Among the factors which hinder the prospective economic transition in Tunisia is informal trade,a phenomenon that did not begin with the 2011 revolution but has in fact existed for a number of years at Tunisia’s borders. 

Smuggling for many residents in these regions is a way to earn a living. These ‘smugglers’ work in cross-border trade to escape poverty and crippling unemployment. Customs prior to the revolution turned a blind eye on such commercial transactions in fear of residents’ protests in those regions, besides the corrupt lobbyists run by powerful businessmen and the ruling family during Zine el – Abidine Ben Ali era .

Customs authorities’ inefficiency concerning the chaotic state has paved the way for smuggling barons to widen the range of their trade: they smuggle weapons, medicine, basic foodstuffs, chemical fertilizers, alcohol, etc.

A recent World Bank report entitled « Estimating informal trade across Tunisia’s land borders » (December 2013) addresses the issue. The report assesses the scale of this trade and evaluates the amount lost in taxes and duties as a result, and also examines the local impact in terms of income generation. The report shows that smuggling incurs huge economic losses for the country (around 1.2 billion dinars). The size of the Tunisian informal economy is about 30 percent as a share of GDP according to the Regional Economic Outlook, published by International Monetary Fund (IMF, October 2011)

Informal trade has had a disastrous impact on the economy: inadequate production-consumption cycle, lack of goods such as foodstuffs and medicine, local farmers and traders threatened by parallel trade, sharp increase in prices, etc. It is important to note that smuggling is carried out through different methods;overland smuggling routes, ships and airplanes. Due to the lack of efficient strategies to combat large-scale smuggling, this trade could raise inflation and engender trade deficit. Many traders resort to informal trade in order to escape Customs duties (95% of the price of goods) and to avoid different trade barriers.

The government and customs authorities should take action against cross-border trade and find solutions to this dilemma. This can be made through the enforcement of customs laws, trade laws reforms, trader performance enhancement, tax reform, and through raising traders’ awareness of the importance of the legal transactions in favor of the national economy, as well as expanding border area development programs to promote well-being and a sense of security among the border populations.So a multi-approach method is crucial to help tackle the smuggling problem and monitor its hazards.