What has Transpired Since the Meeting of King Mohammed VI with President Obama in 2013?

Morocco Is Moving to Strengthen Ties

The Joint Statement issued after last November’s visit between King Mohammed VI of Morocco and President Barack Obama was quite explicit. There were concrete pledges of economic, political, and security cooperation and collaboration, as well as a strengthened commitment by Morocco on human rights and by the US to maintain its consistent policy of support for a Western Sahara solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

So it makes sense to take a closer look at the performance in key sectors by both parties a year later and gauge where there has been progress and where greater efforts are needed.

The opening paragraphs addressed the “strong and mutually beneficial partnership and strategic alliance” with a pledge “to advance our shared priorities of a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East.” At the top of the list was support for democratic and economic reforms, including US help to “strengthen Morocco’s democratic institutions, civil society, and inclusive governance.” On Morocco’s agenda are support for the UN human rights regime, eliminating military trials of civilians, protecting the rights of migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking, and supporting full women’s participation in public life.

Reform Agenda

Morocco has been moving forward on all of these issues and others including a bill ending military trials of civilians that is currently in Parliament, as is an upcoming draft of a bill regarding NGOs and associations. A wide-ranging program for the protection of migrants was announced earlier this year and is drawing plenty of public attention. A draft media law was presented for public comment last month and debate on judicial reform is ongoing.

On other fronts, progress continues as the then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited Morocco earlier this year honoring the country’s achievements, while hearings are continuing on enhancing gender equity in the workplace, in the political parties, and in the upcoming local elections. It is anticipated that the World Forum on Human Rights recently held in Morocco will break new ground in strengthening human rights protections in Morocco.

Bilateral and Regional Economic Cooperation

On economic cooperation efforts, the US and Morocco are deep in negotiations on a second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact focusing on inclusive human development; the fifth Global Economic Summit was held in late November in Marrakech, and there was a very successful Business Development Conference – part of the bilateral Strategic Dialogue – in Rabat this past March. Both countries are committed to building an even more robust Free Trade Agreement and more delegations between them.

The US has been strongly supportive of Morocco’s efforts to act as a bridge to Africa for businesses. Morocco’s highly visible profile during the African Leaders Summit in Washington DC this past summer; its continued support from USAID for inclusive human development programs; and its role at the United Nations and other international organizations have drawn kudos from US leaders.

The Western Sahara, Security, Counterterrorism

Human rights protections and resolving the Western Sahara conflict are the two major areas of consultations between the allies, apart from counterterrorism concerns. The US supported an extension of the MINURSO US Security Council mandate in April, and is seeking ways to improve human development efforts in the southern provinces, while exploring how to move formal negotiations forward at the UN based on Morocco’s autonomy proposal.

Judging by the remarks of US officials, from the President and Vice President to members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Morocco is playing a leadership and supportive role on regional issues as well as in the coalition countering ISIL . As importantly, Morocco’s pioneering efforts in countering extreme violence are being shared with more than a dozen African countries.

Recently, Morocco played a key role in the Global Counterterrorism Forum to “strengthen regional political, economic, and security ties across North Africa and the Sahel, including through a reinvigorated Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and other regional forums.” And Morocco responded to the US initiative to join the International Institute of Justice and Rule of Law in Malta “to train a new generation of criminal justice officials across North, West, and East Africa on how to address counterterrorism and related security challenges through a rule of law framework.” While the King continues to call for opening the Morocco-Algeria border and resuscitating the AMU, there is little that can be accomplished without more concrete actions by the US to encourage Algeria’s cooperation.

What’s Next

A useful barometer of where the relationship is heading is to parse the US statement on the meeting of Vice President Biden with King Mohammed VI at the beginning of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

VP Biden at Global Entrepreneurship Summit credit Morocco World News

VP Biden at Global Entrepreneurship Summit credit Morocco World News

The Vice President and King Mohammed VI discussed how best to support Morocco’s success, and reaffirmed their dedication to work together to promote human and economic development.” Of particular importance was the mention of “a strategic triangular cooperation in Africa, particularly in the fields of access to energy and food security.”

In addition to reaffirming the importance of the 2013 Joint Statement, “the Vice President and King Mohammed VI spoke about the wide range of global, regional, and bilateral issues on which Morocco and the United States are partners, including efforts to advance the shared priority of achieving a secure, stable, and prosperous Maghreb, Africa, and Middle East. In particular, they discussed their countries’ efforts together as part of the international coalition against ISIL. The Vice President and King Mohammed VI agreed on the importance of the non-military aspects of the struggle against violent extremism, including exposing and discrediting violent extremist recruitment and providing a compelling alternative through social and political inclusion and economic opportunity.”

With so much at stake, some believe that the process of parliamentary action on key bills may be not as speedy as it could be, yet the process of consultation and consensus-building among stakeholders remains intrinsic to decision-making in Morocco.

A year on, it is clear that the bilateral relationship is going from strength to strength and next year’s report card will be even more favorable.

