Tripoli, 21 May
It was becoming clear last night that there is more than first met the eye to the Libya-Tunisian accords . . .[restrict]signed on Friday.There are clear signs that Tripoli is seeking far closer ties with its francophone neighbour.
Though precise details are frustratingly scant, it has emerged that Libya is not only to supply Tunisia with oil, at low or minimal cost, but is also putting a significant injection of cash into the Tunisian economy. No detailed figures for the oil supply deal nor Libya’s financial subventions to its neighbour are yet clear.
First reports were merely that Libya’s Minister of Economy, Ahmed Khoshly had signed a memorandum of understanding with his Tunisian opposite number, which included a full range of earnest hopes and ambitions. The reports gave little away except that both countries would try to tighten border security and the Tunisian judiciary would offer its assistance to Libyan lawyers and judges. Libya also agreed to give Tunisians priority in seeking to return to new or existing jobs in country.
There was also a meeting between Libya’s army chief of staff, Major General Yousif Mangoush and Tunisian Defence Minister, Abdul Karim Zubaid. These reportedly led to a deal on closer cross-border security and closer operational co-ordination.
A delegation of Tunisian businessmen is due in Tripoli later today looking at business opportunities. A Libyan delegation is slated to make a return visit early next month. Some manufacturers on both sides of the border are placing much store on the Free Trade Zone, due to be set up on an 150-hectare site at Ben Guerdane in the south-east of Tunisia.
According to a report published earlier this month by the African Development Bank “New Libya, New Neighbourhood: What Opportunities for Tunisia?”, Libya’s neighbour lost half a percent of its gross domestic product during the Libyan revolution. Up to 60,000 Tunisian workers fled or were sent home. With the exception of agricultural food exports, which boomed as both the rebels and the Qaddafi regime sought supplies, the export of Tunisian goods to Libya came to a virtual standstill.
There has been an increasingly popular analysis that while Libya has the money and the highly skilled professionals, Tunisian has the artisans that Libya lacks while Egypt has the labour.
A diplomatic source in Tripoli commented last night that the fact that the interim government was prepared to pump money directly into the struggling Tunisian economy while providing crude oil on highly favourable terms made clear that the deals that have been cut “exceed the normal coin of ‘bilateral relations’ and ‘mutual benefits’.” [/restrict]