AmCham Morocco Opens US Campaign for Bilateral Trade & Investment

Delegation visits Washington, DC touting new projects and expanded business

 The American Chamber (AmCham) of Morocco, an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, recently visited Washington, DC to meet with US government officials, businesses, and trade associations to brief them on the latest business opportunities. These delegations, where members meet with both public and private sectors to discuss opportunities as well as the challenges to increased transactions, are called “Door Knock Campaigns.”

This is the first Door Knock from Morocco since the AmCham was founded in 1966, coming at a time when the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is entering its final phase of implementation, and Morocco is looking to rapidly increase its exports to the US and highlight investment projects in the kingdom. US government meetings included the Commerce and Treasury Departments and the US Trade Representative (USTR). Briefings were held at the US Chamber and at Citi, providing fresh information on how US companies can participate in Morocco’s vibrant business sector.

Rising from the Atlantic Beaches                   

A particularly attractive project is the Zenata Eco City (, being built between Casablanca and Mohammedia. Almost a year ago, the government unveiled detailed plans for the project that was chartered in 2006. After years of study by teams of Moroccans and international consultants, the master plan outlined a sustainable eco city, the first in Africa, which is being designed, built, and managed to international environmental standards.

AmCham Delegation members

AmCham Team L to R: Mohammed El Hajhouj, General Manager, Zenata Eco City; Walter Siouffi, President, AmCham Morocco, Chairman & CEO Citibank Maghreb; and Mohammed Naciri, Business Development Manaager, Zenata

Among the initial projects already awarded are what will be the largest shopping mall in Morocco and Africa, several middle-class housing complexes, and land preparation for sports, education, and health centers. It will have a multimodal train station, a subway/tram connecting it to Casablanca’s system, and direct access to the country’s multilane motorway. Mohammed El Hajhouj and Mohammed Naciri, who are the team leading the US presentations, are already interviewing US universities and medical facilities managers to encourage them to bid on the upcoming tenders for the education and health centers. Zenata’s developers are generating requests for proposals (RFPs) that they believe will be attractive to the leading companies in the specific sectors.

Particularly keen to attract US companies, the Zenata team is planning a fall US road show to promote particular attention to the education and health zones in the city, where the latest best practices will be featured.

Building the Business Network

A particular emphasis of the delegation was to detail how Morocco serves as a platform for three continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe, due to its location, infrastructure, human resources, and extensive business contacts throughout the region. Julianne Furman, the CEO of Polydesign Systems, enthusiastically described how her automotive parts manufacturing company, with 18 years of experience in country, participates on the board of the automotive training centers where they are fully involved in Morocco’s programs to develop skills and talents needed for their industry. Polydesign exports globally from its hub in Tangier Free Zone.

The Casablanca Finance City, designed as a financial services center for Africa, has already attracted 43 international companies as tenants, and is ranked as the second most important financial services hub in Africa, before even taking up its new premises. Abdeslam Taadi of Attijariwafa Bank spoke about his company’s extensive banking interests in francophone Africa, where Moroccan banks are present as top tier institutions. And other delegation members spoke regarding Morocco’s role in the export of agricultural and consumer products.

The delegation was led by Walter Siouffi, chairman of the board and the CEO of Citibank Maghreb; Azzedine Kettani, board member and CEO of Kettani Law Firm, one of the original leaders of the Moroccan-American Trade and Investment Council (MATIC); and Rabia El Alama, the Managing Director of the AmCham.

Although Morocco may appear to be a small market of 34 million people, its 44 preferential free trade agreements, low labor costs, excellent transportation and logistics systems, strong financial services capabilities, and overall positive business environment make it an ideal platform for a regional market of a billion consumers.

Note to State Department: Treat our Ally as a Partner, not a Liability

Why Can’t the US have a Consistent Voice on the Western Sahara?