Morocco’s Progress Makes Regional Integration Even More Vital

European Union Supports Greater Cross-border Cooperation

A recent article in Magharebia, “Morocco: European Union Backs Moroccan Reforms,” focused on the latest grant from the EU in support of a wide range of ongoing reforms. Yet the subtext of the article, emphasizing the need for greater regional collaboration, hints at the EU’s concern for sustainable economic growth as the strongest antidote to radicalism.

 

credit: damienpoussier.com

credit: damienpoussier.com

The story starts by noting that “The grant is aimed at three [programs] improving governance and rule of law, jobs and sustainable growth, access to basic services, and support for civil society.” As the EU continues to redefine its social, economic, and political links to its southern neighbors, its emphasis has shifted from funding good intentions to rewarding positive outcomes. This “results” focus has reshaped how the EU determines what kinds of and how much assistance it will extend, moving it away from platitudes and vague notions of accountability to a more realistic set of metrics for determining the targeting and impact of programming.

The agreement with Morocco, signed November 5, makes Morocco the largest recipient of EU programs and signals, along with the EU’s growing support for Tunisia, that the EU is quite serious about seeing direct benefits to the citizens of those countries. Moroccan Finance Minister Mohamed Boussaid told Magharebia that the funding shows that Morocco is making the right, if difficult decisions across a range of policies, from subsidies and pension reforms to revisions proposed for its judicial and media laws.

Rupert Joy, EU Ambassador to Morocco  credit: map.ma

Rupert Joy, EU Ambassador to Morocco
credit: map.ma

Rupert Joy, the EU Ambassador to Morocco, echoed Minister Boussaid’s sentiments. “These new grants for the period 2014-2017 represent the EU acknowledgement of the uniqueness of its partnership with Morocco.” They “reflect EU determination to support the Moroccan government in its efforts to meet people’s aspirations and to turn the reforms initiated in 2011 into tangible progress,” the ambassador added.

Analysts were quick to point out that the EU is using its support programs to nudge the North African countries towards greater cooperation and cross-border economic integration. A Peterson Institute study in 2008 showed the promise of regional integration; since then, a number of additional studies by European and international organizations indicate the benefits to be had from closer economic cooperation.

The broad outlines of the future are taking shape daily. The Maghreb countries are complementary in terms of their core economic strengths (Morocco and Tunisia in services, tourism, agri-business, and manufacturing; Libya and Algeria in hydrocarbons/energy; Mauritania in mining and transportation). The future prospect of a region-wide consumer market fueled by a growing middle class is evident as private sectors play a larger role in both human and economic development across borders.

Ahmed Charfi, a noted economist, told Magharebia that greater regional integration will speed up the pace of development in all of the countries and generate even greater opportunities to meet their needs. “There are two things that are fundamental to development: democracy and promotion of the regional economy,” he said. “If the countries of the Maghreb combine their efforts, they can jointly tackle social problems such as unemployment, regional and social inequalities and poverty . . . Together, they can make rapid progress.”

Morocco does not see its progress in isolation from its neighbors. From the World Bank’s latest report lauding Morocco’s sustainable development strategy, to recent agreements with Tunisia that bring the countries closer together across a broad range of development initiatives, to its growing role as a platform for business in Africa, Morocco has truly transformed its mission from one of domestic growth and stability to becoming a key player in the security and stability of the region. Objective policy analysts agree that only a vibrant economic Maghreb union will have the resilience and strength to meet the aspirations of the region.

Message from the King of Morocco: Knowledge is the Only Resource Whose Value Increases When it is Shared

US and Morocco Sound Strong Support for Global Entrepreneurship

The fifth Global Entrepreneurship Summit kicked off this week with a meeting between Vice President Joseph Biden and King Mohammed VI and opening remarks by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at the Summit’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Day event. Held in a special tented facility in Marrakech, the Summit, which seeks to promote greater support and resources for entrepreneurs, especially in Muslim-majority countries, has brought together more than 3,000 private and public sector participants.

In an article in the Washington Post, Vice President Biden was quoted as saying, “The secret people don’t know is that our diversity is the reason for our incredible strength. But the world and the United States will be more peaceful and prosperous, when the brightest, the most innovative, the greatest risk takers believe they can reach their potential at home.” He went on to add that every country should understand the benefits of supporting entrepreneurship broadly, for men and women, as both a boon for economic development and an effective tool in combating radicalism and extremism.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Secretary Pritzker, speaking to more than 300 women on the opening day, reflected on her own business experience and on the necessity of building holistic support systems for all entrepreneurs. “I must say that I am so inspired by the women at this summit – all of you. Your dynamism; your fearlessness; your courage to not only enter the workforce, but to start a business is so inspiring to me. Your appetite for risk, your vision for your companies, and, indeed, your vision for your societies, comprise the very definition of the entrepreneurial spirit.”

She noted that innovation and entrepreneurism have been central to the growth of the US economy and that one of her priorities is to share lessons learned globally. “The opportunity for business creators to thrive is the foundation for a rising middle class, for security and stability, and for broad based prosperity.”

