Governments are investing heavily in new transport infrastructure, social housing and expanding their utility and energy sectors.

Such projects throw up huge business opportunities for international technology suppliers, consultants, contractors and financiers. Their participation is in many cases essential for successful execution of schemes. Despite this, the region ranks poorly on global scale when it comes to the ease of doing business. Of particular concern is the weak enforcement of contracts. Corruption is also rife.

In the wake of the downturn in the Gulf real-estate sector, international firms are eager to break into new markets and North Africa is frequently cited as offering great business potential. But many companies are deterred from pursuing opportunities there due to the difficult operating conditions.

Improving the business environment by reducing bureaucracy, increasing transparency and better regulation needs to become a priority for governments if they are to benefit from the expertise of foreign companies.

Some governments are aware of this. Tunis, in particular has recently implemented reforms to cut corruption, yet others such as the authorities in Algiers appear to be moving in the opposite direction.

The Maghreb countries stand to lose out if they fail to make the necessary changes to attract foreign investment.