Two events, separated by an ocean and it seems a universe, occurred recently that provided an opportunity for the US to enhance its foreign policy credibility. It is interesting to see how the State Department is attempting to reconcile its seemingly uncertain position on Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara with the growing international consensus that the autonomy is a potential solution for achieving self-determination for the region. It is all the more confusing majorities in both Houses of Congress and three consecutive administrations have called the autonomy proposal “serious, realistic, and credible.”

Strategic Dialogue Sets the Tone

The first event was the second US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue held April 4 and 5 in Morocco. Secretary Kerry led from the US side. It was a really remarkable visit. He jointly chaired the Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar; visited with leaders of Parliament and staff at the US Embassy; and presided over the swearing-in of the most recent group of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Morocco. It was a prolonged love fest, visibly demonstrating why the two allies hold each other in such high regard.

Secretary John Kerry meets with Morocco's King Mohammed VI

Secretary John Kerry meets with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI

And statements words from both sides echoed the strong ties expressed by King Mohammed VI and President Obama during the King’s visit in November 2013. In his opening remarks, Secretary Kerry noted “We are here today to help shape a common future, and it’s a future defined by a shared prosperity and shared security that we can create together…and shared…values.” In speaking about security issues Kerry commented “The United States stands by and will stand by this relationship every step of the way. President Obama is deeply committed to that, and that commitment comes from…our people.”

Foreign Minister Mezouar was equally eloquent. In addressing the Western Sahara he said:

“The Moroccan initiative in its content reacts to the expectations of the people in the Sahara in the management of their own affairs, which guarantees dignity, freedom, and development.” He went on “The atmosphere of an understanding – of the environment of understanding based on common political and references of democracy and human rights makes us believe in our ability for a common partnership…that will be very important and decisive in determining the progress in this region and in Africa.”

The joint statement at the conclusion of the Strategic Dialogue was quite specific in defining the parameters of this partnership. Whether in reference to human rights and political reforms, civil society and immigration issues, or economic cooperation and cultural and educational cooperation, the tone was serious, constructive, and hopeful. On the regional level, the two parties pledged “to use our strategic partnership to advance shared priorities of a stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.” Secretary Kerry “Reaffirmed our commitment to a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question…The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to runt their own affairs in peace and dignity. Furthermore, “The Secretary welcomed the recent actions and initiatives by Morocco to continue to protect and promote human rights in the territory.”

So What’s Up at State?

The second event occurred on April 9 when the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa asked representatives from the State Department and USAID to address “U.S. Policy Toward Morocco.”

After complimenting Morocco on its efforts in democratic and economic reforms, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Roebuck, addressed the Western Sahara issue using similar language to Secretary Kerry in Morocco supporting “the United Nations-led process designed to bring about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually-acceptable solution to the Western Sahara question.”

In reference to the 2014 Appropriations law enabling Title III funding to be spent anywhere in Morocco, DAS Roebuck noted that spending US funds in the Western Sahara would somehow undermine the non-going negotiations, which have been dormant for years. There is clearly a disconnect between what some at the State Department promote as US interests and the position taken by the Bush, Clinton, and Obama Administrations and majorities of Congress that the autonomy plan is the only way forward.

In her prepared remarks, Alina Romanowski, Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Middle East USAID Bureau was equally narrowly focused on existing initiatives with no reference to the Appropriations mandate. This would be understandable if this was a debate 20+ years ago when the first UN mission was assigned on a referendum mission. US policy changed in 2006 in favor of a negotiated, mutually acceptable political solution. The only proposition that emerged from that step is the Morocco autonomy initiative referenced by Chair Ros-Lehtinen and other members of the Subcommittee. Yet, there are those at State who can overlook the humanitarian and capacity-building needs of the people of the Sahara and stay the 1991 course of inaction.