Reflecting on the themes of inclusive and sustainable growth, the Secretary pointed out that “Societies can only reach their full economic potential if they tap into 100 percent of their talent pool. That means embracing the ideas and aspirations of our youth. That means enabling women to get a good education and secure the capital needed to start their own companies. That means allowing women to dictate their own futures. That means empowering you – and all women entrepreneurs. When women entrepreneurs take risks and succeed, societies change for the better.”

King Mohammed VI Underlines Morocco’s Commitment to Innovation and Entrepreneurism

In his address at the opening of the Summit, King Mohammed VI spoke quite forcefully about the benefits of promoting innovation and entrepreneurism.

“In keeping with its core values and basic principles, Morocco believes wholeheartedly in the Summit’s objectives. It has been devoting its energies to promoting human and sustainable development and investing in entrepreneurship. My country also encourages the sharing of expertise and know-how and maximizing the complementary strengths of all parties, particularly between the countries of the South.”

Blog GES 1

After summarizing Morocco’s commitment to regional development, the King embraced the notion that being an entrepreneur is not a function of luck but requires much more. “One is not born an entrepreneur; one becomes an entrepreneur by embarking on the road to success in an interactive process involving hard work, learning and a capacity to deal with challenges. Entrepreneurs are people who challenge the established order and the status quo. They do not hesitate to respond – at their own level – to needs that are yet to be identified, that are unmet or that are new.”

Reflecting on Morocco’s challenges to accelerate economic growth, the King tied together the notions of social and human development with the role of entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are twin values; they are both springboards for freedom, social mobility and prosperity, provided the business environment is favorable and the required conditions are met.” He restated Morocco’s commitment to working with the private sector to promote a favorable environment for business to thrive and expressed his belief that it all begins with adequate education.

“Education is an essential step, a prerequisite for the maturation process that leads people to think critically and to hone their skills so that they are able to seize an economic, technological or social opportunity when they see one. Therefore, it is up to us to provide future generations with an education that goes beyond the mere ‘accumulation-transmission’ process in order to develop creativity, responsiveness and inventiveness.”

The King sees how all of these ingredients – education, innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity – have vital implications for Africa and beyond. “To overcome the pessimism that has plagued our continent, our governments should instill self-confidence in our young people so that they can believe in their ability to learn and to become entrepreneurs. To this end, we need to nurture positive examples and turn success stories into models to emulate. The same applies to female entrepreneurship, which holds so much promise for our economies and our societies that we all need to encourage it; otherwise, we will be depriving ourselves of a huge potential.”

The value of entrepreneurship in achieving sustainable and inclusive growth is relevant in the context of Morocco’s aspirations, as well as those of young people across the globe. “We must not confuse technological innovation with technical sophistication. The so-called low-tech innovations – just like more sophisticated technologies – can help us meet specific needs, especially in developing countries. Innovations of this kind are often helpful in terms of supporting social development and improving the well-being of the population.”

As the Summit proceeds, there are special sessions focused on innovators from Africa, women, successful entrepreneurs sharing their stories and offer support, as well as experts in finance, marketing, business plan development, and the other elements of the entrepreneurship eco-system. It is an opportunity to go beyond showcasing what has been done to investing in future entrepreneurs who can change the business face of many countries.

Morocco Continues Growth on Strong Economic Fundamentals

Will it be enough to provide needed jobs, improve GDP performance?

During the past week, several reports and interviews provided insights into Morocco’s economic performance, including challenges and strategies to expanding opportunities for growth. An article in the Business Standard noted an interview with World Bank Managing Director for Finance, Bertrand Badre, who said that “Morocco showed great institutional and economic stability amid the turmoil that has been going on over the past few years regionally.” He was referring to the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, resulting in a continued global slowdown, as well as the Arab Spring.

The article mentioned that “Badre also highlighted the construction of infrastructure and the advanced urbanization taking place in Morocco, which are ‘very important’ for the World Bank because of Morocco’s pivotal role in the West African and sub-Saharan region.” He also noted that the country must do more to diversify its economy to create more centers for growth and enable more stakeholders to participate in the formal economy. The reporter concluded that “Besides its macroeconomic, institutional, and economic stability, Morocco has an asset of location in the crossroads of sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, in addition to openness on the Atlantic.”

blog success

Another look at Morocco’s performance came from Fitch Outlook, the ratings agency. Under the headline “Fitch confirms Morocco’s Investment Grade with Stable Outlook,” Morocco’s state news agency reported that Morocco’s grade remained stable as a result of its “macroeconomic stability in an unstable international and regional environment and the resilience of GDP growth, despite a drop in the foreign demand of Europe.”

Once again, Morocco received recognition for its ongoing efforts to decrease its budget deficit, due to controls on current expenditures, reductions in subsidies, falling energy costs, “the consolidation of public finances, acceleration of exports by new industrial sectors, and improvement in the overall” business environment.

Strong Economic Medicine while Forward-leaning into Africa

Morocco’s exception to the tumult in the region was also noted in a Financial Times interview with Finance Minister Mohamed Boussaid. “Good news is a rare commodity in the Arab world these days. Violence is raging across Syria and Iraq, Egypt has retrenched into authoritarianism and Libya is in chaos. Even Tunisia, which is managing its transition to democracy with aplomb, is facing huge economic challenges. But in the far west corner of North Africa, Morocco has so far been spared much of the pain of the last four years.”

