Tunisia expects surge in olive oil production to boost battered economy

Workers stand in front of crates of olives at a processing factory in Beni Hassen city. Tunisia expects olive production to jump by 160 percent in the 2017 season. (Reuters)
Updated 18 December 2017
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Tunisia expects surge in olive oil production to boost battered economy

BENI HASSEN: Trucks loaded with boxes full of olives were queueing at a press plant in this small Tunisian town as the North African country sees a surge in olive oil production in a badly-needed boost to its ailing economy.
Tunisia, one of the world’s top three olive oil producers, expects olive production to jump by 160 percent to between 1.5 million tons and 1.6 million tons in the 2017 season which started in November, the agriculture ministry said
That will translate into up to 280 million tons of olive oil, about 80 percent of which will be exported, helping to generate hard currency needed to stabilize its battered dinar.
Tunisia has been in economic crisis since a popular uprising in 2011 ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The crisis has deepened as militant attacks took their toll on the tourism industry and weakened the dinar against hard currencies.
“It will be an exceptional (olive) season thanks to much better rainfall than last year,” said Hamdi Khalifa, owner of an olive oil press in Bani Hassen, one of the main production areas located a two-hour drive south of the capital Tunis.
His workers produce 90 tons of olive oil each day in the press compared to 40 tons a year ago, he said. Prices have shot up with 10 liters of oil now selling for 90 dinars.
Last year’s production had been hit hard by a drought.
The production boom has helped ease unemployment in rural areas with farmers complaining that they are struggling to find enough farmhands.
Some 135,000 workers were needed for this year’s season for up to three months, the agriculture ministry said in a statement.
“I’m paying now (workers) 35 dinars a day but its not easy to find workers,” said Sabri Barki, a farmer who owns 100 olive trees in the Bani Hassen area.
“Prices have gone up.”
The olive oil industry relies on 70 million olive trees that cover around 1.7 million hectares. They provide a living for at least 500,000 families in the North African country of 11 million.
It hopes that rising olive oil exports will help reduce its record trade deficit, which hit $4.61 billion in the first nine months of this year.
Last month, the agriculture ministry said Tunisia aimed to export about 220,000 tons of olive oil this season compared with about 75,000 tons last season that brought in $320 million.
World olive production is expected to rise by 14 percent to 2.9 million tons in the 2017/18 season with Tunisia posting the highest gain with a 120 percent rise, according to the International Olive Council, an industry body.
Top producer Spain, which has been hit by a severe drought this year, is expected to post a 15 percent drop in output.
The government has been tying to boost production with loans for farmers. Stability in Tunisia is a concern for the European Union as unemployment has driven young Tunisians into illegal migration and joining militant groups abroad.
— Reuters


Saudi stocks receive landmark emerging markets upgrade from MSCI

Updated 21 June 2018
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Saudi stocks receive landmark emerging markets upgrade from MSCI

  • Market authorities in Saudi Arabia have introduced a series of reforms in the past 18 months
  • MSCI’s Emerging Market index is tracked by about $2 trillion in active and global funds

LONDON: Saudi Arabian equites are poised to attract up to $40 billion worth of foreign inflows, following a landmark decision by index provider MSCI to include the Kingdom’s stocks in its widely tracked Emerging Markets index.

"MSCI will include the MSCI Saudi Arabia Index in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, representing on a pro forma basis a weight of approximately 2.6% of the index with 32 securities, following a two-step inclusion process," the MSCI said in a statement late on Wednesday night Riyadh time.

“Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in MSCI’s EM Index is a milestone achievement and will likely bring with it significant levels of foreign investment,” Salah Shamma, head of investment for MENA at Franklin Templeton Emerging Markets Equity, told Arab News. 

“It is a recognition of the progress Saudi Arabia has made in implementing its ambitious capital markets transformation agenda. The halo effect of such a move will be felt across the stock exchanges of the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).”

Market authorities in Saudi Arabia have introduced a series of reforms in the past 18 months to bring local capital markets more in line with international norms, including lower restrictions on international investors, and the introduction of short-selling and T+2 settlement cycles.

Such reforms prompted index provider FTSE Russell to upgrade the Kingdom to emerging market status in March, opening the country’s stocks up to billions worth of passive and active inflows from foreign investors.

MSCI’s Emerging Market index is tracked by about $2 trillion in active and global funds. The inclusion of Saudi stocks in the index, alongside FTSE Russell’s upgrade, is forecast to attract as much as $45 billion of foreign inflows from passive and active investors, according to estimates from Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes. 

The upgrade announcement was widely expected by the region’s investment community, following a similar emerging markets upgrade announcement by fellow index provider FTSE Russell in March. 

“MSCI index inclusion will be a historic milestone for the Saudi market as it will allow for sticky institutional money to make an entry in 2019 which will help deepen the market,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh.