Tough Love Economic News Requires Array of Strategies

Jordanians are chattering about how the interim government is facing a number of difficult choices, none of which are of its own making. There is painful medicine for Jordanians in the prescription agreed with the IMF this past week, and people felt it immediately in prices paid for energy and power. No one argues that Jordan needs to take immediate steps to stop its slide into even lower growth, and there is little disagreement among leading Jordanian economists about how to move forward. However, medium and long term reforms will not do much to alleviate the pressure felt by consumers.

This is the dilemma facing oil producers and non-oil producers alike: How to bring about long-needed reforms that will ameliorate inadequate planning and decision-making by past leadership. One approach is HRH Mohammed bin Salman – high visibility, high energy, let’s take on entrenched interests approach while continuing to coddle citizens, which Saudi Arabia can afford to do.

On the other, there are Jordan and Morocco, balancing competing economic interests among potentially volatile political constituencies. Their way forward is constrained by internal and external factors that are not easily controlled. Morocco is in a more favorable neighborhood that encourages FDI and a more stable domestic political structure. Jordan faces both short and long-term challenges that are intertwined with all of their neighbors.

An article in The Jordan Times on the reaction to the IMF  tough love agreement noted, “This means there are more hard times ahead for Jordanians…the targets set by the government seem too difficult to achieve within the framework and the time schedule agreed on with the IMF.” The government is in a quandary inherited from the previous administration. With a public debt equal to 93% of the country’s gross domestic product, “and the stubborn problems of poverty and unemployment,” former finance minister Mohammad Abu Hammour blamed the fact that “There have been no real economic reforms over the past years in Jordan. Reforms should have been incremental, because they cannot be done overnight.”

The former minister said that the situation is already gloomy as exports dropped by 10% in 2015, foreign direct investments declined by 35%, and “unemployment rose to the unprecedented 14.2% mark.”

While Arab countries face similar dilemmas – a demographic bulge, inadequate education resulting in a mismatch between education and employment, and stagnant to slowing growth, the political dynamics of each country require avoiding a single remedy formula.

In Saudi Arabia the focus is on economic restructuring to promote jobs for men and women and soak up all those Saudis who are being educated abroad since there are few excellent universities in the Kingdom. This, of course, does not resolve the issue of those young people who are not university bound but still want jobs.

Jordan is different. It has no sovereign funds to bridge its economy to a brighter tomorrow. It hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees that have absorbed any spare capacity to deliver services. And it has to rely on infusions of foreign funds and loans to maintain its operations.

jordan flagSo what should Jordan’s government do? Given the obstacles of growing an economy burdened by providing services to citizens and refugees, here are three paths to follow, each with its own consequences. First, Jordan needs to cut government spending – always tough when there are so many vested interests in the current system. Secondly, Jordan needs to move more proactively to create a more business-friendly environment, promoting transparency, reducing corruption, and building public-private partnerships focused on short to medium term results.

One area that needs more emphasis is on convincing wealthy Jordanians at home and abroad to make significant job-creating investments in their country. Real estate aside, there must be more productive sectors for Jordanian, and Moroccan investors. Jordan and Morocco have wealthy citizens that could contribute to the country’s growth if they were incentivized properly. Investment capital is notoriously risk averse so this will take the most persuasive power of both monarchs.

Local investment funds, properly incentivized, can be quite powerful in the near term for targeting job growth for unemployed university graduates as well as those in the vocational/technical skills groups. When under- and unemployed youth believe that they can get jobs with wages for more than basic necessities, they will take advantage of many programs available to equip them for jobs in commerce and industry…but they must see a way forward.

Jordanian economist Hosam Ayesh summed it up best when he said “Increasing prices of water and electricity as of next year will push up the prices of many commodities. Citizens are always asked to tighten the belt, but shortly, there will be no belt to tighten.” Long days ahead.

Morocco Speeds Ahead in Renewable Energy

Power Purchasing Agreement Provides Momentum to Reach National Goal

Morocco’s leadership in renewable energy received a strong jolt of support this past week with the announcement of a finalist for 850MW of wind-power projects to be awarded to an international consortium headed by NAREVA, a Moroccan energy company.