Morocco has managed to reduce its fiscal deficit from 7.4 percent of GDP in 2012 to 5.5 percent by the following year, “and remains on target for further reduction this year, as Rabat slashes subsidies and reforms its economy. The country’s economic and political stability – rare commodities in the region – have already brought returns. Tourists numbers were up by 7 per cent in 2013 as many Europeans, scared off by the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, traveled instead to Morocco.”

blog growth 2The article went on to note the growth of automotive manufacturing and the positive response to the government’s “€1bn Eurobond – its first euro-denominated bond in four years,” as additional indicators of Morocco’s success. While the rest of the Arab world, racked by falling oil prices and increasing instability due to the impact of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and their spillover to neighboring countries, “Many analysts predict Morocco will be North Africa’s best performing economy in coming years. Although growth slowed slightly this year because of low agricultural yields and weak growth in Europe – Morocco’s main export market — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates GDP will grow at around 4.7 percent in 2015.”

Boussaid credits this success to “reforms begun more than a decade ago, including investment in major infrastructure projects and programmes for industry and renewables, particularly solar energy.” The minister also talked at length about Morocco’s partnership strategy in sub-Saharan Africa. Its goal is to become “a platform for production and export to African countries through Casablanca Finance City (CFC), a new regional finance hub.”

More than 60 multinational banks, insurance companies, professional and legal services, private equity, and asset management companies have signed up for offices in the CFC. Already headquarters for the African Development Bank’s new $3bn Africa50 Fund that will finance infrastructure on the continent, CFC hopes that up to 100 companies will be based in its special zone.

Still Tough Going Ahead

While the IMF has projected healthy growth for Morocco in 2015, the outlook for the rest of the region is not as positive, according to Marketwatch. Regional instability coupled with the continued weakness is the global economic system, are a drag on economic expansion, and Morocco feels this impact directly.

“One major contributor to recent socioeconomic ills has been double-digit unemployment rates in many Middle Eastern countries. But the IMF’s baseline gross domestic product growth projections aren’t high enough to reduce unemployment in a meaningful way, it said. Unemployment is of special concern among oil importers such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, which have some of the highest jobless rates in the region, especially among young people.”

The government has implemented a broad range of incentives to encourage agencies and investors to accelerate the pace of training and education to align workers’ skills with market needs. Yet the slowdown in FDI and the need to increase domestic private investment are constraining opportunities for job growth. “To solve the jobs riddle, Middle Eastern countries needed ‘deep, multifaceted transformation’ that buttressed the private sector and raised living standards. The region needs sustained, stronger and more inclusive growth to markedly reduce unemployment–a critical issue facing nearly all countries in the region,” said Masood Ahmed, IMF’s Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department.

To maintain its momentum, Morocco is implementing a multifaceted growth strategy that focuses both on key sectors and driving job growth. It is tackling government policies and regulations to maximize flexibility in labor markets, property ownership, and public expenditures so that the private sector and people of Morocco have access to resources needed to expand economic opportunities and build a healthy, sustainable, and inclusive job market.

What is driving the remake of how Morocco does business?

Its recipe for growth is changing the country’s economic profile

Recent reports on growth trends in Morocco focused on the seismic shifts in the make up of its economy. Now less reliant on the

A leading business review cites Morocco's progress

A leading business review cites Morocco’s progress

export of agricultural commodities, growth is spread across many sectors, reflecting both the goals of raising job quality and promoting valued-added and downstream products in existing sectors.

For example, Zawya e-News identified how manufacturing in the automotive and aeronautics sectors have become engines for moving Morocco’s new economy forward. Building on its latest industrial development plan, the country has seen automotive

exports jump 37.2 percent year-on-year, electronic exports up 25.2 percent, and aeronautical exports up 14.1 percent. Exports rose more than five percent during the period despite a drop of 13.3 percent in phosphates exports and little expansion in agricultural exports.

According to the Financial Times, there are multiple benefits to the growth of automotive manufacturing. “The country’s auto sector will help push GDP growth up 4.5 to 5 per cent in 2015-2016, from 2.5 per cent in 2014, predicted Capital Economics in a note, making Morocco ‘North Africa’s best performing economy over the coming years’.” Despite this trend, agriculture still has a significant impact on the economy, providing 15-20 percent of GDP, depending on rainfall and market conditions. So the government continues to push ahead with agricultural reforms as well, promoting better water and crop use, accommodating changes in water supplies, and improving access to regional and international markets.

Growth continues across multiple sectors

Minister Lahcen Haddad

Minister Lahcen Haddad

At a recent tourism conference in Rabat, Minister of Tourism Lahcen Haddad gauged the progress made from 2010 to 2013. Revenues grew more than 78 percent, to $1.3 billion. Flight capacity increased by 10 percent and some 50,000 jobs were created. While the rest of the region was experiencing turmoil, Morocco’s tourist arrivals increased by eight percent and bed capacity grew by 30,000 units. The national tourism master plan is being reset to diversify both the types and locations of tourist destinations in order to spread the impact of the sector to benefit other regions.

