WASHINGTON, May 22, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The United States and Tunisia have enjoyed a strong diplomatic relationship for more than 200 years. In 1799, the United States concluded its first agreement of friendship and trade with Tunisia, establishing the first American consulate in Tunis in 1800. Since that time, Tunisia and the United States have continued to foster growing ties of cooperation.
The United States remains committed to supporting Tunisia's democratic path, one that strengthens civil society, empowers women and youth, advances economic reforms, solidifies the foundations of citizen participation in government, and bolsters security. This year, President Obama is working with Congress to provide at least $100 million in assistance to Tunisia, which would bring our total support since the 2011 revolution to nearly $700 million. This reflects the importance placed by the United States on supporting Tunisia's democracy as it promotes prosperity and security for all Tunisians.
On May 20, representatives of the United States of America and Tunisia signed a Memorandum of Understanding reaffirming the common bonds and shared values of long-standing friendship between Tunisia and the United States and recognizing Tunisia's historic democratic transition. The document noted a range of cooperative activities between the two countries. Below is a selection of key milestones and programs across multiple sectors that demonstrate the expansiveness of our important bilateral relationship.
Expanding Inclusive Economic Growth: The United States is committed to helping Tunisia promote strong, sustainable and inclusive economic growth by strengthening its business climate, creating job opportunities, and promoting bilateral trade. The Administration is working with Congress to double the level of economic assistance to Tunisia this year to promote competitiveness, provide seed money and financing to small and medium enterprises, and improve the business regulatory environment through important reforms.
If Tunisia and the United States determine that additional financing is needed to support growth and reform, the United States is prepared to consider a loan guarantee of up to $500 million to advance the Government of Tunisia's ongoing reform program. The United States has provided two sovereign loan guarantees previously, which helped the Tunisian government access affordable financing to borrow $485 million in 2012 and $500 million in 2014, which helped expand Tunisia's access to international capital markets.
The United States and Tunisia will establish a new Joint Economic Council (JEC) in concert with the Strategic Dialogue to support Tunisia's economic reform priorities and encourage private sector ties. We expect to launch the JEC in the fall of this year.
During President Caid Essebsi's visit, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker co-hosted a Business Roundtable with prominent U.S. business leaders to highlight the importance of economic and commercial reforms to improving trade and investment in Tunisia and the growing business ties between our countries. The Department of Commerce also convened a Tourism Roundtable to share lessons learned while establishing the U.S. National Tourism Strategy. This platform will enable discussions between U.S. and Tunisian officials and the private sector on ways to bolster and promote the Tunisian tourism industry.
Through the U.S.-Tunisia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the United States and Tunisia work to promote bilateral trade and investment, facilitate partnerships between U.S. and Tunisian companies, increase regulatory transparency, strengthen the rule of law and protection for intellectual property, identify capacity building opportunities, and resolve specific trade concerns. The next TIFA council meeting is expected to take place before the end of the year.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) is working to re-engage with the Central Bank of Tunisia to strengthen its capacity to monitor and maintain the stability of Tunisia's financial system and find ways to provide critical advice to the Government of Tunisia as it advances key economic reforms.
The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), intends to expand upon ongoing multi-year technical assistance programming to implement tax and customs reform and other economic and commercial reforms undertaken by the Tunisian government.
The United States, through USAID, will work closely with the Tunisian government to create a shared vision and framework for development programming through a transitional Country Development Cooperation Strategy.
The USAID Business Reform and Competitiveness Project (BRCP) is providing technical assistance to Tunisian enterprises to improve access to capital, develop new market opportunities, and strengthen business associations. In partnership with other U.S. programs, BRCP provides job-sector driven training to young Tunisians, increases the capacity of institutions to support Tunisia's private sector, and supports information and communications technology (ICT)-related reform to promote greater economic growth.
The Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund (TAEF), seeded with $60 million in U.S. assistance, is continuing to promote the development of the Tunisian private sector by investing in small and medium enterprises that will contribute to inclusive economic growth and employment.
The March 2015 U.S.–Maghreb Investment and Entrepreneurship Conference offered U.S. and Tunisian businesses a platform to connect and discuss business opportunities. The conference, which Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and other senior U.S. officials attended, was organized through Partners for a New Beginning-North African Partnership for Economic Opportunity and highlighted the importance of economic and commercial reform and private sector engagement in Tunisia's economic development.
Promoting Democracy, Civil Society, and Consensus Building: The United States actively supports the Tunisian government's efforts to promote inclusive governance, security, prosperity, and human rights for all Tunisians, as well as to enhance ties with its regional partners.
