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Tunisia Trade Regulations, Standards and Customs Informatio

Tunisia commercial guide, trade Regulations, standards and customs information.

Tunisia Trade Regulations, Standards and Customs Informatio

Postby bridgat » Tue Nov 18, 2008 8:14 am



Tunisia is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). While maintaining restrictions on designated strategic areas, the Tunisian government is pursuing its program of freeing up imports. Approximately 97 percent of imported goods do not need prior authorization. This represents outstanding progress since 1986 when only 23.6 percent of imports could be freely imported.

Inconsistent procedures within the Tunisian customs administration can be a major obstacle for importers. Government use of non-tariff barriers has sometimes led to the delay or rejection of goods shipped to Tunisia but this is not common practice. Importers have experienced extended delays in customs clearance for technical and quality control investigations on various items. Tunisia's import duties range from 10 percent to 200+ percent. Certain luxury, durable goods (such as automobiles), or consumer items are also assessed a consumption tax that can be near 700 percent. (This tax is also applied to similar locally made items and is therefore not a tariff barrier). Tunisia calculates VAT on the base price of the goods plus any import duties, surcharges, and consumption taxes. The government has recently announced substantial increases in VAT rates a wide range of imported "luxury" items.

Agricultural products are generally assessed with high import duties and in some cases face other import barriers. Tunisia often gives preferential tariff rates to agricultural products originating in Arab and North African nations. However, after years of intervention by U.S. and other foreign suppliers, the government reversed this policy in the case of cotton suppliers. Cotton from major Arab suppliers had entered Tunisia duty free while that imported from other countries, including the United States, required a 17 percent duty. All cotton imports now enter duty free.


Imports are subject to tariff rates as high as 200+ percent. Goods are also subject to a customs formality fee, currently costing three percent of the total duties paid on the import. Certain imports are also liable to a value added tax (VAT) and a consumption tax. These taxes also apply to locally produced items. Tunisia's VAT rates are 29 percent, 18 percent, 10 percent and 6 percent, with the majority of goods covered by the 18 percent rate. Consumption tax rates can vary from 10 percent to as high as nearly 700 percent.


Tunisia still has non-tariff barriers such as import licenses or quotas on certain products. These apply particularly to consumer goods that compete against locally produced equivalents manufactured by "developing" industries or to products for which there is no domestic production to satisfy high levels of consumer demand. The major category affected by import restrictions is motor vehicles, in particular passenger cars. These are not produced locally and strong local demand for imports could adversely affect the short-term balance of payments. An importer of an individual vehicle must obtain a license from the Ministry of Commerce specifying the product, quantity and amount of foreign exchange needed. Without this license a bank cannot authorize the foreign currency transaction. However, automobile importers representing manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Renault are awarded quotas for the import of 4 horsepower cars. The quota is based on the amount of export revenue generated by the export of automobile components manufactured in Tunisia and purchased by the European manufacturers for installation in their products. Certain other imported items, including weapons or security-related materials and health-care products, remain strictly controlled.


Export controls exist on some products. These include items concerning security, public order, hygiene, health, morality, protection of flora and fauna, and cultural heritage. Prior authorization is required to export these goods. Other products not in these categories may be subject to technical control to ensure that they meet international standards, or the standards of the importing country.


Other than for the previously mentioned restrictions, no specific documentation is required. Importers obtain hard currency for payment by presenting a pro forma invoice to their commercial bank. However, Tunisian law prohibits the flow of currency out of Tunisia as payment for imports before documents are presented to the issuing bank confirming that the merchandise has entered the country. This is usually in the form of Tunisian customs authority documents. U.S. exporters have used confirmed, irrevocable letters of credit and letters of credit authorizing "payment against documents" in past transactions.


Offshore enterprises are allowed temporary entry of goods and equipment. Goods are allowed limited duty-free entry into Tunisia for transformation and re-export. Factories set up under this scheme are considered bonded warehouses and have their own assigned customs personnel. Goods may also be granted temporary duty-free entry for use in trade shows but the establishment of adequate prior documentation is vital; otherwise customs duties may be payable on promotional material with no commercial value.


The consumer protection law of 1992 established standard labeling and marking requirements. However, these regulations are not always fully enforced for locally made items produced for the domestic market. The labeling of items produced for export must meet international standards.


Imports of explosives, military, and security-related equipment are tightly controlled. Imports are only allowed under license. Narcotics and pornographic items are strictly forbidden.


Tunisia is currently embracing ISO 9000/9002 standards. The National Institute for Standardization and Industrial Property (INNORPI) is responsible for establishing national standards and has instituted ISO 14000 certification procedures. Several firms in the industrial sector have already achieved ISO 9000 or 9002 certification. Tunisian consumers are gradually becoming aware of their right to expect acceptable standards.


Tunisia has two free trade zones, one in the north at Bizerte and the other in the south at Zarzis. The land is state owned, but the zones are each managed by a private company. Companies setting up in the free trade zones (FTZ) are exempt from most taxes and customs duties and benefit from special tax rates.


Tunisia is a member of the Arab Maghreb Union (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Libya), which nominally allows duty-free trade among members although barriers to trade remain. It is also signatory to several bilateral trade agreements. Tunisia's only really effective free trade agreement has come via its associate membership with the European Union, allowing preferential access for most Tunisian exports, except certain textile and agricultural products. Tunisia formally ratified its association agreement with the European Union in June 1996. The agreement will gradually lower tariffs to zero over a 12-year period. Tunisia is receiving assistance from the European Union for its local industries during the transition period.
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