It’s past time to enable the people of the Western Sahara to build their capacity to enjoy the autonomy promised by Morocco to manage their affairs as promised within the regionalization proposed in Morocco’s 2011 Constitution. Morocco is a steadfast and willing partner in a region where that kind of ally is in short supply. If we are sincerely interested in the human, social, economic, and political development of the Sahara, autonomy supported by the US and the global community is the way forward; this will be the best antidote to insecurity in the region. This will give them the dignity the people in the Sahara deserve.

A Tale of Two Cities…well, Actually Three Countries

Finding the Middle Path in Politics is Fraught with Challenges yet Better than No Discourse at All­­­­

When Driss El Yazami, the chairman of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) spoke recently in Washington, DC, he was asked about the so-called Arab Spring and its impact on human rights protections. He was quite candid in his response. “The core issue is about identity; it is about dignity. It is the loss of the connection between one’s identity and one’s dignity that is at the heart of today’s unrest.” He believes that human rights protections derive from the value that governments place on their relationship with their people. Human rights protections are a conscious effort by governments to have a social contract that applies to all people in the country.

This is the rationale behind the CNDH’s campaigns for migrant rights, the end of military trials for civilians, enhanced rights for the mentally ill, and eliminating child labor, to list several of their most recent efforts. And Morocco has earned praise for its continuing human rights reforms, largely as a result of the government adopting CNDH’s recommendations and turning them into legislation. Mr. El Yazami contends that this is the characteristic of democracy that goes beyond elections. It is a space where all opinions can be heard and debated without fear and with respect for differing perspectives and the outcomes of the debate.

Keeping Faith with Tunisia

In the past few months, Tunisia has garnered extensive praise from the international community for its “National Dialogue,” which weathered a very difficult drafting of a constitution and installation of a transitional technocrat government leading to presidential and parliamentary elections in late 2014. The contentious constitutional process avoided the poor outcomes that have plagued Egypt and Libya where significant disagreements have produced unsatisfactory conclusions. It should not be taken for granted, however, that the transitional success of the National Dialogue means that there is unity in Tunisia’s political landscape.

Human rights advocates are concerned that political expediency will mar steps needed to genuinely move Tunisia forward. As Yasmine Ryan writes, “…ignoring deep structural inequalities will only lead to further instability. Add to this the desperate need for major reforms to the judiciary, security forces, the education system, and decentralization, among others—and Tunisia’s challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable.” And the questions of national identity and defining with some precision the relationship between the state and religion continue to be unresolved, promising more contentious maneuvering as the elections approach.

Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch for Tunisia and Algeria, remarked in an article in World Policy Journal  that contradictions and vague definitions in the constitution “could have grave consequences for the country.” It is in this gap between the constitution and how the enabling legislation is drafted, finalized, and implemented that human rights protections face their greatest challenges. One compelling example is the potential contradictions in the role of the government as “the guardian of religion” and “protector of the sacred,” while also ensuring “liberty of conscience.” Given that the first article of the new constitution states that Tunisia’s religion is Islam, there are understandable concerns about how this will play out. Without a national independent body akin to CNDH that can shed light on inclusive steps towards real democracy, the task of defenders of human rights is more difficult as the economic and social development needs of Tunisia will dominate the agenda of any incoming leadership.

And In Algeria, the Same may not Hold

It is difficult to have a forward-looking discussion about human rights reforms in a country    with such an opaque political process. John Entelis, writing in Muftah, notes “Riots and protests have been a regular feature of Algerian political life” and mentions that critics have pointed out that there is no timeline for implementing reforms announced since 2011. Some see reforms as a mouse caught “between the president’s office and the military-industrial complex, between executive authority and the country’s powerful intelligence services.”

The run-up to the presidential election this week has seen the withdrawal of candidates, boycott calls from Islamic and leftist parties, and the virtual campaign for Bouteflika’s re-election run by surrogates who are assuring Algerians that reform is his priority – once he is returned to office. “One pro-government politician went so far as to declare, ‘I will vote for him [Bouteflika] dead or alive because he has done so much for the country.’”

