In many countries around the world, bananas are among the cheapest type of fruit available. Not in Tunisia. Bananas there are about 30 per cent more expensive than in the United Kingdom and according to a World Bank study, bananas were in the top ten smuggled goods entering the country from either Algeria or Libya.
The bright yellow star of cross-border contraband can be found at fruit stalls across the country. “Bananas from Algeria cost half of what I would have to pay for wholesale produce in Tunisia,” explains a 43-year-old fruit vendor in Tunis, capital of Tunisia, who bought his bananas from across the border.
Neither Algeria, Libya nor Tunisia produce bananas domestically, but Tunisia has a 36 per cent duty on imported bananas and only a handful of businessmen have the licence to import them. In the past, contacts with the circle of deposed President Ben Ali allowed some to circumvent the duty and charge a premium. Four years after the revolution, the duty is still in place and the market has been flooded by smuggled bananas.
While Tunisia has made significant political strides this year by managing an internationally applauded transition towards democracy, the economic problems that caused the revolution in 2011 remain. Illegal cross-border trade has become a headache for the Tunisian government and it is losing tax revenue.
The World Bank estimates that in 2013, informal trade was worth approximately $1.2bn (£762m), or 2.2 per cent of Tunisia’s annual economic output or Gross Domestic Product, GDP.