IMF staff to visit Tunisia for talks on possible financing program this month

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WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) – A small team of International Monetary Fund staff will visit Tunisia later this month for further discussions about a possible IMF-supported financing program, the global lender said on Thursday, citing good progress in discussions to date.

IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice said the visit comes after several months of consultations with Tunisian authorities on their request for a fund-supported program.

“A small staff team from the IMF plans to visit Tunisia for further discussions with the authorities later this month … to build on what I would characterize as the good progress that has been made in understanding their reform policies,” he said.

The powerful UGTT union, which has more than one million members, on Thursday said it could not accept the reforms Tunisia had proposed as part of a deal, including a five-year wage freeze in the public sector and lifting all subsidies within four years.

The fund said the program being discussed now was prepared by the government and not the IMF. IMF officials also regularly meet with outside stakeholders, including the UGTT union.

“The reform program that is being discussed with the IMF is one prepared by the authorities,” a second IMF spokesperson said. “We have been engaged with the authorities over the past several months to try to understand their reform policies.”

Tunisia faces a political and economic crisis as President Kais Saied focuses on rewriting the constitution after instituting one-man rule despite warnings of an imminent collapse in public finances that threatens national bankruptcy.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Tim Ahmann