Since the 2011 revolution, the United States has provided more than $80 million to support initiatives that promote good governance and fiscal transparency, build the organizational management capacity of civil society organizations, and increase the civic participation and political leadership of youth.
The United States has provided significant support for Tunisian elections, including approximately $15 million in 2014. This funding included assistance to U.S. and Tunisian NGOs throughout the 2014 legislative and presidential elections, during which the United States supported multiple international election observation missions.
The Department of State, through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) plans to provide at least an additional $10 million this year to promote democratic processes and increase the capacity of Tunisia's growing civil society sector. Since 2011, MEPI grants have helped Tunisians increase their role in the political process and expand economic opportunities, particularly for youth and women.
The Department of State, through MEPI, also supports a program with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that helped Tunisia become the second Arab country to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which aims to advance open governance and transparency. Through technical assistance, the United States helped Tunisia participate in the OGP by supporting implementation of Tunisia's 2011 freedom of information legislation. Moving forward, the USG will continue to support the implementation of Tunisia's strong OGP Action Plan.
Fostering Cultural and Educational Ties: The United States and Tunisia are working to preserve and promote Tunisia's rich cultural heritage as well as expand educational, cultural, and professional exchanges and linkages.
The Smithsonian Institution and the Tunisian Ministry of Antiquities will partner to digitize the antiquities collection housed in the National Bardo Museum and to expand opportunities for Tunisia's tourism industry.
Under the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program, almost 400 Tunisians have qualified to study at universities and community colleges in the United States for one year. In concert with President Caid Essebsi's focus on expanding educational opportunities for Tunisian youth, the United States plans to significantly increase the number of Thomas Jefferson scholarships this year.
The United States launched the $5 million Fulbright Tunisia Tech+ Scholars program in August 2014 to enable more than 40 Tunisians to obtain U.S. master's degrees in five fields (science, technology, engineering, math, and business) and equip graduates with advanced skills and professional networks.
The United States has committed almost $1 million to establish three new university linkages between U.S. and Tunisian educational institutions in the fields of technological innovation and business development. The programs will create employment opportunities for Tunisian graduates and help support greater economic development and profitable commercialization of technology.
In August 2014, the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and U.S. Department of State signed an Agreement on Science and Technology Cooperation to strengthen bilateral scientific, technological and educational cooperation. The Agreement provides a framework to facilitate and expand science and technology cooperation between our two countries. It also provides a mechanism for critical research and development efforts that facilitate the exchange of scientific data and results, protect intellectual property rights, and establish partnerships between official U.S. technical agencies and their counterpart institutions internationally, as well as U.S. educational and research institutions.
Enhancing Security Capabilities: Tunisia is a key partner in regional counterterrorism efforts. The United States has committed more than $225 million in security assistance since 2011 to bolster Tunisia's capacity to counter internal and regional threats and terrorism.
The Administration intends to designate Tunisia as a major non-NATO ally in recognition of our shared values, Tunisia's democratic gains, and our growing security and counterterrorism cooperation.
More than $100 million in security assistance allocated since 2011 goes toward building the capacity of Tunisia's Ministry of Defense and to counter terrorism. The United States has provided training and equipment to the Tunisian military to improve capabilities in surveillance, mobility, and border security.
The Administration is seeking to provide an additional $30 million in Foreign Military Financing this year, a 50 percent increase over last year. This support will help Tunisia strengthen counter-terrorism, border security, and joint security cooperation.
The United States' security assistance since 2011 includes more than $50 million in programs in partnership with the Tunisian Ministries of Interior and Justice helping to build their operational capabilities while fostering more transparent and responsive security forces through training and provision of equipment. Future work will help the Ministry of Interior modernize and professionalize its core functions – including management and oversight of its human, material and financial resources – so that it can serve Tunisian citizens with greater transparency and accountability.
Tunisia is also a founding partner in the Security Governance Initiative (SGI), announced at the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The SGI works to enhance partner countries' institutional capacity to confront security challenges and address threats effectively and accountably.
The Administration is working with Congress to increase support to the Tunisian Justice and Interior Ministries, including $7 million in International Narcotics and Law Enforcement programming to provide reform in police, corrections and judicial sectors.
U.S. support has also helped the Tunisian government establish an inter-ministerial Counterterrorism Fusion Center. Other programs cover capacity building to enhance border security, law enforcement, intelligence, and effective counterterrorism practices in the criminal justice sector.
In addition to U.S. assistance, the Foreign Military Sales program facilitated the purchase of eight UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters by Tunisia to build its capacity to deter regional threats, strengthen defensive capabilities, as well as to support counterterrorism operations.