Tunisia cuts 2020 growth forecast, seeks new IMF loan deal

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Tunisia will seek a new loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its prime minister said on Sunday, after slashing the country’s economic growth forecast for this year due in part to the impact of the coronavirus crisis on tourism.

Elyess Fakhfakh told the local Magreb newspaper the government now expected growth of just 1 percent this year, compared with the 2.7 percent envisaged in the 2020 budget, with the coronavirus crisis responsible for a hit of half a percentage point.

Tunisia struck a deal with the IMF in December 2016 for a $2.8 billion loan package to overhaul its sclerotic economy, including steps to cut chronic deficits and trim bloated public services.

The IMF disbursed a $247 billion loan tranche from that deal in June last year. But since then, negotiations on a sixth instalment have stalled due to a political crisis following the October election. The current IMF deal ends in April.

Fakhfakh did not give details about his hopes for a new deal. “We have no other choice,” he told the newspaper.

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Tunisia’s economy has struggled in the nine years since the ouster of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who died in exile in September.

Unemployment is more than 15 percent, and as high as 30 percent in some cities, while inflation is high, and successive governments have struggled to rein in fiscal deficits and control public debt.

Fakhfakh, who took office two weeks ago, did not give details about the cut to the growth forecast, but analysts have warned the global coronavirus crisis would hit the vital tourism sector, while the agricultural sector is struggling with a severe shortage of rain.

Tourism accounts for about 8 percent of Tunisia’s GDP and is a key source of foreign currency, with around nine million tourists visiting the country last year.

Fakhfakh said he was seeking to obtain the sixth instalment of the current IMF loan deal to help the country secure other external financing and issue bonds.

The North African country needs to borrow about $3 billion internationally in 2020 to meet spending commitments.

“If the IMF delegation does not visit Tunisia until March 20, we will lose a lot,” Fakhfakh said.

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