According to World Bank data, just under 30 percent of the 2013 GDP was generated by manufacturing, which underscores the importance of Morocco’s continuing progress in economic reforms and incentivizing foreign direct investment. This is reflected in the government’s industrial investment strategy, wherein 34 percent of the funds are directed towards training Moroccans in market-focused skills and 24 percent is allocated to the incentives programs. Additionally, the central bank announced a new policy easing financing access for small and medium-sized firms engaged in industrial sectors or exports.

The IMF commented that “The newly developed industries will play even bigger roles in years to come and will further improve the resilience of the economy to external shocks.” Traditional industries are also re-tooling their market strategies. OCP, the country’s largest company and global phosphate leader, has signed multiple agreements to extend its production and distribution facilities in Africa and elsewhere, creating products that focus on the continent’s specific needs from cocoa to undernourished soils.

Morocco’s economic growth strategy is strongly supported by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, various Gulf sovereign wealth funds, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and others. The African Development Bank, for example, recently approved a $125 million loan to support an ongoing program to upgrade Morocco’s financial sector – a key component in building a vibrant private sector. Beginning in December, the program will build on previous efforts in 2009 and 2011 that “focus on creating requisite conditions for inclusive economic growth.” In practical terms this includes: improving access to financial services by individuals and small and medium-sized firms; deepening capital markets by enabling the creation or broadening of financial instruments to raise capital and support loans; and strengthen governance in the financial sector through efficient regulations that enhance business development. According to the Bank, “The program is expected to benefit all Moroccans by improving conditions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth that would positively impact their living conditions.”

From the largest manufacturing facilities to the grassroots entrepreneurs, Morocco is undertaking a significant transition to a modern, diverse economy that will have a beneficial impact across all regions of the country, provide much-needed jobs, and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign assistance and energy imports. At the same time, Morocco is using this growing capacity to build and expand its footprint in Africa and elsewhere, through a balanced and inclusive economic growth strategy.

3.2.1. Launch…of Global Entrepreneurship Summit to be held in Morocco

US-led Initiative Highlights Morocco’s Role as Trade & Investment Platform

After a flurry of meetings in late August and early September, the US and Morocco launched the overall outline of the program for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to be held in Marrakech, Morocco November 19-21. The GES website provides the breakdown of the sessions and themes while speakers are still being invited.

Blog GES 1It is expected that Vice President Joe Biden will head the US contingent, which will include members from the State, Commerce, and Education Departments, and from other agencies with a remit focusing on employment and entrepreneurship programming. Under the theme of “Harnessing the Power of Technology for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” some 3000 entrepreneurs, heads of state, government officials, and leaders of businesses ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to multinational corporations will be on hand to discuss how “Technology creates opportunities and enriches the human capacity for dynamic collaboration. It builds social capital, promotes human development and facilitates the exchange of information and ideas.”

On November 19th, the featured program will be a “Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Celebration Lunch” as delegates gather for meetings, sessions, side-bar events, and opportunities to promote their ideas, projects, and experiences in entrepreneurship. The conference will reach beyond technology applied to ICT and examine its role in promoting water management, alternative energy, sustainable agri-business, and business development, among other areas.

Among topics to be addressed on November 20-21: lessons learned moving from talent to entrepreneurship; regional connectivity to promote business across boundaries; the importance of smart cities in adapting technology to human development; social entrepreneurship; innovations in entrepreneurship and financing; and the central issue of building and sustaining an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs.

Making Contacts for Building Business

With a strong emphasis on allocating time for B2B meetings between entrepreneurs and potential investors and government officials, GES will host an online MARKETPLACE module to encourage participants to spend time meeting with their peers and specialists to discuss common interests and “opportunities for technology transfer, investment, mentoring and growing and scaling businesses (expertise in certain sectors, with certain technologies, regions and countries, potential investment offers, training and so on) as well as request help in areas they need (on-the-ground support in countries, potential partnerships and so on).” The MARKETPLACE will be an ongoing legacy of the Summit to facilitate follow up and continued interactions among participants.

Minister Delegate Mamone Bouhdoub talks business

Minister Delegate Mamoune Bouhdoub talks business

According to a story in the Business Standard, “the selection of Morocco as host country reflects the active role it plays in the overall economic development of the African continent, the kingdom’s leadership in supporting entrepreneurship and the integration of youth and women into the economy.” The article mentions that a key goal for Morocco at the conference is to promote concrete steps by global investors to “finance start-ups and new ventures with a strong emphasis on financing ventures for women entrepreneurs.”

Consistent with its own efforts to stimulate economic growth through a myriad of programs and partnerships with the private sector, Morocco is making a statement about the need for sustainable and inclusive growth touching all sectors of society.

11th Edition of Morocco’s Tourism Conference Slated for September 29

Focus on Building Local Tourism Capabilities

The Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with key government and private sector stakeholders, will open its 11th Tourism Conference on Monday, September 29. The conference will focus on two major themes: growing the tourist potential throughout Morocco and strategies for attracting investment to promote tourism development.

