost $165m, the project would involve the rehabilitation of 157 km of railway and the construction of an additional 138 km. The SNCFT is also looking to invest $133m to re-open the Mateur-Tabarka railway line in an effort to link the north-western regions to the north-eastern part of the country, with work expected to start in 2020. Additionally, the SNCFT has announced plans to invest $115m to upgrade the existing Tunis-Kasserine railway.