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The Global Seen From the Local: The Case of Tunisia
This report is about a small emerging country that is very concerned about globalization because of its size, its level of development, and geopolitics. This said, Tunisia has been an open economy and society since the time of Carthage (564 BC).
In the first section of the paper I present an overview of facts and scientific research trends in Tunisia with respect to globalization issues.1 In the second section, I offer an economist's point of view on globalization. This view is shaped by two major conferences held in Tunisia during the last two years and hosted by the research laboratory of which I am a part. In the final section, the paper deals with the questions raised by Professor W. Coleman for this second meeting about North-South dialogue.
This is the second time I have had the opportunity to participate in a project about globalization conducted by Professor Coleman and involving researchers from the North and from the South. The first one concerned globalization and autonomy. I have authored a chapter in a volume edited by Professors Coleman and Essid about globalization, autonomy, and the Mediterranean. The research focused on how people's collective and individual autonomy is shaped at different levels (culture, economy, food) by globalization. I think it was very productive to look at globalization from what may be seen as its antonymic process, the pursuit of autonomy. With respect to our present dialogue, it is very interesting to have another opportunity to provocatively interrogate globalization, this time from a local point of view. Usually, the local is viewed in light of the global. I understand this project to be a promising questioning of the opposite — the observation of the global in light of the local.
Tunisia and Globalization: An Overview of Facts and Research Trends
In Tunisia, discussion of globalization surged during the 1990s. It was mentioned as a process which could have a dramatic impact on the economy and society. Researchers have been concerned with these potential impacts as well as other aspects of globalization. Yet it is hard to find direct work or debate on globalization itself as a concept.
Modern Globalization in Tunisia
Tunisia is an emerging economy deeply concerned with catching up to developed countries in terms of per capita income levels. Indeed, Tunisia's ambitious plan is to achieve the same level of per capita income as southern Europe.2 Such a target could be reached within the next three to five decades.
Since independence from French rule (1956), Tunisia has ambitiously sought, in the space of five decades, to construct a modern state in the image of Western ones. Europe was the referential model because of its geographical proximity and the ancient commercial and technology network with Europe, and especially with France, as the previous colonial power. Great effort was spent on improving infrastructure, industrialization, and education. Modernization was the keyword. Exports to European countries received some incentives. Tariff and non-tariff barriers gave the local industry extensive protection against imported goods. Europe permitted some preferential treatment of imported industrial goods from Tunisia during the 1970s and the 1980s. At the end of the 1990s, the Tunisian economy was heavily regulated by the state even though the private sector was gaining some ground in the area of investment, especially in industry and tourism. Several reforms were introduced to liberalize prices and investment. But state-owned enterprises dominated the economic scene and international trade was heavily regulated. Local industries were part of an international labour division. But it is hard to say that globalization had yet taken hold in Tunisia. The borders are subject to restrictions from both sides. At any time, market forces can be oriented by any of the involved states.
It is convenient to consider 1995 as a turning point which witnessed the birth of globalization as a specific process dominating all other economic transformations. It is the year that the World Trade Organization began ruling international trade. It is also the year in which traditional Tunisian export markets started to open to more competitors from Eastern Europe and Asia. Local markets also submitted to the same opening process. Economic state regulations became less of an influence. The global was expanding and less room was left to the local.
The new process has been happening in conjunction with other major events. First, development of information technology had a dramatic impact on distance and on the flow of ideas. It also presented new development opportunities to newcomers. The reinforced role of the United States as a "hyper power" in international political affairs is another factor. Competitiveness became the keyword of Tunisian economic policy. It is a new and complex concept which implies changes in governing methods and principles at different levels. At an economic level, it is easy to understand; Tunisia sees itself as an active participant in globalization but not as an influential actor in the process. Globalization is an external process and the main concern is to be in the process. The main question is then how to open the economy to international trade without loosing at the social and economic level. Programs are set to help local industries compete with external operators in Tunisian markets and in traditional external ones also. One of these programs is the Upgrading Industry Plan which began in 1996 and aims to help local firms operate with the same technological, managerial, and commercial aptitude as ones in developed countries. Another major program aims at implementing liberal reforms and making the financial and labour sector as flexible as needed.