Upon signing of the contract, still to be finalized, the consortium will develop, design, finance, construct, operate and maintain five wind projects: a 150MW facility in Midelt, 100MW in Tanger and 200MW in Jbel Lahdid in northern Morocco, and 300MW at Tiskrad and 100MW in Boujdour in the south.

The preferred bidder status award was made by ONEE, the Moroccan Office National de l’Electricité et de l’Eau Potable, to the consortium which includes Nareva as well as Enel Green Power (EGP) and Siemens Wind Power. Total investment is estimated at around $1.1 billion.

According to EGP CEO Francesco Venturini, “We are leveraging on our knowledge and expertise, in collaboration with our partners, to contribute to Morocco’s ambitious energy plan that has renewables at its core. The country is an example in North Africa of reliability and transparency in supporting the development of renewable technologies.”

The overall project requires creating two financial vehicles to guarantee the deliverables at a reasonable cost to Morocco. EGP and Nareva will create limited liability companies called “special purpose vehicles” for each of the five sites to insulate the project from any financial issues of the parent company.

In addition, the project was conceived under the Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) passed into law in 2013 that enables companies to pursue power projects based on an agreed purchase price by the government, amounting to a sovereign guarantee for projects that are financially sound and efficiently operated. The agreement with ONEE runs for 20 years on the facilities that will come online between 2016 and 2020.

These target dates fit within Morocco’s current goal of 42% power from renewables by 2020, which was projected by King Mohammed VI at COP21 to be 52% by 2030.

Separately, Siemens agreed to build a rotor blade factory at an investment of more than $110 million that will result in up to 700 jobs in a factory to be located in Tanger. The facility will serve African, Middle Eastern, and European wind markets upon completion in spring 2017.

Markus Tacke, CEO of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Division, noted “We invest where we see strong business opportunities. Morocco is the perfect location from which to serve the growing onshore wind power markets in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The economy is strong, the political climate is stable, and Morocco has a young, skilled and motivated workforce. These factors make Tangier the ideal site for this new state-of-the-art factory.”

Siemens has had a permanent presence in Morocco since 1956 and has already been involved in several major renewable energy projects, including the 300-MW Tarfaya wind farm project.

With additional investment opportunities identified in hydropower, biomass, and even nuclear power, Morocco is well on its way to meet and possibly exceed its energy goals.

Nizar Baraka Details how “Advanced Regionalization” is Advancing Democracy in Morocco

Plan for the Sahara only the Beginning for Empowering All Moroccans

At a recent roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, The Honorable Nizar Baraka, former Minister of Finance and Economy, who serves as president of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) in Morocco, provided his analysis of the regionalization program being rolled out in Morocco, and how this is already changing the political space in the country.

Mr. Baraka began by reviewing the CESE process for developing the first study of “the South” (the Saharan provinces), which included public hearings with testimony from some 1500 people as well as dozens of studies prepared by experts, which resulted in recommendations for extensive restructuring of local government and a robust economic development strategy. He explained that what is being done in the South is the beginning of “advanced regionalization” for all of Morocco.

He believes this is part of the implementation of shared decision-making and devolution of power promised in the 2011 Constitution. Mr. Baraka emphasized that the credibility of regionalization will only become real when citizens participate in local decision-making that affects their daily lives.

For example, the Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) is currently debating bills that give Civil Society the capacity to submit proposals and petitions directly to Parliament.

There is great economic disparity among the regions in Morocco, he explained. For example, 52% of Morocco’s GDP is produced in four regions, while 53% of its doctors practice in two regions. Similarly, the rate of joblessness in the South is twice the national average. Baraka insists that the direct election of the region’s presidents (the highest locally elected officials), and the five-fold increase in budgets for regional development are strong incentives for citizens to be more involved in local affairs.

So the CESE efforts have focused on how the government can create an environment for greater political responsiveness, and part of this campaign is a new economic development model for the region based on public-private partnerships. This includes large-scale investments in diversifying the economy, a new university focused on local needs, particular attention to conservation, and positioning the Sahara as a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Diversity to Drive Economic Growth

The Sahara is well poised for economic growth. Its GDP is 60% higher than the national average, but some 30% of that is generated by government programs. So the strategy going forward is to deeply engage the private sector to increase investments and jobs. One critical target is to diversify the local economy while protecting the environment. The focus is on empowering individuals to more fully participate in the economy; for example, raising the rate of women in the workforce from a woeful 14% to at least the national average of 25%, and doubling the number of employed youth..

Sectors slated for diversification include fishing, aquaculture, value-added farming, renewable energies, downstream phosphate industries, and eco-tourism. Plans have been finalized for a local university focusing on the needs of the region, including professional development of medical personnel, educators, managers, and lawyers; tourism and hospitality; and research and development supporting local industries. Given that the South’s literacy rate is already 20% higher than the national average, targeted efforts to build on their capabilities through focused programs of higher education should reap short and long term benefits, in terms of jobs and meeting future employer needs.

Conserving the environment is also a prime consideration, especially well water, which is overused. Desalination, reuse of gray water, greater efficiency of energy utilization, treatment regulations for well water, a new dam, and a comprehensive campaign to preserve the eco-system in the Bay of Dakhla are the headline items in this effort.

Looking at both the supply side, which pushes the growth of the local economy, and the demand side, which is the pull of market needs, Africa is the obvious market. Building a new expressway from Agadir to Dakhla onwards to Mauritania and Senegal, high speed digital connectivity, expanded port facilities, and the export of solar power along an interconnected grid are all in the plans for the next 10 years. It is anticipated that 75% of the targeted $10 billion of investment will come from national government public-private sector partnerships, while the regional governments will contribute the remaining 25%. The goal of these efforts is to create 120,000 jobs and cut unemployment in half.

Mr. Baraka provided discussed other plans underway, which he believes will create a seismic shift in how citizens see their roles in relation to the government. Empowering proactive, engaged, and contributing citizens is the core mission of advanced regionalization, which will require a different mix of incentives in Morocco’s different regions. The most important impact, according to him, is that the political space in Morocco has changed forever. This is clear in viewing the evolving role of the media and civil society, debates in Parliament over legislative initiatives, and the pressure on political parties to restructure their governance to reflect issues and priorities. More importantly, advanced regionalization will continue this process and move Morocco towards its goal of a new social compact based on engagement and respect.

Opening the Door to Community Activism – Will Moroccan-Americans Respond?

Moroccan-American Community Challenged to Build Bridges to Morocco

On October 23rd, I made a presentation at the opening of the first-ever meeting in the US of the Council for the Moroccan Community Abroad (CCME), which was formed as a result of provisions in the 2011 Constitution to engage overseas Moroccans in the civic life of the country. It is a unique experiment. I can think of no other Arab country that has set up a meaningful program to engage emigrants in such a broad way. Think about it…there are four provisions in the Constitution that call for extensive networking with Moroccan emigrants to ensure that they stay connected to what is going on and have input into policies that affect their interests. No where else is that even a possibility.

Some, like Jordan and Egypt, have robust programs promoting inward investment from their overseas sons and daughters. But none, to my knowledge, is inviting these same people to promote policies that are important for them, whether it be in consular functions related to documentation and visas, efforts to attract talented and knowledgeable inputs for economic growth, or agreements with the host country on migration issues.

Having worked in organizing the Arab American community for more than 40 years, I provided a historical context to the Arab immigrant experience, especially our participation in US political life. Talking later with conference participants, I was struck by two points: their relative lack of knowledge about the experiences of other immigrant groups, and their assumption that reaching out to Moroccans overseas was about how they could benefit from Moroccan government services rather than a broader concept of civic engagement.

