Although the mining, energy, tourism, and manufacturing sectors of the economy are important, and the country has become increasingly middle class, over half of Tunisia's workers are engaged in farming. The agricultural sector, however, accounts for less than 15% of the GDP. The leading crops are olives, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, sugar beets, dates, and almonds. Livestock raising and fishing are also important. Because irrigation is inadequate, agricultural production varies widely according to rainfall.
Petroleum was found (1964) in the Sahara not far from the Algerian border, and production began in 1966; subsequent oil discoveries have increased production significantly. Recent developments in the extraction of natural gas, centered in the Gulf of Gabes, have made the country more self-sufficient. Tunisia has large phosphate reserves and iron ore is found in quantity. Zinc, lead, and salt are also mined.
Tunisia's industries (located primarily in Tunis) produce textiles, leather, steel, and foods and beverages. Tourism is also an important economic activity. Petroleum, phosphates, chemicals, textiles and clothing, and olive oil are the country's leading exports; its imports are headed by textiles, machinery and equipment, hydrocarbons, chemicals, and food (particularly cereals). France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Libya are the main trade partners.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.