At the level of institutions, Tunisian public authorities have been working very hard to align local standards with international ones. For example, a lot of measures have been taken so that transnational transporters do not find a significant difference between driving on Tunisian routes and other Mediterranean ones.
At the level of individuals, consumption behaviour is the most evolving aspect of Tunisia's participation in globalization. International hypermarkets opened in Tunisia and consumers are becoming more accustomed to the way of life they imply.
For politics, Tunisian rulers are claiming significant progress toward democracy. However, the political scene is rich with contradictory messages. For example, a variety of legal opponents' parties may have candidates in the presidential election, but on the ground and especially on the media scene there is yet little evidence of contradictory debate on public affairs.
In the middle of the first decade of this century, as a consequence of all these changes, Tunisia offers an image of a market-led economy with a state focusing on infrastructure construction and legal regulation. New financial and private business holdings have appeared on the economic and political scene. Some argue that privileged investors have received most of the economic benefits thanks to political ties. Both are collateral effects of globalization.
Major Trends in Research on Globalization in Tunisia
Scholars' activities with respect to globalization are bounded by professional concerns. They are less animated by major social or political debate. Researchers are involved mostly in career-led intellectual production. Scholars focus on producing theses or papers that will build the file used in their career promotion. Such intellectual production results in few ripples in large published works external to the university and within the university there are few debates on these works. Some of the scholars' production is actually ordered by government, syndicates, professional groups, or international organizations. In these cases they have limited targets with respect to a small set of issues, most related to economic or social policies. The public has little access to or interest in such materials.
The university research system has seen two major developments since the 1990s. First, an important change occurred with the implementation of university laboratories and a growth in the number of involved researchers, due to the increasing number of students and need for faculty.3 This is related to demographic reasons and to the will of the state to make human capital a key factor in raising the economic growth rate.4 The second development concerns the growing importance of technology as a knowledge domain with the university. State funding is giving some priority to technology, since it is considered a favourable factor for creating a more competitive economy. Less importance is given to humanities and social science research.5 "Globalization" does not appear in the title of any of the numerous university laboratories.6 Indeed, globalization is examined primarily in terms of its implications or the new conditions it creates for the development path.
I should mention that a large consensus dominates Tunisian thinking about globalization, which is seen as a deep process of enlarging market rules at local and at international levels. All implications and conditions of globalization are thus viewed as those of integration to a market-led world economy. This consensus shed most of the previous separations between left and right political wings well known during the second half of the twentieth century in Europe and most of the developing countries. The separation that remains is then more about what kind of implications and conditions successful integration in the world economy entails.
As mentioned earlier, globalization has made competitiveness a key condition for successful integration to the market-led world economy. Competitiveness is a complex notion which means an aptitude to gain sustainable international market shares. A specialized literature based on theory and empirical studies developed during the 1990s among scholars and international centres. They have pointed out economic and institutional factors favourable to competitiveness, and have devised systems of measuring and comparing country competitiveness. So, research in Tunisia has focused on the evolution and sequencing of reforms on competitiveness. Redundant work was done on the impact of specific factors, such as governance and business climate, on overall economic performance, and on in which way and at what pace the economy should evolve. Financial liberalization is another major competitiveness factor with which researchers have been concerned.
On the implications side of globalization, researchers have focused on social implications of the process. Poverty evolution is a matter of debate. Whether globalization, seen as enlargement of market rules, implies more or less poverty is a question that has been raised frequently by researchers. Rising unemployment because of the economic difficulties facing local firms threatened by international competitors on local and more open external markets is another matter of concern. Recent increases in energy and basic food prices are considered a direct consequence of globalization and are attracting more research attention. Regional and local development is another issue often raised when researchers talk about globalization. They see globalization as an opportunity to enhance local creativity.
