TUNISIA. Tunis hosted an international conference on maritime transportation. "An efficient transport system is an indispensable prerequisite in pursuit of economic growth and integration in the Mediterranean," said an EU official.
The European Union and and Maghreb countries are looking for ways to promote trade through improved sea transportation.
A number of professionals and specialists in multi-modal sea transport and sea highway projects from the EU and Maghreb countries attended the international forum 'Sea Transport, A Bridge For The Mediterranean' on 27 March in the Tunisian capital.
European Commission delegation representative in Tunis, Massino Mina, said that an efficient transport system is an indispensable prerequisite of economic growth and integration in the Mediterranean.
Mina noted that the 2007-2013 Regional Transport Action Plan (RTAP), which was approved during the Euro-Med ministerial seminar in Marrakech, aims at intensifying co-operation within the Mediterranean region.
"RTAP seeks to set up an integrated Euro-Mediterranean transport system to improve efficiency of ports, and enhance reforms in safety rules, while making use of modern technological tools," Mina explained.
The European official further encouraged Tunisia to carry on its pilot sea highway project (the Radès/Genoa and Radès/Marseilles axis).
Jalel Zerba, head of the Mediterranean Businessmen's Union, called for maximising the economic opportunities of the south Med states with the EU, and realising better economic integration, particularly through the enhancement of exports and tourism.
Last year, Tunisia and Morocco launched a maritime transport route linking Casablanca on the Atlantic to Radès on the Mediterranean, in accordance with the sea transport agreement among Maghreb states aimed at reducing distances and cutting down on freight cost.
The route will be serviced by a Moroccan vessel with a 70-container capacity, as well as by 33 motorboats that will run between Radès and Casablanca every ten days.
During the meeting of the Tunisian-Moroccan High Joint Committee, Tunisia and Morocco decided to liberate maritime trade and establish mixed companies for sea freight, in order to enhance trade competitiveness and develop exchanges among the countries of the region.
"The new maritime route will need some time to boost the exchange of goods among countries. Importers in both countries need to change their perspectives to avoid sending goods to foreign ports before their arrival to their final destinations, as is the case presently. Our exports face sharp competition, in terms of transport and logistical costs," commented Mostafa Khayiat, head of the Moroccan Logistics Association.
Although trade exchange between both countries was estimated at US$300 million in 2007, the figure remains small when compared to trade with the EU, which amounts to US$55 billion.
Tunisia and Morocco signed the Agadir Declaration in 2004 with Egypt and Jordan. The four countries aim to establish a customs union, which would ultimately lead to a free trade zone by 2012, the start date for the Euro-Med region.
The Tunisian government also strives to develop its sea transport system through the modernisation of outdated ports, and the building of a new port in Enfidha. Tunisia hopes to increase the contribution of the Tunisian maritime fleet in freight traffic from 9% to 20% by 2016.
The government has justified the project in light of the importance of trade exchanges with European states and with Maghreb countries.
The Enfidha deep-water port will make it possible to host ships loaded with 80,000-tonne freights, compared with 25,000 tonnes presently. With the existing infrastructure, 50% of the world sea-transport fleet will not be able to access Tunisian ports by 2010 because of increasing vessel size.
"The Enfidha project has been approved by the Tunisian government and is due to play a key role on the local and global levels, as present ports no longer meet needs, especially in terms of hosting modern ships," explained Abd Nebi Ben Said, central manager of co-ordination among the Tunisian Navigation Company (CTN) agencies.