Expanding SME upgrading approach in Tunisia to innovation and export promotion

Towards a New Approach for Industrial Upgrading in Tunisia

In 1995, Tunisia adopted a National Upgrading Programme (Programme de Mise à Niveau / PMN) with the objective to strengthen corporate competitiveness, encourage industrial partnerships, strengthen the socio-economic environment for business activity, and accelerate the process of enterprise modernization in general. Since its start, the PMN has supported some 4,000 enterprises and is generally considered as a successful programme. However, the PMN approach has remained almost unchanged over the past 20 years. Tunisia’s recent declining global competitiveness (as reflected in the Global Competitiveness Index) indicates that there is a need to review and modernise the PMN. 

Under the umbrella of the Aid for Trade Initiative for Arab States (AfTIAS) Program, the project “Expanding SME upgrading approach in Tunisia to innovation and export” implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has created a new dynamic for industrial upgrading in Tunisia, which is expected to enable enterprises, mainly SMEs, to improve their competitiveness and develop their exports by developing innovative products and approaches.  

In the first stage, a diagnosis report (titled “Towards a New Approach for Industrial Upgrading in Tunisia”) was prepared based on a mission undertaken by international experts in Tunisia, in addition to lessons learned from the Government’s upgrading programme and related interventions. This diagnosis, as a contribution to a more comprehensive exercise, has provided a launching pad for revisiting and improving the industrial upgrading programme in Tunisia. It suggests that the new PMN should focus on the upgrading of value chains/clusters with a latent comparative advantage. This would require a more targeted approach and greater selectivity of enterprises with a clear focus on innovation. 


Another key step towards the modernization of the PMN took place on 21st December 2017 in Tunis, where a strategic workshop was organized by the project to initiate a reflection and dialogue process with 150 key stakeholders from the public, private and financial sector on the future directions for the PMN. The discussions confirmed the need for developing a new upgrading programme based on a competitiveness/innovation tandem. 

The national strategy for a new PME has still to be finalized through extensive consultations with the key stakeholders, but the path towards greater competitiveness and innovation of industrial SMEs in Tunisia is already well underway.