Tunisian researchers consider globalization to be a process in which emerging countries such as Tunisia can only take part. They don't feel that such countries can be major actors within it. It is an inevitable process, but an imposed one. All that can be done is to find the right position or niche. However some initiatives have developed to make a country like Tunisia play a more significant role. That role is not formally related to the alter-globalization movement but can be seen in this light. Some of these initiatives have been developed by scholars. Governance of international (financial and economic) organizations is one of the major topics dealt with. Some other initiatives are supported by public authorities. For example, a locally mediatized initiative about the World Social Fund has been advocated and supported by the Tunisian head of state for the last five years. A more recent initiative was announced by the Tunisian president; the country would create a special fund fed by energy producers to help soften the food and natural resource crises in less developed countries. The initiative is similar to the Tobin tax on international financial flows. A few years ago Tunisia hosted the World Summit on Knowledge and Information Systems. It was a two-phase summit initiated by Tunisia. The first phase took part in Switzerland and the second one was held in Tunisia. It was aimed at conceiving a workable and acceptable way to globally govern the Internet.
All these initiatives could be more efficient if more emerging countries and more scholars were involved.
Globalization is also examined by scholars in Tunisia through regional and transnational topics at international conferences. I report here on two of the most recent ones.
Globalization and Recent International Conferences
The Laboratoire de Prospective Stratégique et du Développement Durable (PS2D) 7 is a centre affiliated with University of El Manar in Tunisia. It held two major conferences during the past two years on topics related to globalization. The conferences were supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union (EU), and Francophone University (FU), which is evidence of the international interest in the topics dealt with by the conferences. More than 200 scholars form Europe, Canada, and Maghreb countries gathered for these conferences.
The 2007 conference was about the European neighbourhood policy (Haddar 2008). This is the policy announced to help at first to integrate eastern European countries into the European economic space. Since 1995, it has been extended to include the Mediterranean southern shore countries. The neighbourhood policy offers "all integration opportunities to willing countries except institutions." This means that these countries would become part of the European Union but would not participate in its governance. Such countries should follow a specific and individualized path of negotiated reforms towards a liberal economy and democratic state. The neighbour countries which meet these conditions would get European support at technical, educational, trade, and financial levels.
The conference was an opportunity for scholars to evaluate the impact of this policy and its implications for the development of Maghreb countries in particular. The following are among the major topics raised by the speakers at the conference:
- Governance: Differences between governance models in Tunisia, Europe, and other developed countries. Some consider that in south shore Mediterranean countries, governance is opaque and flavoured by the personal interests of rulers, which contrasts with more market-led and depersonalized institutions in Europe.
- Development objectives and constraints: European policy is set by "directives" related to its own interests and social and economic priorities and motivations. These directives are proffered to developing countries which are facing other constraints and looking forward to catching up with European developed countries.
- Migration: European countries are giving high priority to stopping illegal immigration. Employment, wages, and poverty are key issues in lessening illegal migration to Europe. Priority should be given to reforms that might help reduce unemployment and poverty and increase economic growth in developing neighbour countries.
- Technical Standards: European countries are obeying technical standards that are difficult to implement in emerging countries with smaller firms and less developed infrastructure.
- Failure to Catch Up: The European policy toward the Mediterranean southern shore falls short of helping these countries catch up in terms of their level of per capita income. Even macro economic indicators are not evolving at a satisfactory pace. Exports' share in gross domestic production (GDP) is not occurring at the expected speed.
- Foresight: Suspicion about the overall results of the neighbourhood policy does not deny some interesting impacts. Upgrading Tunisian industries is one of them. The future of integration might be better also. Use of the Euro as a currency within Maghreb countries was even considered. But some interesting opportunities are not sufficiently explored by regional politics. For example, political stability, an important potential market, and a huge energy reservoir are strategic cards held by Maghreb countries which are overlooked by European fear of illegal migration and security concerns.
