Negotiations between PayPal, Tunisia fall through

'Like everyone, I was surprised by the dry and careless response of #Paypal with respect to Tunisia.' Taher Mestiri, a Tunisian IT entrepreneur

2017/07/02 Issue: 113 Page: 19

The Arab Weekly
Stephen Quillen

Tunis - The electronic payment service PayPal rejected Tunisia’s bid to access its services, the government confirmed. PayPal report­edly said the application was re­fused because of Tunisia’s inability to ensure freedom of potential us­ers’ financial operations overseas.

Tunisia is among approximately 25 countries that impose controls that strictly limit citizens’ access to foreign currency and the transfer of domestic currency overseas.

PayPal’s decision, which came after years of negotiations, caught government officials and the pub­lic by surprise, as recent reports indicated a deal was close to being reached.

Tunisian Minister of Communica­tion Technologies and Digital Econ­omy Anouar Maârouf in May said “a road map will be developed in the near future to finalise the details of access to the site.”

PayPal’s abrupt reply was met with confusion and frustration.

“Like everyone, I was surprised by the dry and careless response of #Paypal with respect to Tunisia,” wrote Taher Mestiri, an IT entrepre­neur who participated in the nego­tiations, on Facebook shortly after the announcement.

Government officials involved in the negotiations also said they were surprised, saying that extensive ef­forts had been made on the part of various government agencies, including the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance, to reach a com­promise with the payment service. Until recently, the exchanges had been largely positive, they said.

“It is a complex situation and we have some financial restrictions… but they were aware of this condi­tion before,” said a Tunisian official involved in the negotiation process, who spoke on condition of anonym­ity.

“It is very important for PayPal to support Tunisia’s young democracy in the Arab region.”

PayPal did not immediately re­spond to e-mailed questions from The Arab Weekly on its decision to deny Tunisia’s bid.

For many Tunisians, particularly young entrepreneurs trying to make headway in a struggling economy, the decision is a major setback.

“It’s sad and frustrating at the same time,” said Ahmed Nasri, 23. “We were all looking forward to (having PayPal), as it would take our country’s development one step further but it did not go as we wished.”

“It’s not surprising at all,” said Mohamed Ali Touati, the manag­ing director of a company in Sousse. “It’s exactly what I was expecting.”

Touati said the lack of access to PayPal and other payment services, such as international credit cards, limits his business model.

“I cannot target the Tunisian market because they need interna­tional credit cards to purchase my services,” he said. “This has a direct impact on my company.”

While Touati acknowledged that some restrictions were necessary to protect the economy, he said the government could do more to in­crease flexibility.

Mestiri, in an interview with Tu­nisian media, said it was time for Tunisia to consider revising its fi­nance laws.

“The experience with PayPal has shown us that today we are com­pletely excluded from the global economy,” he said. “Now we either start the discussion for a new law… or we assume that this country will continue to (lose its potential).”

Stephen Quillen is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Tunis.

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