Bilateral relations are good and diversified, and trade in general terms is increasing. Tunisia is one of Switzerland's priority countries for international cooperation, with a focus on supporting the transition to democracy. The two countries also share a migration partnership.
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In North Africa, Switzerland's activities focus on good governance, sustainable economic development and cooperation in the area of migration. The political upheavals of 2011 have paved the way for a long transition process in North Africa. Switzerland's commitment is aimed mainly at supporting these countries in their political, economic and social transition. Switzerland supports reforms aimed at improving economic prospects and increasing civic participation.
Switzerland's priorities in Tunisia
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in Tunisia:
1. Migration and protection of people in need
Switzerland will continue to actively pursue its comprehensive migration partnership with Tunisia, including the readmission of persons residing in Switzerland without authorisation, for example with local projects in areas such as police cooperation or legal assistance.
2. Sustainable development
Switzerland supports Tunisia by offering its expertise to improve integration into global and regional value chains and create trading opportunities. It supports innovative projects in sustainable tourism and initiatives that exploit new technologies with a view to strengthening competitiveness and improving the investment climate.
3. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland is using its expertise to strengthen democratic institutions and introduce transparency in public finance management. It is supporting Tunisia in the implementation of decentralisation. In addition, the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on the prevention of violent extremism signed in 2016 serves as a tool to promote the accountability of state institutions.
Other areas of cooperation
In 2020 Switzerland's imports from Tunisia stood at CHF 193 million while Swiss exports came to CHF 174 million, with total trade amounting to CHF 367 million. Tunisia has concluded a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which entered into force in 2004. A bilateral agreement on reciprocal promotion and protection of investments came into effect in 2014, while a framework agreement on cooperation on migration entered into force in 2014.
Education, training, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Tunisia can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
The Cairo branch of Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia is responsible for promoting Swiss arts and culture in the Middle East and North Africa. The foundation promotes cultural links in Tunisia, initiates joint projects between artists and arranges artists' residencies.
Switzerland regularly participates in events to promote the French language as part of the International Day of La Francophonie and also the Italian culture week (Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo). It also organises various cultural events.
Swiss nationals in Tunisia
At the end of 2020, there were 1,551 Swiss citizens living in Tunisia.
History of bilateral relations
Links between Switzerland and Tunisia began in the 19th century.
Then in 1939, Switzerland opened a consulate in Tunis. Tunisia's accession to independence in 1956 can be seen in general terms as the start of bilateral relations between Switzerland and Tunisia. Switzerland recognised the new state immediately and opened a legation there, upgrading it to an embassy in 1961.
Since the country's transition to democracy began in 2011, bilateral relations have been significantly enhanced, including high-level visits.