Minister Lahcen Haddad speaks to CNN

Minister Lahcen Haddad speaks to CNN

Minister of Tourism Lahcen Haddad noted that Vision 2020, the national plan for Tourism, aims to make the most of Morocco’s touristic potential and to ensure fair and equitable distribution of tourism wealth throughout the national territory.” He will be joined in the opening session by the Prime Minister, as well as officials from the National Confederation of Tourism, the mayor of Rabat, the Spanish Minister of Industry, Energy, and Tourism, and the General Secretary of the UN World Trade Organization (UNWWTO).

Morocco plans to develop at least eight additional tourism destination areas, each having its own distinctive character and distributed among the coastal, cultural, and ecological attractions of the Kingdom. In developing a comprehensive strategy to guide robust and sustainable development, the conference will discuss how to vary the development according to the unique environment of each site, including needed infrastructure, local regulatory governance to protect the environment and guide growth, and the marketing and logistics conditions that need to be addressed.

Branding Morocco’s Tourism

blog 26Sep 1In surveys that identify perceptions of Morocco, tourism ranks consistently on or near the top, especially in Europe and North America. Vision 2020 seeks to exploit that favorable image by creating even more diverse destinations to appeal to a broader tourist base. Fortunately, with more than a decade of dedicated analysis and development in the tourism sector, Morocco has learned a great deal about what attracts and holds the interests of travelers. Experts from Marrakech and Bilbao, Spain, will share their experiences and make recommendations for enhancing Morocco’s tourism industry. But none of this is possible without sufficient and targeted financing.

Vision 2020’s goal is to make Morocco one of the top 20 destinations worldwide and a model of sustainable development throughout the region. This can only be achieved through a diverse, high-quality tourism industry that makes the most of what Morocco has to offer and provides the services that tourists demand. According to the plan, Morocco will double the current number of hotel beds; provide incentives and programs to direct tourism investment to the target sectors of entertainment, sports, and leisure; add value to the presentation and promotion of Morocco’s cultural and artisanal heritage; and develop the right hospitality infrastructure for each of the new sites.

After the US Africa Leaders Summit: Key Challenge is Making Good on Promises

In a recent article published in Yale Global Online, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, concluded that “Whether [a recurring US-Africa Leaders Summit] happens or not depends on the Obama administration’s stewardship of the initiatives showcased during the summit, including the ability to work with Congress to authorize and fund projects, and also on whether the momentum of the gathering is sufficient to shift the Africa narrative in the minds of American decision makers and the general public who will influence policy and business decisions in the years ahead.”

This is the key challenge facing the Obama Administration – can it make good on the proposed initiatives announced during the Summit, or will the agenda of noteworthy programs fall prey to gridlock in Congress and a distracted Administration? Bipartisan recognition of the importance of more aggressively addressing opportunities in Africa – foreign policy and economic efforts included – was previewed in advance of the Summit by The Heritage Foundation in an issue brief, “Congress Should Upgrade the African Growth and Opportunity Act.”

AGOA Report Brookings African Growth Initiative

AGOA Report Brookings African Growth Initiative

Commonly referred to as AGOA, the current legislation expires September 30, 2015, and Congress is moving slowly towards renewing the law, which provides duty-free access for many African products to the US market. In return, countries are certified for AGOA eligibility if they continue progress towards a market-based economic system, implement democratic reforms including rule of law and human rights protections, and show improvement in their human development indicators. Unfortunately, AGOA only applies to sub-Saharan African countries, thus requiring another set of incentives for the Maghreb/North Africa.

Why Not Broaden the Summit To-Do List?

It is important to repeat the last point – much of what is being proposed for Africa by the Heritage Foundation and the US Government applies only to sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); and this remnant of old-school labeling of Africa ignores important trade and investment trends emerging across West and East Africa in particular. For example, as detailed in the Atlantic Council’s paper on Morocco’s multiple ties to Africa, which launched just in advance of the Summit, Morocco is broadening and deepening its historic ties to Francophone and adjacent regions of Africa through investments and trade, encouraged by King Mohammed VI as part of his economic diplomacy. But when the Heritage Foundation talks about the need to upgrade AGOA, it only looks at the African Union (AU), which has its own internal contradictions that can stand in the way of promoting greater integration of any kind.

That is not to say that Heritage’s recommendations are not critical; thoughtful analysts agree that the five goals mentioned are vital to AGOA’s success: extend AGOA for at least 10 years, encourage regional economic integration, provide additional incentives, facilitate greater bilateral private sector engagement, and support an FTA among African countries.

By not including North Africa, however, the paper overlooks key facts: Morocco is the second largest African investor in

Morocco's growing exports targeted for greater government support

Morocco’s growing exports targeted for greater government support

Africa; it is the only country in Africa that has an FTA with the US, which includes incentives to link with AGOA counties; it has one of the most robust transportation systems in the region; its power generation strategy complements plans for electrification of underserved areas in SSA; and its network of companies investing in Africa is an excellent conduit for foreign companies basing operations in Morocco to conduct trade and investment in Africa. Other Maghreb countries also have much to offer – from utilizing traditional south-south trade routes to encourage greater market integration and ease of the movement of goods and capital, to achieving economies of scale in the discovery, management, and transmission of hydrocarbons.

