Interview: Anis Riahi
How can Tunisia grow as a regional and international transport centre?
ANIS RIAHI: Tunisia has significant advantages over other countries. Located in the centre of the continent’s northern coast, and thus close to many European capitals, Tunisia is well placed to act as an entryway, not only for North Africa, but also for sub-Saharan Africa. Clients often opt for air transport when deliveries are urgent, and minimising transit times is a high priority. Among these clients are those in the automotive, aeronautic, and electromechanical industries, for whom even a single-hour shutdown is extremely costly and risky. Unfortunately, past governments lacked a sufficiently ambitious vision and failed to act swiftly enough to realise Tunisia’s logistic potential, which left neighbouring countries to act as alternative regional gateways. Developing Tunisia’s status as a gateway to Africa will require consolidating its position in North Africa and subsequently in West and Central Africa.
Lastly, Tunisia has all the human resources necessary to support the air transport sector. Tunisia has aeronautical schools that welcome both Tunisians and foreigners, and ensure the necessary training of flight crews, engineers, and technicians.
In what ways will air services be impacted by economic liberalisation in Tunisia?
RIAHI: Professionals, especially in the tourism sector, have pushed for the implementation of an open skies agreement with the EU, which should boost the arrival of tourists to Tunisia. Naturally, it will expose the national airline to healthy competition, which will in turn motivate it to improve the quality of its services. The agreement will also give Tunisair more opportunities as it will be able to exercise commercial aviation rights as outlined by the freedoms of the air. Furthermore, an open skies agreement with the EU will also allow Tunisian air transporters to provide cargo charter flights, whether regular or ad hoc, for European firms between European countries. In effect, the agreement would allow Tunisian airlines to compete with European ones, which represents significant opportunities given the relatively lower costs Tunisian airline companies can achieve.
What is the importance of intra-African commerce?
RIAHI: Intra-African trade must be encouraged. It is absurd to have certain goods made in Africa shipped to Europe, only to be shipped back. Boosting intra-African commerce will have positive effects on the economic development of all countries involved. Moreover, Africa’s cargo capacity is mostly composed of commercial airlines, along with some cargo-only airlines. However, this structure of cargo capacity poses risks because the main priority of commercial airlines is passengers, which often makes it difficult for companies to transport their goods during vacation seasons. Opportunities exist for those willing to invest in addressing the lack of African air cargo companies.
How would you assess the main obstacles when it comes to lowering delivery times?
RIAHI: Obtaining traffic rights – that is, the right to transit to and from other African countries – will be the main obstacle when it comes to ensuring short delivery times. Tunisia has not yet implemented the Yamoussoukro Decision that allows for the gradual liberalisation of intra-African air transport services. The Ministry of Transport signed onto the Decision in 1999, but it has not been approved by Parliament for the same reasons the implementation of an open skies agreement with the EU has been delayed.
Nevertheless, Parliament will likely approve both in 2017. Open skies are an opportunity, especially given the capacity for future business with other African countries. Indeed, there is a demand throughout Africa for Tunisian transport and logistics services, which already benefit from a strong reputation in the region.
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