MANAMA: Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali yesterday laid the foundation stone for North Africa's first offshore financial centre. Situated in Tunis Bay, the $3 billion Tunis Financial Harbour (TFH) project is the brainchild of Gulf Finance House (GFH) and will play host to some of the world's leading names in finance, advisory and support services at a strategic crossroads between the European, North African and Middle Eastern markets.
During the ceremony, the finalised project master plan was unveiled, heralding the start of a contractor tendering process and the commencement of infrastructure work planned for the end of this year.
TFH is the second in a series of offshore financial centres originated by GFH and was conceived in close partnership with Tunisia.
Tunisia in recent months took significant steps and initiatives to pave the way for the initiative, including attractive tax, regulatory and foreign exchange incentives to prospective commercial residents from the world's financial community.
Laws regulating offshore banks and financial institutions in relation to TFH were revised after being passed on to the cabinet under the supervision of the president on Wednesday.
"Today's ceremony represents a significant milestone in the realisation of a first for North Africa's financial infrastructure," GFH chairman Esam Janahi said.
"Tunisia is undoubtedly one of the region's most competitive and exciting economies enjoying sustained stability and a strong record of GDP growth, a prosperous industrial sector, a diversified services sector, modern infrastructure and skilled human capital.
"Given its strategic geographic location, TFH offers tremendous opportunity for the international financial community.
"The long-term benefits to the Tunisian and regional economies will be numerous and far-reaching and we are delighted to partner with the Tunisian government on this pioneering initiative," he added.
TFH will comprise four distinct business clusters including investment banking and advisory centre, a corporate centre, a takaful/insurance hub and the regions first international financial exchange.
Alongside these functions, an international business school will be built to equip tomorrow's graduates with the skills demanded by leading players from the international finance and support services community.
TFH is expected to generate over 16,000 jobs, most of which will be for highly skilled workers.
Located just north of Gammarth, TFH will populate an area of around 520 hectares approximately 10 minutes away from the most affluent areas in Tunis including La Marsa and Carthage.
To complement the commercial aspects of the initiative, a variety of residential and leisure facilities including the marina, a residential complex with luxurious villas and an 18 hole championship golf course are included in the master plan.