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Tunisian Nat'l Day reception on March 20 in Seoul
"More Cooperation Needed" Says Amb. Baati
Tunisian Envoy to Seoul Marks Its Independence Day
Tunisian Ambassador to Seoul Moncef Baati in his office

"I feel proud of the achievements both Tunisia and Korea have made for the last four decades and we would like to achieve more," said Tunisian Ambassador to Seoul Mr. Moncef Baati in a recent interview. "We can achieve more cooperation particularly in sectors like IT and science and technology and Tunisia has a highly skilled workforce for this."

In the interview with The Seoul Times he had at his embassy office in Seoul on March 16, 2007, the top Tunisian envoy stressed importance of the bilateral cooperation. Amb. Baati will host a national day reception in Seoul on March 20, 2007 on the occasion of the 51st anniversary of Tunisia's Independence Day, which falls on the day.

The anniversary marks the end of French colonial rule to Tunisia which took place in 1956 after being a French colony for 75 years. It's Tunisia's biggest holiday and thus widely celebrated.

The ambassador further emphasized on enhancing cooperation in the sectors of trade and investments as well as visits to both countries by high level people more and better cooperation between Tunis and Seoul.

"First it's a holiday and second there is always a big conference headed by the president of the republic," Mr. Baati explained the importance of the day.

The day is coupled with another holiday called "Youth Day," which is also very important for the Tunisian people. The day celebrates the young generation.

"This is to send a massage, that this independence and the new generation will build Tunisia. Right after gaining our independence we started investing a lot into human resources and thus the youth of our country," the ambassador explained.

Mr. Moncef Baati poses for The Seoul Times in his office.

"That's one of the reasons we became one of the first Arab countries regarding competitiveness. That's due to the skilled workforce, we developed. This came from the vision, that men are the tool and the target of our development process," he continued.

Not only the youth profited from the newly found independence, but also women's rights were established. Unlike other Arab and African countries, women and men are treated equal in Tunisia. Women make 22 percent of lawmakers and 57 percent of university students are female in this Arabic country.

"This is another factor of which Tunisia is very proud. A couple of weeks after gaining our independence, we adopted what we call the "Family Law." This law constitutes that women and men share an equal role in society," he said.

The Tunisian envoy also touched upon the booming tourism industry of the North African nation. Tunisia has exceptional and historical treasures, including over 20,000 archeological sites and hundreds of monuments, museums and historical centers and a total of eight world heritage sites. This attracts numerous tourists from all over the world.

With more than 6,500,000 tourists visiting the country per year, Tunisia is the first tourist destination for tourists from Europe, the United States, and Oceania.

"Another important reason, why we attract so many visitors, is that Tunisia is very open to foreigners. One thing we share with the Koreans is our hospitality. Another important factor is, that we consider tourism as a real industry and put much effort in it, to improve it," he explained.

Tunisia and the Republic of Korea first established diplomatic relations in 1969. The ambassador explained, how bilateral cooperation between the two countries has developed since then, and stressed the importance of further collaboration. Even if Tunisia maintains ties with North Korea as well, exchanges or cooperation drew to a virtual close in recent years.

The following are the questions and answers with Amb. Moncef Baati.

Q1: In 2009 Tunisia and South Korea will celebrate their 40th Anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties. Tunisia was one of the first African countries to establish relations with South Korea. Can you give a quick review of how the relations between the two countries have developed during this time?

From left to right: Mohamed Mahr Meddeb, first secretary; Shin Mi-Young, secretary; Amb. Moncef Baati; and Fethi Nasri, first secretary at the Tunisian Embassy in Seoul.

A1: Tunisia was one of the first African and Arab Countries to establish diplomatic ties with South Korea. In fact, diplomatic relations between the Republic of Tunisia and the Republic of Korea were established on March the 31st of 1969. Since that, political, economic, scientific, cultural and academic cooperation between the two countries witnessed a significant development with the signing of numerous agreements in the aforementioned areas. The two countries held Eight Joint Committees and we expect to hold the next one by the end of this year. Positive political dialogue over the international issues of common interest exists also between the two countries.

We have registered also the exchange of several visits, including delegations at ministerial level, from both countries. the most recent one is the visit paid to Tunisia, last November, by Mr. Kim Woo-Sik, deputy prime minister and minister of science and technology, to co-chair the first Technological and Scientific Joint Commission, which culminated with the signing of a Program of Cooperation in the areas of science and technology. By the end of this month and earlier May, two Korean ministers are expected to visit Tunisia.

Q2: Tunisia is ranked as one of the most competitive countries in Africa and the Arab World. Relations between Tunisia and South Korea have undergone a significant development since the 60's. What were the major areas the two nations cooperated mostly? How do you think both countries can further develop the collaboration?

