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Food Security, Competitiveness and Trade: The Case of Tunisian Agriculture

Ibtissem Taghouti, Mohamed Elloumi,

Victor Martinez-Gomez, and Jose Marfa Garcia Alvarez-Coque


The Mediterranean policy of the European Union (EU) was deeply affected by the Arab spring. A big number of trade negotiations between the European Union and their Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPC) marked the last five years. In fact, there are two main programs established as a European reaction to the last events in the MENA region:

I. Taghouti (*)

Laboratoire de Gestion et de Valorisation des Ressources Forestieres (LGVREF), Institut National de Recherches en Genie Rural, Eaux et Forets, Ariana 2080, Tunisia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

M. Elloumi

Laboratoire d’Economie Rurale, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique de Tunisie (INRAT), Ariana 2049, Tunisia

V. Martinez-Gomez • J.M.G. Alvarez-Coque

Department Economics & Social Sciences, Univ. Politecnica Valencia, Valencia 46022, Spain

© The Author(s) 2017

G. Mergos, M. Papanastassiou (eds.), Food Security and Sustainability, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40790-6_12

the European Neighborhood Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD), running from 2014 to 2020, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA). These European initiatives could present an important opportunity for Mediterranean countries to deal with the existing social and trade issues. Even without mobilizing funds, the European support can be relevant to the MPC by sharing experiences and helping in capacity building (Garcia Avarez- Coque and Martinez 2016). Besides, the EU is trying to refine a new Mediterranean policy adapted to each country in the Southern shore, as it would be inappropriate to understand the area as a block.

In the beginning, the DCFTA was an initiative launched by the EU to create a free trade area with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In 2011, preparation sessions for negotiations were begun to implement Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In 2015, there was a plan to start negotiations of DCFTA with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. Focusing on Tunisia, the third meeting of the preparatory process for the negotiations of a DCFTA took place on 19 June 2015 in Tunis and the Tunisian Prime Minister announced that Tunisia is ready to launch the DCFTA negotiations on 13 October 2015. The DCFTA guarantees the access of associated countries to the EU internal market in selected sectors as well as ensuring the European investors the same regulatory environment in the associated country as in Europe. Bilateral negotiations on trade liberalization in services and establishment will be integrated into the DCFTA. However, bilateral negotiation on agriculture remains open and controversial. In the Mediterranean region, the actual situation is a severe dependence on foreign supplies of food which could present an important threat to food security in the region (Abis 2012). Regarding the most basic staples, the northern African countries account for about 20 percent of world wheat imports with only 2 percent of world population. Indeed, all countries of North Africa are very dependent on agricultural imports with a deficiency in agri-food trade balance. In the case of Tunisia, traditional agri-food policies aimed at alleviating the import bill by exporting products with comparative advantage. While this strategy to ensure food security has been questioned (see Akesbi 2011 for Morocco and Petit 2015 for the region), it is still worthwhile to identify the degree of export competitiveness of Tunisian products on key markets in order to enhance food security in the country.

Trade could be a driver of prosperity for Tunisia if European efforts turn to the economic development, political stability and achieve essential goals such as food security. However, several critiques are emerging about the benefits of DCFTA to the southern economies. In this sense, the main concern is about the readiness of the Tunisian market to benefit from the DCFTA-planned gains in the agri-food sector.

Against this panorama, the main objective of this chapter is to assess the competitiveness of Tunisian agri-food products in respect to Europe and Maghreb before signing DCFTAs. In addition, this chapter aims to identify and assess the main points of controversy related to the DCFTAs between the EU and Tunisia and the ways to mitigate them from the Tunisian point of view, by exploring some of the issues related to the rural communities and market actors in Tunisia.

The chapter is organized as follows. After presenting a framework of the situation, the agri-food sector and trade in Tunisia and the expected advantages and costs of the DCFTA are described in Section “Agri-Food Sector, Trade and DCFTA in Tunisia”. In Section “Expected Benefits and Shortcomings of the DCFTA”, we present the competitiveness indicator computed and Sect. 4 shows the results of the calculations to illustrate the competitiveness of the agri-food sector in Tunisia just before signing the DCFTA. The chapter ends with some conclusions and policy implications drawn from the analysis.

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