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Security 2014-02-11

Porous borders threaten Tunisia

By Monia Ghanmi in Tunis for Magharebia – 11/02/2014

The smuggling of goods across Tunisia's porous borders with Libya and Algeria hurts the economy; the easy movement of drugs, weapons, and explosives hurts security. Now that a new government is in place, local and international experts say it is time for action.

Finding solutions to border smuggling and parallel trade must be a priority for the new Tunisian government, labour leaders, customs agents and international banking officials agreed at a recent Tunis conference.

Mehdi Jomaa and his new cabinet must address "smuggling's effects on the economy, jobs and on the environment in which we live", Tunisian Union of Industry (UTICA) chief Wided Bouchamaoui said at a World Bank forum on Wednesday (February 5th).

"We all have to pinpoint the disease and find out the main reasons for smuggling and uncover its beneficiaries," the UTICA head told conference participants.

"We must establish serious and solid control on the borders because smugglers are now crossing easily and the law must be applied strictly on those involved," she said

Bouchamaoui added: "Areas of lawlessness have emerged in several regions and we note with despair that Tunisian law no longer applies to the entire territory."

Tunisia has lost some 1.2 billion dinars (550 million euros) due to illegal trade on the borders with Libya and Algeria, the World Bank found.

According to the World Bank study conducted in December, smuggling represented more than half of the country's commercial transactions with Libya. Medicine, tobacco, and alcohol cross the borders in both directions.

Approximately 25 per cent of the petrol consumed in Tunisia comes via informal trade from Algeria, the study noted. Tobacco and iron are also heavily traded between Tunisia and Algeria.

And since these goods are not subject to custom fees or taxes, the traffic affects the revenues of the Tunisian government.

The new government is prepared to take action.

Najla Harrouch, the new commerce minister, confirmed after her appointment that she would focus on the issue and address it in co-operation with other ministries.

"Is it necessary to recall that drugs and weapons are also part of this traffic?" she asked.

Custom authorities and Tunisian border security forces have been struggling with smugglers since the revolution. They periodically confiscate goods.

But since the trafficking of weapons and drugs generates a lot of profit for perpetrators, the problem is not likely to go away, a customs official told Magharebia.

Tunisia's border agents lack logistical support and hardware, Major Lasaàd Bouchoual added.

This makes the task of reducing the phenomenon difficult, he said.

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