A2: The Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007 released by the World Economic Forum has ranked Tunisia's economy as the most completive in Africa and the Arab world and 30th in the world. Tunisia's greater sectional competitiveness notably in electronics and electrical products, automotive components, textiles, agro-food and new ICT, which represent the key Tunisian exported products, is also underlined in studies carried out by internationally consulting firms that have concluded that Tunisia offers the best overall profitability in the Mediterranean region.

Mr. Moncef Baati explained about his country during the interview in his office in the Tunisian Embassy in Seoul.

I am glad to say that the bilateral cooperation has gained momentum during the last couple of years in all fields and notably in those of IT, science and technology, and higher education. I believe that this momentum is an obvious result of what dynamic Korea and competitive Tunisia can develop in common.

2007 has been inaugurated with a major achievement which is the signing of an agreement of cooperation in the field of Technoparks between the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology and the most important Korean Technopark "Daedeok Innopolis."

The MOU signed, on the occasion of a visit paid to Korea by a high ranking Tunisian delegation during February 2007, is the first of its kind concluded between an African and Arab Country and Deadeok Innopolis. This agreement will pave the way to reinforce the technological cooperation between the two countries through the exchange of know how between the prestigious Korean Technopark and the well established Tunisian network of technoparks.

Furthermore and during the same month, a delegation from Andong National University has paid a visit to Tunisia and signed an MOU of cooperation with the Tunisian University of Gabes.

I am confident that the coming months will witness other positive achievements through the exchange of high ranking government officials from both countries that will certainly lead to further reinforce and enlarge the bilateral cooperation in the areas of common interest such as institutional and environmental areas.

Q3: What have you done since you arrived here in Seoul as the ambassador? For the remainder of you tenure what are the most important things you would like to achieve?

A3:Since my arrival to Seoul as ambassador, I endeavored to build on the achievements of my predecessors and to reinforce and enlarge the scope of cooperation between the two countries. While Tunisia and South Korea have over the past three decades set up the guidelines for fruitful cooperation that resulted in remarkable achievements, I believe strongly that it is time for the two countries to enlarge the scope of their bilateral cooperation in the light of the large potentialities of partnership that can be developed in fields like IT, science and technology, tourism, and culture. [To this aim my agenda was focused in the reinforcement of cooperation in the field of commercial exchanges, investment, tourism, and science and technology].

At the commercial level, several contacts with the Korean authorities and private sector have been conducted to make Korean friends know about our main export products. While the level of bilateral trade is still under our aspirations, we do believe that commercial exchange can be expanded. To illustrate, we can mention among the Tunisian agricultural and agro foods products olive oil, dates, citrus and wines which thanks to their natural characteristics are acknowledged by international experts for their high nutritive value and unique taste. Those high quality products which are exported with very competitive prices can have a large access to the Korean market. Tunisian raw and processed materials like phosphate and fertilizers which are certified by specialists for their high natural qualities can be also commercialized on the Korean market as they are in many large Asian markets such as China, India, and Indonesia.

Continual efforts are also made to let Korean business community knows about the Tunisia's investment environment. In this regard, I will mention the visit paid to Korea by the Tunisian secretary of state in charge of international cooperation and foreign investment.

The embassy has also undertaken a large door to door action targeting Korean professionals of tourism in order to introduce Tunisia as a tourist destination for Koreans.

At the cultural level and besides the participation of Tunisian and Korean artists in several cultural events held in both countries, a memorandum of understanding was also signed in Tunisia between the two national libraries.

Ancient ruins at Tunis

Q4: One of the main advantages of Tunisia is its geo-strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean sea directly neighboring Africa, Europe and the Middle East. How can Korean companies benefit from this? Can you specify on Korean investments to your Country?

A4:Thanks to its geo-strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisia is an ideal crossroads for investors seeking access to European, African and Middle Eastern markets. Besides this geographical proximity, Tunisia offers free market access to the major neighboring markets. The free trade agreement signed with the European Union provides for the free access and exemption from customs duties on Tunisian industrial products to the European market. Tunisia has also signed a number of FTA's with African and Arab countries.

Korean investors will certainly enjoy in Tunisia high skilled workforce, due to the fact that, like Korea, Tunisia based its development on human resources. The education is compulsory and free up to 16. Education budget enjoys 7 percent of GDP. The early introduction in foreign languages and the use of new IT in school combined with a continual adaptation of the training and educational system, provide to investors the skills required by the global labor market.

Continual improvements in infrastructure have led to establish a reliable and modern one. Seven international airports and six commercial ports are connecting all the regions of Tunisia to the main capitals and economic centers in the region. A very competitive investment incentives code which confirms the right to freely invest for foreigners, simplified procedures to set up a company which can be carried out at a "one stop shop" gathering all relevant departments, could be added to pleasant living conditions in a modern and open country.

A comprehensive national strategy for developing ITC sector has resulted in one of the most competitive telecommunication infrastructure in the area, making Tunisia a regional ICT center in Africa and the Middle East region. So Tunisia could be also an excellent investment location for Korean operators in ICT sector.