This may be due to several factors. First of all, Moroccan-Americans are among the most recent immigrants to the US from the Middle East and North Africa, starting in large numbers in the 70s. Most are first and second generation American citizens. So they have little experience in building networks with other Americans, whether in schools, cultural centers, or community affairs. What they do share with Arab-American communities is a high level of education, household income, and upward mobility. This “newness” and the lack of experience in the give and take of a robust political system is part of their inability to engage in public affairs whether in the US or Morocco.

Secondly, Moroccan-Americans, like others, are strongly motivated by economic and professional opportunities in the US, so civic engagement takes a back burner to making a living, educating their children, obtaining advanced degrees, and similar efforts. Technology plays a big part in how they relate to Morocco. Today, like all émigré communities, Moroccan Americans have the internet and digital communications to keep in touch, at increasingly lower costs so that what is going on at home, particularly with one’s family, can be as close as the phone or computer. While there is distance, the feelings of separation are not as rigid as even 20 years ago.

While the CCME process may have its imperfections, it is a tool that can be used by the community, if they mobilize, to give voice to their issues. The same energy that Moroccan-Americans show on the soccer field should be transferred to developing a collaborative community agenda with the government of Morocco. It is intriguing that Moroccans have a robust civil society at home and yet are unsure how to build similar networks in the US.

Since many came during the reign of the late King Hassan II, advocacy was not yet on the public agenda. Today, King Mohammed VI is actively promoting the role of migrant Moroccans to help the country grow in prosperity, skills, and wisdom. So what is needed?

Looking across the range of ethnic American organizations, we know that the most successful are those that are most focused, most articulate, best prepared, motivated, and patient. For Moroccan-Americans, a good place to start is by building better communications with their Embassy and consulates that go beyond political issues and consular functions. The community needs to have an agenda on which most émigrés can agree on as citizens concerned about their country of origin.

Moroccan-Americans have strong social skills, which can serve them well in getting involved in their local communities. From education to transportation, health, and safety, there is no lack of interests that they have in common with their neighbors.

Finally, it’s important to manage expectations – what can the government do, in what time frame, and how to benefit the greatest number? How can the community help set that agenda and ensure accountability? How can CCME get better in tune with the community in its follow up meetings in New York, Orlando, and Boston? How can you have a more inclusive process so that CCME has the benefit of a range of perspectives and attitudes among the community? Finally, what can you learn from the American experience of volunteerism, community and neighborhood councils, local government, and entrepreneurship, among other areas, that can be part of an agenda with Morocco.

Keep in mind that this is a unique challenge, not a promise. For the first time in Morocco’s contemporary history, the King and the government want your opinions, insights, and recommendations. This is about more than affordable flights to the country. This is about taking an active part in shaping policies important to the émigré community who have much to contribute to the future of Morocco, a country I feel that you deeply love and cherish.

US Companies See Opportunities in Morocco’s Agricultural Sector

Atlanta Forum Provides Key Contacts

One can’t help but be skeptical when hearing about another business conference extolling the promise of opportunities abroad. It is not uncommon to ask “So what?” when looking for results that justify the expense of attending events while coming away with glossy brochures, a fistful of business cards, and tenuous promises of quick responses.

So we did something different at the US-Morocco Trade & Investment Forum in Atlanta on October 13. Most of the time was allocated for companies to talk with presenters, other companies, and government officials, with an emphasis on building face-to-face relationships so essential to doing business.

Well, how did that turn out? I can only give you my perspective and reflect on emails I received following the Forum, but I think they made the right decision – put people with mutual interests in a room and let them talk business. It worked out fine. I moderated a panel on agriculture, agri-business, and water management. Not unimportant to a country like Morocco where upwards of 40% of the workforce is in the farming sector and, in a good year, the sector contributes more than 18% to the country’s GDP.

In the room were representatives of Coca-Cola bottlers and distributors in Morocco, whose business affects some 70,000 Moroccan employees and their families. Given that Coca-Cola sources as much as it can locally, they are major players in the sector and in the economy. More importantly, Coke provides a great deal of technical assistance to local businesses to grow supply chain products and services, building the next generation of entrepreneurs.