How much-needed human and social development challenges will be addressed after the elections has yet to be discussed. “It is a testament to the extreme disconnect between the country’s formal political structure and its civil society that the overwhelming majority of ordinary Algerians have been completely unaffected by the virtual absence of presidential authority…” With the debate yet to begin on a new constitutional amendment providing for the office of Vice-President and the installation of that person, human rights has little visibility within the debate over the new power balance that will emerge with Bouteflika’s departure. As James D. Le Sueur wrote in a monograph for the German Marshall Fund, “Politically, Algeria has managed to weather the storm brought on by the Arab Spring through swift and deliberate police presence meant to suppress real calls for reform.” It is hard to imagine a meaningful national dialogue in Algeria on identity and dignity emerging any time soon.

Unclear Prognosis for Human Rights in the Maghreb

Laudatory as the results of the Tunisian National Dialogue are, its new constitution exemplifies the challenge of closing the space between values and politics. As Tunisians prepare for end-of-year elections, the priority given to human rights may become clearer as candidates address voters concerns about social and economic inequalities. Morocco has its plate full with recommendations from the CNDH as well as judicial reforms, a new civil society framework, and reducing economic disparities to address through the end of this year. In Algeria as well as Libya, where basic rule of law has yet to be established, internal dissensions, power moves among various players, and uncertainty among the populace as to their countries’ future stability will have a major impact on the importance given to human rights under new governments. It will be a long year ahead.

King of Morocco Speaks to Europe on His Vision for Building Africa’s Future

*Calls for Enhancing Regional Cooperation on Concrete Projects to Promote Stability and Prosperity*

King Mohammed VI addressed the 4th Africa-EU Summit on the need to cooperate to “enhance stability, security, and prosperity on both our continents.” His remarks are particularly important given his active outreach to African countries since his accession to the throne 15 years ago. In addition to forgiving the debts of the poorest African countries more than 10 years ago, Morocco provides thousands of scholarships annually to African university students, has extensive private sector investments in many countries, is linked by Air Maroc to more than 3 dozen African cities, and the king travels frequently through the region.

He spoke several times about the need to accelerate human development efforts to provide “a better future for our respective populations [EU, Africa], meet their legitimate aspirations, and fulfill their ambitions.” And Morocco is putting concrete actions behind these words. More than 80 agreements were signed with Mali, Guinea, Gabon, and Cote d’Ivoire during the king’s recent visits, many of which call for public-private sector partnerships for implementation.

King of Morocco in Cote d'Ivoire

King of Morocco in Cote d’Ivoire

A key focus of these pacts is recognizing that Africa has many of the assets and human and material resources needed to achieve equitable, sustainable, and rapid development. Morocco’s strategy, according to the king “is marked by a significant increase in Morocco’s public and private investment in Africa, which enhances the value of local production, revamps the economy, and contributes to sustainable job creation.” Today, more than half of Morocco’s overseas investments are in Africa, up from less than 20 percent 10 years ago.

 Benefits of Sustainable and Integrated Development

Another critical value of Morocco’s Africa strategy is that it provides a framework for broader regional economic integration. “[Morocco’s] proactive strategy seeks to ensure the joint implementation of flagship projects of regional – even continental – significance in such areas as access to electricity and drinking water and the promotion of trade, investment, and food security.” He mentions Morocco’s efforts within CEN-SAD, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), and the Conference of African States Bordering the Atlantic Ocean as examples of Morocco’s commitment to coordinated, regional development.

Regarding relations with the EU and beyond, the king commented that “This proactive policy…is not inconsistent…with the concomitant consolidation of Africa’s mutually beneficial relationship with its numerous partners, especially with the European Union and EU member states. In fact, the two processes enrich and harmoniously supplement one another.” He went on to discuss how broad ties of North-South cooperation are key to promoting security, stability, and prosperity for both continents. Along with the emphasis on economic collaboration, King Mohammed spoke out strongly about the need for continued efforts to “combat the transnational threats to peace and security, wherever they may be in the continent.” In tandem with counterterrorism, he believes that much must be done to mitigate migration-related challenges and noted the need for “an ‘African Alliance for Migration and Development’ which safeguards humanitarian principles and stresses the duties of origin, transit, and host countries” — a challenging issue that Morocco is addressing proactively.

