(Bloomberg) — Tunisia says it’s on track to restore once economically crucial phosphate output to levels approaching those before the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, as its beleaguered state-owned miner undergoes a shakeup.
Output will probably be at least 4.1 million tons in 2019, up from 2.8 million tons the previous year, Industry Minister Slim Feriani said. Before the revolt that unseated President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked long-running labor unrest, Tunisia was one of the world’s largest producers of the fertilizer component, creating as much as 8.2 million tons per year.
While the state-run Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa is suffering from “major economic problems,” it can be salvaged, Feriani said in an interview in Tunis. “The only solution is to improve production and productivity.” He described many of the company’s 30,000 employees as “ghost workers” hired “to maintain social peace.”
Revitalizing phosphate production would be a boon for Tunisia’s $40 billion economy that’s been stymied by low growth, lackluster investment and stubbornly high unemployment for much of the past decade, as other foreign-exchange earners such as tourism have foundered.
Wrangling between the government and labor unions have made it tough to push ahead with the kind of cost-cutting the International Monetary Fund says is key to an economic revival.
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