With a view to boosting economic ties between the two nations

Algeria and Tunisia promote a free trade area

Una imagen facilitada por el servicio de prensa de la Presidencia tunecina muestra al presidente argelino, Abdelmadjid Tebboune (Derecha), recibiendo a su homólogo tunecino, Kais Saied, en Argel el 1 de noviembre de 2022 – PHOTO/AFP PHOTO/HO/SERVICIO DE PRENSA DE LA PRESIDENCIA TUNECINA
An image provided by the press service of the Tunisian Presidency shows Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (R) receiving his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied in Algiers on 1 November 2022 - PHOTO/AFP PHOTO/HO/TUNISIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS SERVICE

Algeria and Tunisia are seeking to develop their economic collaboration. The two North African countries have proposed strengthening their commercial ties by promoting a free trade zone between the two countries.  

  1. Economic revival
  2. Rivalry between Algeria and Morocco

Economic revival

The aim is for this free trade zone to become operational in a few months' time in order to revive the Algerian and Tunisian economies, which are not going through the best of times.  

Algeria is highly dependent on the income derived from its powerful energy industry, which supplies gas and oil to many other countries, but it has deficits in other economic sectors and, in addition, various sectors have criticised institutional corruption in part of the Algerian state, which has also influenced the national economic crisis and poor administrative management. 

The fall in oil prices over the years put the Algerian state in trouble, with an economy anchored in hydrocarbons and a repressive political model, which led to social protests that resulted in the Hirak popular movement, which opposes corruption and Algerian power, largely led by the leadership of the Armed Forces and the powerful political party of the National Liberation Front (FNL). Large sections of Algerian society have been calling for far-reaching political reforms to change the country's course.  

El presidente de Argelia, Abdelmadjid Tebboune - PHOTO/FILE
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune - PHOTO/FILE

Tunisia, for its part, is also experiencing major economic problems and social discontent with the political class, which President Kais Saied, who came to power as an independent politician against the traditional political formations, is now trying to reverse. Kais Saied himself recently had to dismiss his finance minister, Samir Saied, because of the national financial crisis. Indeed, Tunisia has long been negotiating a vital loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to tackle a record national debt of just over 90% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

The challenge now is to accelerate trade integration between Algeria and Tunisia to improve their commercial exchanges and partly revive both national economies.

This free trade zone between Algeria and Tunisia is expected to reinforce economic integration between the two nations, as trade and economic exchanges have remained isolated and mostly limited to the activity of smuggling networks across the border strip, as reported by media outlets such as Al-Arab.

Rivalry between Algeria and Morocco

Algeria is seeking to break out of its economic and political isolation in the region, in the face of the preponderance of its great political rival in the Maghreb, Morocco. Thanks to intense and positive diplomatic activity, the Moroccan kingdom has allied itself with various African countries and has proposed an important initiative to open up trade for various Sahelian nations, facilitating their access to the Atlantic coast in order to allow access to the Atlantic Ocean through the Western Sahara corridor and the entire western side of Morocco itself.  

The Moroccan government's successful diplomatic offensive has managed to increase the number of countries in many parts of the world that have recognised Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara, in an international spiral favourable to the North African country's proposal, which proposes a broad autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, respecting UN resolutions, focused on developing the region to the maximum, and which has the support of many important nations such as the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and Spain.

Entorno del Sáhara Occidental - AFP/FADEL SENNA
Environment of Western Sahara - AFP/FADEL SENNA

The need for a development plan for the Atlantic coast of the Sahara and Africa as an area of cooperation, a centre of economic integration and a pole of continental and international influence is now being considered. 

Trade between Algeria and Tunisia remains below the level expected given the proximity of the two countries. The Algerian and Tunisian states attempted various projects, including rail transport, which were interrupted for various reasons, affecting economic integration between the two nations, but the governments of both countries recently resumed efforts to announce the launch of a free trade zone and a package of mutually beneficial joint projects and mechanisms.  

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced, in his speech at the 41st meeting of the Steering Committee of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union Development Agency (NEPAD), that his country 'will see the establishment in 2024 of free trade zones between it and its brothers, starting with sister Mauritania, then the Sahel countries, Mali and Niger, as well as Tunisia and Libya'.

Fotografía de archive de soldados del Ejército de Burkina Faso en la carretera de Gorgadji, en el área del Sahel - Luc Gnago/REUTERS
File photo of Burkina Faso Army soldiers on the road to Gorgadji in the Sahel area - Luc Gnago/REUTERS

The aim is to promote economic and commercial development on the Algerian-Tunisian border, thus attracting various activities and putting an end to smuggling and irregular trade. This is the main objective. It remains to be seen whether these latest efforts will definitely bear fruit for the benefit of the economies of both countries.  

Along these lines, Algeria is trying to increase its presence in the neighbouring Sahel region, where Morocco has established itself diplomatically with force after the latest proposal to favour Sahelian access to the Atlantic coast in order to promote trade. It also faces the challenge of influencing countries that are always in turmoil and have even suffered coups d'état on several occasions, such as Niger and Mali. For example, these two countries were included in these free trade zone projects promoted by Algeria with a view to fostering economic integration, along with other nations such as Mauritania and Tunisia.