How to Make Promises into Realities

Enacting the US-Africa Leaders post-Summit agenda depends in large part on securing support from Congress, most immediately for the AGOA renewal/expansion and funding for announced initiatives. Related, but not on the agenda, is renewing funding for EX-IM Bank, a critical cog in America’s trade and investment strategy. For example, the US has promised an additional $300 million a year to promote Power Africa – to double access to electricity across SSA. Funding is to come from EX-IM, which may disappear if Congress doesn’t act. To support US exports and investments, a new seven billion dollars in financing for the Doing Business in Africa Campaign was announced, again with no clear inclusion of North Africa. The Millennium Challenge Corporation and others will also be playing a major part in fulfilling the Administration’s promises, with no clear indication that Congress is on board.

It will be challenging for the Administration to undertake its ambitious agenda without the cooperation of the Congress; but Congress itself held a very active event with the African delegations during the Summit. So, the goodwill appears to be rising for ramping up Africa-US ties across the board. Whether or not this can be kept on track and develop sufficient momentum will be indicated first of all by Congressional actions on AGOA and EX-IM Bank. This is a defining moment in US-Africa relations, and it should include all of Africa and benefit from the experience of those who are making regional economic integration a reality.

Economy Takes Center Stage in Moroccan King’s Revolution Day Speech

Calls for Continued Emphasis on Growth and Human Development

This week, King Mohammed VI of Morocco made a speech on “King and People’s Revolution Day,” marking the exile of his grandfather King Mohammed V, which began Morocco’s drive for independence from France. He addressed the challenges that Morocco faces as an emerging nation if it is to continue its growth in a stable, equitable environment.

Rather than single out any specific strategy, the King pointed out that “there is no single model of an emerging nation. Each country has its own development process, which is based on its human, economic and natural resources, as well as on its cultural heritage. It is also contingent on the obstacles and difficulties each nation has to face.” He then tied together several streams of activities that are requisites for a balanced national strategy.

He began by noting the beneficial results of having well detailed and thoughtful planning, both in terms of the general economy and specific sectors, such as agriculture and fishing. The King also mentioned how economic reforms are part and parcel of Morocco’s ability to attract investments in industrial sectors.

OCP encourages entrepreneurs through annual competitions

OCP encourages entrepreneurs through annual competitions

King Mohammed then focused on the contributions that resulted from the dynamism generated by the infrastructure priorities of the government, including ports, industrial zones, and renewable energies. After complimenting the Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP) for its global leadership in food security, the King gave particular attention to the renewable energy sector, which “is a further illustration of our capacity to rise to the challenge, thanks to an early clear vision, as well as precise priority planning to meet our country’s needs and reduce foreign energy dependence by relying on our own renewable resources.”

Challenges Continue                                                                                                         

Another area mentioned by King Mohammed was the need to build on existing trade and investment agreements and commitments to enhance the country’s competitiveness and improve job prospects of Moroccans. He said, “Morocco needs to take a few more steps to confidently move forward and join emerging nations.” Referring to trade agreements that Morocco has with Arab and African countries, the EU, and the US, and improving ties with Russia and China, he went on to say that “the gains achieved should not, however, be a motive for self-satisfaction, but a strong catalyst for further efforts and continued mobilization. As a matter of fact, if the Moroccan economy is to emerge, it should rely on its potential and the joint efforts of all actors; otherwise it is bound to miss a historic opportunity.”

Among the challenges the King singled out was competitiveness of export companies. “Unfortunately, Morocco is clearly lagging behind in this respect because of a weak, disorganized industrial sector and competition from the informal sector. In such a situation, strong corporations and businesses have to be set up to boost the immunity of the national economy, both to enhance international competitiveness and develop partnerships with small businesses in order to stimulate growth at home.”

Morocco is rapidly expanding its industrial base

Morocco is rapidly expanding its industrial base

Never far from his thinking is the invaluable contribution to the country’s future that can be made by a skilled work force. “The key to enhancing competitiveness and meeting development and job market needs is to have qualified human resources. The latter are also necessary to be in tune with the evolution and diversification of the national economy.” Young people are particularly important, and the King noted, “Thanks to their patriotism and creative genius, I am confident that our young people can achieve their country’s development and ensure its access to the club of emerging nations.”

King Mohammed then linked improved job prospects to the overall reform agenda of the country, as he believes that good governance is essential for balanced economic growth to be achieved. “It is a fact that to catch up with emerging nations, we have to continue improving the business environment. This can be achieved especially by pressing ahead with administrative and judicial reforms, combating corruption and moralizing public life, which is not exclusively the State’s responsibility, but that of society as a whole, individuals and associations.” Labor unions received a specific nod for their role in advancing Morocco’s future while contributing to social stability.

Morocco Strengthens Its Case as Gateway to Africa

As US-Africa Leaders Summit Concludes, Focus on Security and Governance Gathers Momentum

The US-African Leaders Summit closed yesterday with President Obama promoting his vision of partnership between the US and Africa. At the morning press conference on Wednesday, August 6, he said that “Africa’s rise means opportunity for all of us—including the opportunity to transform the relationship between the United States and Africa…a partnership of equals that focuses on African capacity to solve problems, and on Africa’s capacity to grow.”

