In 2020, there were around 800,000 registered companies in Tunisia. The number increased significantly compared to the previous years, rising from about 600,000 in 2010. Of these, roughly 130,000 were limited liability companies, known as sociétés à responsabilité limitée (SARL). Domestic enterprises dominate the country's business environment. In 2020, Tunisian companies added up to around 785,000 compared to only 16,600 businesses with foreign ownership. Geographically, businesses are concentrated in the areas of Tunis, Sfax, and Sousse, which are also the most populous in the country. The private sector in Tunisia employed over one million people in 2020, mainly in industrial activities.
An increasingly business-friendly environment
Tunisia offers one of the most favorable business environments in Africa. In 2020, the country ranked fifth on the continent in the ease of doing business index, just after Mauritius, Rwanda, Morocco, and Kenya. Specifically, starting a business in Tunisia was relatively advantageous in terms of time, cost, capital, and the number of procedures required. The average number of days needed to set up a company in Tunisia was nine days as of 2020, the shortest time in North Africa together with Morocco. Getting electricity, dealing with construction permits, and trading across borders were other factors that increased the country’s business attractiveness. In terms of taxation, companies in Tunisia are subject to different corporate income tax (CIT) rates according to the sector of activity. The government lowered the general CIT rate for businesses to 15 percent of the income in 2021, compared to 25 percent in 2020.
Food and beverage firms and banks among the major players
Among the companies listed on Tunisia’s stock exchange (Bourse des Valeurs Mobilières de Tunis – BVMT), the Société de Fabrication des Boissons de Tunisie (SFBT) was the leading company by market capitalization in 2021, with a value of 1.83 billion U.S. dollars. Established in 1889, SFBT is a major food and beverage enterprise that controls significant shares of the country’s beer, soft drink, and mineral water market. Other significant players in Tunisia’s stock exchange were the poultry processing company Poulina Group Holding, as well as several banks, including the Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie (BIAT), the Banque de Tunisie, and the Banque Attijari de Tunisie. The number of publicly traded companies in Tunisia has slowly increased in recent years, from 71 in 2013 to 80 in 2020.
A thriving startup ecosystem
Due to the encouraging business environment, Tunisia’s startup ecosystem has recently grown. While the country did not reach the maturity of Africa’s largest hubs such as Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, it offered one of the best environments for startups on the continent in 2021. With the rising internet adoption and digital technology usage, the tech sector opened new opportunities to entrepreneurs in recent years. Tunisia’s tech startups secured nearly 24 million U.S. dollars in funding in 2021, an impressive growth compared to around four million U.S. dollars in the previous year. As of 2021, some key startups in Tunisia were InstaDeep, Expensya, nextProtein, and Enda Tamweel.
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