TUNISIA – Tunisian Ministry of Commerce has revealed that plans to digitise commercial transactions were at their initial stages and have a long way to go to reach their goals.

At a workshop to develop commercial law in cooperation with the US Department of Commerce, Director of E-Commerce Development at the Ministry of Commerce Khabbab Hadhri stressed the need to have 300,000 retailers join the electronic payment system.

He said required conditions, mechanisms and laws for the switch were available but “the number of participants in the system did not exceed 1,900 retailers, whether through ClicToPay, owned by Monetique Tunisie, or e-dinar, owned by the Tunisian postal system.”

Hadhri estimated the value of e-commerce transactions last year in Tunisia stood at 255 million dinars ($79.4 million) through 4 million transactions.

E-commerce has had a low uptake in Tunisia largely because retailers fear either losing their investments to piracy or being subjected to increased direct oversight from official bodies.

The explosion of cash-based consumer transactions has in turn further exacerbated a liquidity crisis at local banks.

Tunisian banks need to be resupplied in liquidity at the rate of $4.9 billion a year, compared to $2.2 billion eight years ago.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Tunisia has a large potential of enterprises in handicraft and food industries that export products through e-commerce networks.

The Ministry hopes to support that trend and enhance the presence of local companies on e-commerce platforms through a package of projects, including the export facilitation platform Easy-Export to promote exports by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Easy-Export is an integrated postal export platform that supports the integration of SMEs in international trade and boost exports through logistical and digital solutions as well as facilities prepared by the committee responsible for implementing the project.

The Centre for Export Promotion recently halved the cost of sending parcels to stimulate exports by companies dealing with the platform.

It is estimated that the beneficiaries of the measure totalled 60 institutions and that nearly 7,000 parcels, mainly products from the handicraft sector, had been exported to the United States and the European Union.

Tunisia was one of the first countries in the southern Mediterranean and the first Arab country to start using e-commerce to promote economic growth.

A report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development ranked Tunisia fourth among African countries and 79th globally in e-commerce.