The other conference was dedicated to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations.8 In 2000, the United Nations established eight major goals aimed at helping less developed countries. The PS2D conference tried to evaluate how far along these objectives are from being met. Papers focused on poverty and on sustainable development represented half of the contributions to the conference. The other papers dealt with the other six MDGs. The attention given to poverty and the environment might be explained by the level of development in the Maghreb. But another explanation might be the difficult task of dealing with social and environmental problems in a market-led world economy. Speakers have raised some points which might support this argument. Below is a brief survey of the main topics and questions raised by the whole conference:
- Poverty alleviation, health care, education, and gender issues: All of these issues are social in nature and they are linked to some degree to globalization. Most of the papers raised methodological concerns about how one can measure progress in poverty alleviation. They observed that market economies have led to a better situation for the poor in global terms. On closer analysis, the findings are less clear especially if we consider poverty in its multidimensional complexity. First intraregional poverty is not lessening. Non-monetary poverty, especially in rural areas, is worsening in some cases. The papers argue also that what is needed often is a more global and integrated approach to social problems.
- Natural resources preservation: The papers generally considered the results of liberalization to be mixed. To some extent, the implementation of international standards implied real progress in natural resources preservation. But the need for more economic growth has led developing economies to get more from nature than from labour and innovations.
- Trade liberalization and economic growth: A cautious link is established in some papers between liberalization and economic growth. Doubt is expressed about the nature of specialization and its long-term impact on welfare.
- World governance of development objectives: Debates during the conference, along with a couple of papers, addressed the issue of governance of the millennium goals. Two arguments were made. The first one was launched by the Conference Chair during the opening remarks. He argued that the Millennium Goals are actually short of the 1970s ambitions. A forward-looking group within the conference summarized the second argument stating that (i) some key objectives (for example, forest preservation) lack support from main actors in developing countries and (ii) some actors lack social and political power to help implement some key objectives.
Looking at the topics dealt with during these two recent economic conferences, globalization is not discussed as a specific concept, but all the issues raised are at the core of globalization. They are the main challenges facing development in a market-led global economy. One can extract from these issues the essence of the globalization process and its implications as seen from the local point of view. That is what I will try to do next in answering directly, but briefly, the questions raised by Professor Coleman.
Local Views on Globalization: The Case of Tunisia
1. Is globalization a separate field of study or is it part of particular disciplines like international economics, international relations, and so on? Can you also identify any important institutes, observatories, or research centers in your country that foster or promote research on globalization issues.
Globalization is not a separate field of study in Tunisia. Some universities offer Masters or Bachelors degrees in international economic relations or international law and international politics. They have been offered for many years previous to the globalization era, but their content has been updated. It is hard to find any specialized research centre on globalization per se. But a variety of laboratories and centres are focussing on issues related to globalization impacts or conditions. Some of them are linked to the university and others are linked to government agencies or to professional interests. The most important ones are:
- Centre des Etudes et de Recherches Economiques et Sociales: A multidisciplinary research centre linked to the Ministry of Higher Education and specializing in empirical studies on social issues.
- Insitut Arabe des Chefs d'Entreprises: An NGO of entrepreneurs which periodically commissions studies on issues related to globalization and to competitiveness of the economy.
- Institut d'Economie Quantitative: A government agency linked to the Ministry of Development and International Cooperation. It conducts studies about a variety of economic issues related to globalization and it hosts an observatory on economic competitiveness. It also publishes annual reports on the knowledge society, business climate, and so on.
Some other institutions are interested in globalization issues and publish papers from Tunisian scholars among those of other scholars from the Mediterranean region. The most important institutions are:
- Economic Research Forum supported by World Bank funds and dedicated to promoting research on economic issues in Middle East Countries. It is based in Egypt.
- Femise: A Mediterranean network of researchers and institutes interested in economics. It claims more than 70 members and is based in Marseille (France). It is supported by the European Union.
2. Identify five words that are key to understanding and experiencing globalization in your country. Provide a short justification of why they are key or central words. What are the five most compelling readings by scholars in your country that are associated with one or more of these keywords?
