Interview with Mr Ridha Ben Mosbah

Mr Ridha Ben Mosbah
Mr Ridha Ben Mosbah
Minister of Trade and Handicrafts
Govt of Tunisia
Govt of Tunisia

Interesting! Please also tell us how significant is handicrafts sector for your country's economy.

Technology and Industry are not the only areas in which Tunisia is seeking to improve the economic future for its people. The government is also investing in its cultural industries –cinematography, publishing, cultural heritage especially and handicrafts– as a means of contributing to the country’s sustainable development.

A government conducted economic study -“The National Strategy for the development of the handicraft sector by 2016”- showed that the handicraft sector had the potential to double its contribution to GDP and more than triple its contribution to exports by 2016. In pursuit of this goal, the government has implemented measures to revitalize the industry and breathe a new spirit of competition and creativity into Tunisian artisans.

Statistics indicate the sector employs 11% of workers, or the equivalent of 350,000 artisans, generating more than 10.000 job creations per year, contributing in that sense around 3.9% of GDP according to 2009 figures. Meanwhile, the sector’s exports are valued at more than 250 million dinars, or approximately 2.2% of total exports.

In recent years the Tunisian government has stepped up its promotion of traditional handicrafts, both in Tunisia and abroad, by participating in international forums. The Traditional Handicrafts Salon represents the most important specialised forum in the sector where we could meet almost 75 activities. Every year, it draws a large number of visitors – more than 130,000 according to official figures.

It’s worth noting that his excellence, the president of the republic of Tunisia, in his speech by the 11th of October 2009 insisted on the fact that we must restore the normal level of development, and achieving a faster pace of growth by promoting also handicrafts and the activities of employment, training and marketing in this sector by establishing a modern commercial pole that is open to innovation and creativity and enhances the value of our national cultural assets, labelled “The City of Handicrafts and Artistic Occupations” to serve as a large commercial center, and a pole for innovation, creativity, and the valorisations of national cultural assets. The president of the republic also recommended the establishment of “Handicrafts Villages” in all Governorates and devote a space for each traditional product that is specific to any one region which will give an impetus for the launching of new projects.

Moreover, Tunisia is one of a few countries in the world to have enacted a law to protect traditional handicrafts and related knowledge and anticipate in cooperation with the National Institute of Normalisation and Intellectual property to the implementation of a variety of IP tools, among them collective and certification marks and geographical indications. Indeed, the text on traditional cultural expressions drew upon Tunisia’s Law. Introduced in December 2007, Law 68 is designed to protect major local and national handicrafts such as carpets, pottery, traditional dress, silk products, mosaics and many other handmade products.

The government extended the 1999 law relating to appellations of origin, which currently only protects agricultural products, to cover the works of Tunisian artisans, such as Berber and Karoui carpets, Djerba pottery, ceramics... WIPO is also providing legislative advice to the national IP office, the National Institute of Normalisation and Intellectual Property (INNORPI) and to the artisans’ association, the National Office of Handicraft (ONA), to assist them in introducing a geographical indications law, which would offer more flexibility than the appellations of origin law for protecting handicrafts. Many new trademarks will also be created: The elegant Cage de Sidi Bousaid placed in front of homes in the Medina, the Porte Bleue de Tunis, the Chechia a Tunisian beret.... All hold meaning for Tunisia’s artisans and are instantly recognizable. Also, Villages de l’artisanat (handicraft villages) have been created to promote and commercialize the works of artisans and to protect and preserve Tunisia’s traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.

It is worth noting also that Tunisia is the first and only country which has benefited so far from a twinning agreement with European funding in the handicrafts sector which aims at modernizing Tunisia's handicrafts sector, improving exchanges and strengthening by the way the partnership with the EU in the investment and marketing sectors. This twinning program comes in fulfilment of the national orientations meant to step up economic, technical and cultural exchange with European countries, to promote and to improve the quality of local handicraft products, in compliance with international standards in force. The results of this program in the handicrafts sector between Tunisia, France and Spain, were presented recently on the sidelines of a seminar held in Tunis; the twinning program will provide large prospects to handicrafts products boosting quality and marketing, at home and abroad. The program is part of the National Handicrafts Board (ONA) strategy to boost the handicrafts sector.

Besides handicrafts, which all areas could be unique strengths that if honed can earn global recognition for Tunisia?

The main exported products are jeans wear, trouser, knitwear, shirt, lingerie, work wear, jumpers & pullovers. These products were able to assert themselves as leaders on the international market and more specifically on the European market. Other activities are considered carrier for the future of the sector and on which we count for booster its performances as technical articles.

What we could say is that Tunisia’s textile and clothing sector is highly reactive and able to work on a tight schedule, which mean it is particularly well suited to deal with small and medium volume series, restocking and fast fashion.

The strategic orientations of the sector seek to reach both qualitative and quantitative objectives such us:

Developing restocking and positioning activities to handle small and medium size series.

Moving from subcontracting to co-manufacturing then production of finished products by 300 companies by 2016, compared to just 70 companies at this time

Developing finishing in order to increase the availability of materials for manufacturers, targeting coverage of 40% of needs by 2016 compared to 10% at this time.

Developing technical textiles and strengthening design.

Reinforcing the promotion plan and mastery of the distribution channels

Consolidating of the move to regional platforms by strengthening infrastructure and training.

Published on: 25/01/2010

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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