The EU and Tunisia share common interests for expanding the cooperation in terms of agri-food products. So Tunisian authorities will deepen the aggressive trade liberalization agenda by signing the DCFTA. However, several issues that require the employment of proactive strategies will be crucial to avoid negative impacts of the DCFTA in some subsectors. Indeed, the liberalization process needs an institutional and legislative adaptation to the EU’s standards and rules which could affect Tunisian agri-food exports and lead to various social costs. Hence, it can put some basic domestic agri-food products at stake due to increased competition.
Food security and self-sufficiency constitute the major concerns of Tunisian government, especially with trade liberalization. One strategy to achieve food security consists on relying on exports of competitive products to compensate for the bill of basic food products. In this context, the analysis of the competitiveness of agri-food trade with the EU and neighboring countries makes this study especially interesting.
Our empirical findings reveal that the biggest relative increase in Tunisian exports is expected to come mainly from the sectors of fruits, fish and olive oil given the high competiveness shown at the EU market. Moreover, these products are likely to expand in terms of value added, which would lead to positive spillover effects. Then, Tunisian efforts could focus on obtaining more significant trade benefits in these sectors. Marquez and Martinez-Gomez (2016) show that this strategy has been fruitful to enhance Moroccan exports of fruits and vegetables.
Another point to stress, consistent with Chebbi and Gil’s findings (1999), is that the competiveness of the Tunisian agricultural sector differs significantly according to geographical areas of trade. The three most competitive sectors in the EU market are not so competitive in the UMA market. Otherwise, the rest of the products increase their competitiveness at the UMA. Hence, one Tunisian policy option would be to deepen the UMA trade so that export of competitive products increases to Maghreb partners and then, through a learning-by-doing process, they can raise their overall competitiveness and become ready for the global markets.
Indeed, in the short term some agri-food subsectors, mainly animal products, milk and dairy products and cereals, remain unprepared to support the costs of the DCFTA due to their low competitiveness. Then, Tunisian authorities could propose a progressive trade liberalization strategy with the EU.
In the meanwhile, Tunisia could encourage foreign direct investment in these sectors to improve their competiveness. Another measure to foster producers’ competitiveness is to promote the adoption of adequate varieties with quality control and certification facilities.
Beyond the “pure” export strategies, Petit (2015a, b) and Petit et al. (2015) emphasize the role of civil society organizations and local institutions to enhance agricultural and rural development for sustainable food security in Mediterranean countries, and point out to the ENPARD funding and European experiences to achieve this goal.
Acknowledgments J.M. Garcia Alvarez Coque and V. Martinez-Gomez wish to thank the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness for supporting the research project AGL2015-65897-C3-3-R; V. Martinez-Gomez is grateful to the support given by Generalitat Valenciana, research project GV/2015/073.