 Overcoming Conflicts, Building Together for Results

The ongoing conflicts among diverse African peoples are also on the king’s agenda. In addition to human development needs in education and training, health and social services, women’s rights, and youth employment, the king said that “it is essential to promote the ideals of openness and tolerance so as to provide a comprehensive and sustainable response to the threat of insecurity and terrorism hanging over large areas of the continent.” And he pledged that Morocco will continue to advocate “an innovative, equitable, and mutually beneficial partnership between a united Europe and an emerging Africa.”

The king concluded with a challenge to all participants. “I also hope our partnership will match words with joint actions and give concrete substance to projects and opportunities for development, closer ties, and greater exchange relations.” It is clear from the king’s speech that Morocco is firmly committed to its path of regional and international cooperation. Given his pro-active agenda throughout Africa, Morocco should emerge as a partner of choice in global efforts to promote and sustain economic and human development on the continent.

Morocco Gathers Recognition as Gateway to Africa

*Report from Thomas More Institut Praises Morocco’s Efforts*

Yet another prominent source has issued a report noting the importance of Casablanca Finance City’s strategic role in Morocco’s campaign to become a key center for business development in Africa. The Thomas More Institut, with offices in Paris and Brussels, recently published, in its Tribune series, the report Morocco: The Hub of African Financial Integration?” Although the question is rhetorical, it is important to have a clear understanding of Morocco’s capacity to build the legal, financial, physical, and services infrastructure required for such an undertaking.

The report was authored by Paul Goldschmidt, whose 50+ year career spans leadership roles at Goldman Sachs, the European Commission, and the European Investment Fund – someone intimately acquainted with the challenges Morocco faces. His assessment is that Africa has great potential as well as challenges, and it is international and regional partnerships with expertise and local sensitivities that are key elements in realizing its future. Among Africa’s strengths he mentions: high economic growth rate, young population feeding a growing workforce, and extensive natural resources that provide the engines for future growth, if harnessed effectively leading to a diversified economy. He mentioned the key role of “its untapped land reserves which are amongst the most important in the world (estimated at about 60%).”

Thomas More Institut report on Morocco in Africa

Institut Reviews Morocco’s Financial Leadership in Africa

Among the most significant challenges Africa faces is grinding poverty that depletes its human resources as “47% of the sub-saharan Africa inhabitants still live under the poverty threshold (1.25 dollar PPP/day).” This has generated enormous demands on social services, education, savings, and technical and physical infrastructure. In addition, the unstable political context continues to undermine efforts to attract investors and upgrade human resources. Finally, Goldschmidt notes the “persistence of endemic corruption” abetted by the “weaknesses of institutions guaranteeing the rule of law” that discourages investors and the “misappropriation of a large part of the economic benefits in favour of a privileged few at the expense of the vast majority of the local populations.”

Improving Africa’s Investment Environment

At the top of the requirements identified by Goldschmidt is the need to strengthen institutions through significant reforms, coordination with international organizations, and improving human assets. There is a similar need to make large-scale investments in physical infrastructure across all sectors, especially energy and transport, which are needed to add value to the exploitation of natural resources. “According to the World Bank, the continent’s needs for infrastructure alone are in the order of 93 billion dollars annually.” The development of effective financial services for local and international players is mentioned as a necessary vehicle for ensuring the long-term “improvement in living standards that should result from [Africa’s] development potential.”

