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Speeches & Transcripts

Opening Remarks for 'Beyond Recovery: Tunisia's Knowledge-Based Approach to Long Term Growth and Job Creation'

October 6, 2010

Robert B. Zoellick Washington DC

As Prepared for Delivery

Opening Remarks for

Beyond Recovery: Tunisia’s Knowledge-Based Approach to Long Term Growth and Job Creation
Robert B. Zoellick
President, World Bank Group
Washington DC
October 6, 2010

Prime Minister Ghannouchi, Dr. Al-Hamad, Professor Routti, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to welcome Prime Minister Ghannouchi of Tunisia to the World Bank today.  And I want to commend him for his vision and leadership in pursuing Tunisia’s goal to transform itself into a knowledge-based economy.

I’m also very pleased that Dr. Al-Hamad and Professor Routti have joined us.

Today’s event combines three important strategic aspects of the World Bank Group’s work at a global level and in the Middle East and North Africa region.

First of all, the Arab World Initiative is one of the Bank Group’s Strategic Themes for global development.  When I arrived, I wanted to launch the Arab World Initiative to forge a more effective partnership with countries in the Arab World and to help learn how we can best be of help in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth.

We wanted to look to the Arab world for your priorities.
I know we’ll be helped in this work by your former colleague, Mahmoud Mohieldin of Egypt, who just joined us this week.

One of the priorities you set is to assist with the transformation to knowledge-based economies. 

Second, sharing knowledge is another of the Bank Group’s Strategic Themes. 

We have found that middle-income countries, such as Tunisia, have a need for different services that combine global learning, with customization for local circumstances.

Our Managing Director who supervises the region, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, former Finance Minister of Indonesia, has a special interest in connecting our knowledge services with the needs of middle-income countries.  

We hope this initiative will be complemented by some new open information initiatives we launched.  In July we launched the most advanced access to information policy of any international institution.  We are releasing thousands of documents going back several decades.

All of our analytical and technical knowledge, data, and information are accessible to the public and are interactive, thus improving the focus and depth of our knowledge and capacity-building programs.

We are giving the development community easy and open access not only to our data but also to our intellectual property: the analytical applications.
This will enable anyone to do their own analysis and research.  This could open a whole new approach to development research and policy development.

Third, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are striving to create sufficient jobs for their young and well-educated populations through higher value-added, technology-focused, and knowledge-based goods and services. 

Job creation is at the heart of the Bank Group strategy for the Middle East and North Africa.

This development challenge is particularly important for the Arab world.  Countries in the Middle East and North Africa need to carry out an ambitious transformation of their economies to reduce their high levels of unemployment. 

There is a special need to ensure greater job possibilities for women, who represent a disproportionate percentage of the unemployed in the region.

Tunisia has made impressive progress in ensuring access to education for all, and particularly investing in women’s education.  Education accounts for 20 percent of Tunisia’s budget, equivalent to 7 percent of GDP.  Between 1995 and 2005, Tunisia tripled the number of students in higher education, and women now make up the majority of higher education graduates.  As a result, Tunisia has witnessed a rapid increase in the labor force because of the increased participation rates of women.  Unfortunately, this means that women make up the majority of the unemployed as well.

Transitioning to a knowledge-based economy presents many challenges.  It poses special problems for countries in the Middle East and North Africa region on a range of issues – whether ensuring that their education systems respond to the needs of their job market; investing in research and development; innovation by the private sector; Internet use; technology adaptation; or creating knowledge-intensive jobs.  Arab countries have not benefited from global technological progress in the same way as other countries in Eastern Europe or East Asia.  For example, even today, Internet usage in Arab countries is amongst the lowest in the world.

Countries in the region now need to re-orient their education systems to close skills gaps, respond to labor market signals, and promote knowledge-based capabilities.  The goal is to match the supply of well-qualified young people with the opportunities presented in the global and regional economy.

But, above all, countries in the Middle East and North Africa need to adopt structural reforms to allow their economies to reap the benefits of globalization.  We think greater regional integration in the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as in Europe, Africa, and beyond, could assist.  Tunisia has made successful efforts over the past 20 years to integrate with Europe; today 75 percent of its exports go to European markets.  The strategy now is to diversify its export markets beyond Europe and deepen integration with countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. 

Globalization offers a wide range of opportunities to countries in the Arab World. 

Tunisia has so far been able to harness global dynamics to a certain degree, enabling it to post impressive growth rates and to shift its model away from agriculture and fuel exports towards manufacturing exports in the electronic and mechanical sectors. 

The challenge now for Tunisia – as for many other countries – is to accelerate the structural transformation of its economy, intensify the sophistication of production lines, increase productivity, and generate sufficient numbers of skilled jobs.

The spread of technology is ultimately driven by private investment, which itself depends on good governance, an enabling business climate, financing of innovative firms, and a consistent policy framework.

For technology and knowledge to be maximized, there is a need for a continued focus on improving the environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.

In the case of the Middle East and North Africa region, this will require enhanced competition in markets and regulatory reforms, and greater regional integration that will foster higher levels of private investment and allow the private sector to flourish.

The Bank Group and the projects it supports are contributing to create a more conducive regulatory environment, business climate, and technological literacy framework that strengthen the foundations for a knowledge-based economy.  The Information, Technology and Communications (ICT) is a leading sector for us.  We have an ICT project in Tunisia that has supported the Government in opening up the ICT sector to greater private sector participation and competition: ICT now accounts for approximately 10 percent of the country’s GDP, up from 3.5 percent in 2001.

The Bank’s support for trade reform and export development also has helped Tunisia deepen its global integration by significantly opening up the economy, bringing about cheaper export logistics, and ensuring greater convergence of product standards to international norms.  
It is events such as this one that contribute toward the strengthening of the Bank Group’s partnership for knowledge development. 

Globally, the Bank Group’s expertise and knowledge is sought as much as our financial assistance. 

We are increasingly strengthening our integrated solutions to address particular needs of countries.  And we are enhancing our capacity to share the lessons learnt on knowledge-economies.

So thank you for joining us today.  And thanks most of all to the Prime Minister for his leadership.