Obama Speaks on Need for New Partnerships

Obama Speaks on Need for New Partnerships

This resurgent message on African solutions to African challenges echoes remarks by King Mohammed VI at a business forum in Ivory Coast this year. They have become a core message for how Africa, made up of 54 countries that do only 12 percent of their trade among themselves, should advance locally, regionally, and internationally.

The President noted the clear purpose of the Summit. “We are here to take action—concrete steps to build on Africa’s progress and forge the partnerships of equals that we seek; tangible steps to deliver more prosperity, more security, and more justice to our citizens.” The Summit sessions on peace and security, youth empowerment, trade and investment enhancement, and good governance produced recommendations and proposals that will serve as the US agenda with Africa through the end of this administration. How this will play out in the coming months was the topic of meetings, think tank programs, and media events occurring throughout the week.

Security, governance, and trade and investment challenges dominated the agendas of most of the public events. From the Corporate Council on Africa and the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings, among others, events emphasized stronger business ties, changing perceptions, and enhanced security cooperation. The Initiative for Global Development premiered a multi-part video series on Investing in Africa dealing with issues of misperception and understanding the business environment. And the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center hosted two events: the first focusing on the release of a paper on Morocco’s role as a gateway to Africa and the second, a panel exploring how to develop sustainable African solutions to security challenges in West Africa.

What is the Bottom line?

In his closing press conference, President Obama reflected on the discussions held during the day. “We agreed that Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa by Africans.” This theme was repeated several times, as corruption, lack of opportunity, marginalization of women and youth, and lack of reforms were mentioned as barriers to a healthy and prosperous Africa. The President made reference to commitments by leaders to “pursue reforms that attract investment, reduce barriers that stifle trade…and to promote regional integration.” There will also be an “action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.”

Dr. Ahmed Abaddi speaks on the need for integrated efforts to combat extremism

Dr. Ahmed Abaddi speaks on the need for integrated efforts to combat extremism

The US announced several cooperative initiatives to support young entrepreneurs and empower women across Africa a well as a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition that “aims at lifting 50 million Africans from poverty.”

On the security front, the US is launching a “new Security Governance Initiative” to train self-sufficient security forces beginning with six countries, and a “new effort [in West Africa] to bolster the region’s early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.”

Interestingly, Obama said that there was agreement that the Summit would be a recurring event, while some pundits question if this effort will survive his administration. In the post-Summit press conference, it should be no surprise that there was only one question related to the outcomes of the Summit, as political events elsewhere dominated queries from the media.

How Does Morocco Measure Up?

Prime Minister Abdel-ilah Benkiran lead the Moroccan delegation

Prime Minister Abdel-ilah Benkiran lead the Moroccan delegation

The Moroccan delegation worked hard during this visit to raise the visibility of Morocco’s Africa agenda among US and African policy makers and businesses. Throughout the three days of meetings, programs, and events, Morocco demonstrated that it is in fact part of the solution to moving Africa ahead. On the issue of reforms, Morocco continues to work to make its emerging parliamentary democracy an effective vehicle for implementing the reform agenda in the 2011 Constitution. As regionalization brings more decision-making power to local citizens and their public officials, as civil society is strengthened through more consolidation and access to resources, and as greater respect and protection of human rights is promoted through the realization of reform programs, Morocco’s “best practices” provide examples for others to consider.

With respect to trade and investment promotion, encouraging entrepreneurism, and supporting job creating functions in the informal economy, Morocco is making good headway. The Casablanca Finance City, continuing capital reforms, energized Casablanca Stock Exchange, networks of banking, telecoms, transportation, and IT services throughout west, central, and Atlantic Africa countries, and expanding efforts to build sustainable solutions for youth and women employment, are signs that it is headed in the right directions.

Obama pledges to make the Summit a regular feature of US-Africa relations

Obama pledges to make the Summit a regular feature of US-Africa relations

Morocco’s push for enhanced regional cooperation is strengthened by more than 50 preferential trade agreements with key markets in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. It provides scholarships for African students in Morocco; supports training for men and women engaged in religious activities to promote moderate and harmonious Islamic practices; has extensive ties for security training and cooperation; and works at the UN and other forums to encourage stability, cooperation, and justice.

On Thursday, the US and Morocco signed a bilateral “Framework for Cooperation on Training for Civilian Security Services,” which will enable the two parties to “develop mutual expertise in the areas of crisis management, border security, and terrorism investigations.” The agreement will enable Morocco to develop its training expertise for civilian security and counterterrorism training throughout the region.

According to Morocco’s delegation, their time this week in Washington, DC was well spent, as it was for the other African participants, confronting US perceptions that continued to divide Africa up according to stereotypes based on out-dated notions of race and geography. Morocco and emerging Africa want to be recognized for their aspirations and their achievements. The Summit programs made it clear that this can be a concrete opportunity for the US to rebuild its foreign policy successes around shared values and notions of respect, opportunity, and dignity.