It is this analysis that leads Goldschmidt to conclude that Morocco is “the African country that best meets all these criteria,” which he defines as “a stable political environment, an optimal geographic position relying on efficient physical infrastructures, an operational legal framework, and a sufficiently development infrastructure of services…” As a result, he believes that Morocco should “constitute the location of choice for establishing decision centres covering the continent as a whole.” He dismisses the notion that North Africa is somehow distinct from the rest of Africa, stating “Quite to the contrary, Morocco has the potential of becoming a financial hub of major importance for the development of the entire African continent.”

It is Morocco’s economic performance over the past 20+ years that gives it this prominent role. It has established preferential trade agreements affecting more than 50 countries; it has direct access to international financial markets; it is emerging as a player in Islamic finance; it enjoys close economic and diplomatic relations with the EU, Middle East, and throughout central and west Africa; and it has adopted a long-term strategy to serve as a major hub for African business development exemplified by the Casablanca Finance City (CFC) and the King’s visits to countries throughout the region.

CFC is clear in its mission – to become the major financial and economic hub in the region, stretching from Francophone Africa down the Atlantic coast. It has operationalized international standards for attracting investors, protecting investments, and bridging project services from conception to implementation. Morocco has more than 60 double taxation agreements and more than two dozen agreements for the protection of investments. Its administrative arm, the CFC Authority (CFCA) has partnership agreements with financial centers in Singapore, Luxembourg, London, and Paris  — “evidence of the trust and support of those countries in CFC’s vision, and the belief that Morocco has important strategic strengths justifying its position as an economic and financial hub.”

As the report concludes, “Even if there is obvious room for further improvement in specific areas, no other centre in Africa offers today such a complete range of benefits for initiating in a conducive environment, the many product investment opportunities in Africa.” Morocco’s strong efforts to enhance its regional role through maximizing its presence as a financial services center, coupled with its continuing internal economic, judicial, and labor reforms are critical ingredients in positioning itself as the location and partner of choice for business in Africa.

Moroccan Foreign Minister to UN Security Council: We are Honoring our Commitments, what about the Other Side?

*Letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Sets the Record Straight*

Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Minster of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation sent a frank letter to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, on April 1 regarding the implementation of UN Resolution 2099, which renewed the MINURSO mandate in 2013.

MINURSO is the peace-keeping mission charged with ensuring a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario in the disputed Western Sahara. Morocco has offered a political compromise, which has the support of the US government and throughout the international community, to give the territory broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, which the opposition Polisario Front refuses to discuss.

In his letter, intended for the Security Council members in advance of the 2014 MINURSO mandate renewal due by April 30, Mezouar pointed out that Morocco has taken all of the steps and others beyond the recommendations made in Resolution 2099, particularly in the area of human rights.

Among the highlights he mentioned are the report by the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE), which made a series of recommendations that will involve the investments of $18 billion over the next 10 years for social, human, and political development.

The Moroccan government has both adopted and agreed to fund these recommendations in full.

Regarding human rights reporting, the government has pledged to respond to complaints from the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) offices in Laayoune and Dakhla within 90 days.

Morocco's human rights body

CNDH reports on human rights abuses

In addition, Morocco has continued to welcome the UN Special Rapporteurs – personnel assigned to report on specific issues – including the Special Rapporteur on torture who came in 2013 and will be returning for an update in the spring.

Morocco is particularly concerned that the debate in the Security Council on the MINURSO renewal reflects the current status of the UN’s position. All of the relevant resolutions since 2004 begin with the preamble of “Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution,” not a mandated referendum which has proven impractical and unrealistic.

Resolution 2099 also calls on the parties to “work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights…” which the opposition has used to critique Morocco’s human rights record without exposing the same kind of assessments of the Polisario-run camps around Tindouf, Algeria.

Morocco continues to welcome international organizations to review and evaluate its presence and activities throughout Morocco. For example, the government has just signed an agreement with the Council of Europe to open a Council office in Rabat to enhance coordination on human rights, rule of law, and democracy.

By any measure, the year to year progress as called for in Resolution in 2099 has been achieved by Morocco.