In this regard, I would like to seize this occasion to invite Korean investors to attend the Carthage Investment Forum which will be held in Tunis on June 21-22, 2007. This annual forum will gather some 400 foreign decision makers and economic operators from all over the world interested in new investment opportunities in Tunisia.

Q5:Tunisia is a major tourist spot in the Mediterranean area for millions of Europeans holidaymakers. But your country is not well known to Asians in general. What are your plans for attracting more Asian tourists, particularly Koreans?

Mausoleum of President Bourguiba of Tunisia

A5:The recent report dedicated to tourism and released by the World Economic Forum ranked Tunisia first in Africa in terms of tourist and travel competitiveness. In fact, with six millions and five hundreds thousands tourists annually visiting the country, Tunisia is the first tourist destination southern of the Mediterranean and second in Africa. Located at the core of the Mediterranean Sea, with 1,300 km of coastline, the country offers to its visitors a great deal of diversity.

Offering new and modern facilities with the best quality – price ratios services, Tunisia traditionally known for its sunny whether and beautiful sea, has further implemented during the recent years a strategy aiming at diversifying its tourism product.

I do agree that while Tunisia is receiving millions of holidaymakers every year from all over the world, the number of Asian tourists, scored in some thousands, still is far from the large potentialities this important tourist market offers.

Taking into account the fact that Korea, which scores millions of tourists visiting the world every year, is one of the most promising Asian markets, the embassy has started since 2005 a serious and comprehensive promotional plan targeting the main tourist operators in Korea going from tour operators to tourist media.

In fact, first contacts between the private tourist sectors in the two countries have been established. Since December 2006, two important groups of Korean professionals and journalists operating in the field of Tourism have visited Tunisia. Others like-visits are scheduled during this year as to introduce Tunisia within the tourist destination packages offered by the main Korean travel agencies.

I would like finally to add that, with the Korean tourist looking for new destinations, Tunisia with its new tourist products such as cultural, medical, golf and Saharan tourism is expected to attract in the future a growing number of Korean tourists.

I would like also to size this occasion to invite Korean professionals of tourism to participate to the 13th Tourism and Travel Fair of the International Mediterranean Tourism market which will be held in Tunis, from May 10 to 12, 2007. This important International Fair in the Mediterranean area, open to the public, brings together over 120 leading international exhibitors representing more than 350 major products and brand names of Tourism. Its precedents editions use to host 20,000 visitors scoring among them 2,000 operators and professionals involved with the tourism sector.

Q6: South Korea is now trying to present itself to the world as a truly globalized nation and eventually wants to become the economic hub of Asia. Yet many foreigners complain about certain hurdles and difficulties in their life in Seoul. What, do you think, Korea should do in order to become truly international country?

A6:I think that Korea, emerging as the 11th economic power in the world and as one of the most important countries in terms of exporting new IT, is on the right track to become an international country in the coming few year. I would like to size this opportunity to congratulate the initiative launched by the Korean government in 2006 on Africa development which constitutes a tangible step towards strengthening the presence of Korea in the international arena.

An amphitheater in Tunisia 's El Jem, similar to Colosseum in Rome

Q7:Recently the successful renewal and development of the six-party talks made people think positive of the stability on the Korean Peninsula. Do you think that North Korea and the US will keep their promises? How would you expect the nuclear talks and overall security in Northeast Asia develop in the future? Do you think that the US will establish diplomatic ties with N. Korea in the end?

A7:Tunisia has always endeavored to promote peace and security around the world. Thus, I would like to congratulate South Korea for the agreement reached on Feb. 13, 2007 within the framework of the six-party talks which will pave the way to reinforce peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

Q8: On the surface, Tunisian and Korean Culture don't seem to have much in common. What are the similarities or differences between the two cultures you went through during your tenure in Seoul? What was the most cherished memory of your stay in Korea so far?

A8:While geographically speaking Tunisia is far from Korea, I can assure that the two cultures have many similarities. To list few of them I would mention the respect of elderly people which is common to the two societies. Moreover the two cultures gave the same pivotal role to the human being in achieving economic and social development. The two cultures have also succeeded to combine modernity and tradition by favoring the emergence of an open and balanced society which preserves its identity while keeping the pace of modernity. I can even mention the important role of drums as one of the major musical instruments in the traditional music of the two countries.

Q9: Now, let me ask about your family. Have they adapted well to living in Korea? Could you give me detailed explanation about your family members? What do you do with them over the weekends on holidays?

A9:Here, I live with my wife and my youngest daughter. My wife is an economist. When we were in Tunisia she used to work as teacher of economics at the University of Tunis. Here she doesn't work, but she is very busy. She's the secretary general of the group of spouses of ambassadors. My little daughter is 11 years old. She goes to the French school. Our eldest daughter is living in Switzerland. She is studying chemistry at the engineering school.

During the week days I am busy, my wife too. We try to spend the weekend together with our daughter and to have common programs. We attend some concerts, we go in a trip to discover other parts of Korea, we go shopping … All of us are happy to be here.

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