* Rebound in tourism to help economic growth - PM Chahed
* Govt talks with IMF "look positive", premier says
* Political inertia slowed reform pace
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, April 17 Tunisia's economy will start to
regain momentum this year after six years of slow growth, driven
by the revival of the vital tourism industry and the return to
state phosphate production, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said.
Chahed was speaking in an interview with state television
late on Sunday, addressing concerns about the economy after
hundreds of youths protested over the last week in some towns,
demanding development and employment.
Tunisia has been praised as an example of democratic
transition since the overthrow of former President Zine
El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. But many people are concerned about
the cost of living, unemployment and the marginalisation of
rural towns - factors that fueled the uprising that sparked the
Arab Spring revolts.
"The tourism sector is better now and will grow by 30
percent this year. Phosphate production returned to old levels
and we expect a good agricultural season," Chahed said.
He said that tax revenues rose by 14 percent in the first
quarter of this year.
The prime minister said that this upward trend was still
fragile and threatened by the inflammatory discourse of some
politicians and by random strikes and protests that have hurt
investor interest in the country.
Tunisia expects economic growth to rise to 2.5 percent in
2017 after failing to exceed 1 percent for the last six years.
The government is under pressure from international lenders
to reduce public spending and cut its deficit as part of
economic and financial reforms that have been delayed for years
by political infighting and inertia.
A delegation from the International Monetary Fund last week
arrived in Tunisia for talks on accelerating the North African
country's economic reforms, after postponing the payment of a
second tranche of aid worth $350 million, out of a $2.8 billion
The IMF put back the payment scheduled last December citing
a lack of progress in overhauling the public sector wage bill,
public finances and state banks among other issues.
Chahed said talks with the multinational lender "look
positive and I am optimistic after negotiations" because reforms
were progressing according to a specific timetable in the public
sector and social funds.
"We are in good shape for these reforms and we are the first
government that has the courage to start these delicate reforms
that have been stalled for years," he said, without giving
Tunisia is expected to sell stakes in three state-owned
banks and cut up to 10,000 public sector jobs.
Chahed said parliament will discuss this month "an economic
emergency" bill that will allow the government to bypass
bureaucratic hurdles and speed up large-scale projects as it
seeks to boost growth and create jobs.
(Editing by Patrick Markey and Hugh Lawson)