As mentioned earlier, globalization is viewed as a (new) context for development issues. The keywords to understanding this process are then:
Competitiveness. Economic growth for a country such Tunisia relies on trade with developed countries. Globalization makes these markets much more open to competing products. To keep exports growing, firms have to be more and more competitive. A variety of factors are required to make firms more competitive. The quality of financial, state, educational, and political institutions is among such factors, in addition to quality of infrastructure and investment level. Competitiveness is then a major concern to economic policy, public reforms, and so on. It implies dramatic changes in the institutions.
International or regional integration and trade liberalization.
International standards and upgrading firms and industries. Globalization supports the lifting of tariff barriers. But technical barriers appear and become an obstacle to exports. That is why international standards are a concern associated with globalization. Special programs have been set up to make sure products and technology meet international standards. Such programs are called upgrading firms programs.
Social regulation, poverty, and unemployment. Globalization is seen as a process which reinforces market rules. Social impacts are the most feared ones, especially since market prices, investments, and trade are administered and controlled by the state in order to face or resolve some social problems created through market regulation.
Natural resources and ecology. Recently, as a consequence of rising energy prices, more attention is given by the larger public to natural resource use by the global economy. It is seen as a global threat and a consequence of integration of new countries to the global economy.
Most of the literature referred to by Tunisian scholars in relation to globalization issues are available in English and well-known to scholars in Europe and North America as well as elsewhere. The most popular authors are A. K. Sen (Development as Freedom, 1999), J. Stiglitz (La Grande Disillusion/Globalization and Its Discontents, 2002), J. Bahgwati (In Defense of Globalization, 2004), P. Krugmann (for his work on globalization) and D. Kaufmann (for his work and databases on governance published periodically on World Bank sites). What is missing from discussions of globalization issues is that French literature written by Tunisian scholars, such as the conferences papers reported on here. They are not translated into English and they are not a part of debates that extend beyond the local context or beyond academia.
3. Identify image-based (original or pulled from the Internet) representations and/or non-academic expressions (from the public, from the media, from politicians) of your keywords as an aspect of globalization.
Scholars in Tunisia and the general public consider all the issues mentioned earlier as components, in some way, of globalization. They contain some impact of globalization or should be dealt with at an international level. In public discussion, these issues are referenced more specifically. For example, the recent surge in commodity prices, climate change, social rules — such as labour market flexibility, children's rights charter, human right claims — are considered to be direct products of globalization.
It is hard to suggest specific images which could be a popular representation of globalization. So, I used Internet search tools to find images associated with globalization and Tunisia. Two of them are worth mentioning. They appeared in announcements for conferences related to globalization. The first one (Figure 1) is a magnifying glass, or in the context of information and communication technologies (ICTs), a "zooming tool." It suggests that globalization is a process that needs much watching everywhere in the world to discover what is happening. Its effects can spread quickly and affect any place. The second one (Figure 2) of a young man looking puzzled conveys the idea that globalization is not yet well known. We have much more to know about its different implications and its channels.
|Figure 1: Globalization Under Examination|
|Figure 2: The Globalization Puzzle|
Haddar, M. 2008. La politique européenne de voisinage et le Maghreb. Tunis: Délégation de l'Union Européenne en Tunisie.
1. Much of this review deals with the work of economists.
2. Tunisia is classified as a low middle-income country by the . Its yearly income per capita is nearly US $4000 (corrected by Purchase Parity Power) while that of southern European countries is roughly US $10 000.
3. The number of scientific laboratories rose from 71 in 2000 to 139 in 2006.
4. The GDP has climbed 5 percent per year during recent years while the number of students attending universities is growing at a rate of almost 10 percent.
5. In 2006, 26 percent of students were enrolled in the area of technology while such programs attracted only 13 percent of students in 2000. Conversely, the humanities have seen a decline in enrolment from 34 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2006.
6. The review covered only the 139 laboratories. Other research teams are working within what is called "research units" which are precursors to future laboratories. These units were not reviewed for this paper.
7. Professor M. Haddar is the Director of the PS2D.
8. The Millennium Development Goals relate to: poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, HIV/, environmental sustainability, and global partnership.