From the Moroccan government, we heard from three very competent representatives: Mrs. Asma El Kasmi from the National Office of Electricity and Potable Water (ONEE), Abdeslam Ziyad, who directs strategic planning at the Ministry of Agriculture, and Soufiane Larguet, Director for Strategies and Statistics at the Ministry. All presented current data and projected opportunities in their areas of specialty.

The US and Moroccan private sectors included private equity investment firms, a foundation and company specializing in agriculture and water projects in Africa, a leading producer of organic and specialty food and cosmetic oils, several agro-industry firms, and a working farm that provides overseas technical assistance in a broad range of areas including improving seed, water management technologies, and food security processes.

­­­­­­One of the highlights of the session was the opening remarks by Gary Black, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. His presentation on the industry in Georgia and his insights into potential bilateral links has already led to discussions with Moroccan Ambassador Rachad Bouhlal on an exchange program between food security experts in Morocco and Georgia. Commissioner Black’s rational is that a thorough understanding of the food security (read FDA and USDA in the US) guidelines in the marketplace facilitates trade. This was borne out by several participants who spoke about the difficulty of navigating food and argan and olive oil exports to the US, despite the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement.

A positive follow up is that several of the US participants in the room have already begun to the in touch with counterparts in the government and private sector in Morocco. And Moroccan companies are clearly interested in pursuing relationships that ease the process of exporting into the US. It is a beginning of an important exchange of ideas, proposals, and discussions about concrete business and investment opportunities that will continue for some time.

At UN, King Challenges International Community to Support African Development

Too often, in the drama of high political tension at the opening of the UN General Assembly, the media focuses on the hot button news such as Russia versus the US on issues including Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine, that naturally drive the headlines. No less important are the substantive calls from regionally important players regarding needed advancements in human and social development.

Such a speech was delivered on behalf of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, who gave his perspectives on several key themes: lessons learned regarding setting ambitious global development goals, the need for large-scale partnerships to effectively improve society; and the need for clarity and purpose on issues such as climate change.

Blog reform parliament featureI happen to think that his speeches do not attract the attention of the media and pundits because Morocco is not in crisis; it has a functioning government led by a moderate Islamic party; it has a very effective security apparatus that is quite effective in combating terrorism and radicalism; and Morocco delivers on its promises – in achieving its Millennium Development Goals, countering extremism, and introducing gradual liberalizing reforms, among others.

This year’s speech began with simple rhetorical questions: “Have we managed to change the day-to-day life of the poor? Are the results achieved solid and sustainable enough to withstand tensions, wars and social and economic crises?” Once again, as in Pope Francis’ addresses in the US, the focus was on the poor, those who are underserved and marginalized in their communities.

A review of Morocco’s achievements made under the Millennium Development Goals indicates significant progress between 1990 and 2015. Yet, this is not true globally. The gaps between regions around the world and inside certain countries are a legitimate cause for concern. The King recognized that much has been done, but also believes that if the international community cannot point to actions that deliver measurable and sustainable progress, then “It should induce stakeholders to ponder on the best means to promote development and address the malfunctions affecting international cooperation.”

In addressing the UN’s campaign to develop Sustainable Development Goals, King Mohammed said that the gap between words and actions was not acceptable. “No matter how relevant and promising the sustainable development agenda is, its credibility will hinge on the resources to be raised to finance its implementation.” He noted in particular that too often regional and international obstacles impeded progress. “International cooperation therefore has to adapt to global facts on the ground and not only shake off the legacy of the past, but also avoid geo-political calculations and refrain from imposing near-impossible conditions to access aid.”

The King sounded a clear message about the inadequacy of solutions imposed externally: “Development cannot be achieved through bureaucratic decisions or ready-made technical reports that have no credibility. To fulfill people’s aspirations and to address their real concerns, it is necessary to fully understand the reality of their situation and their characteristic features, make an objective assessment of their living conditions and carry out serious work on the ground.”

As he frequently has since assuming the throne in 2001, he focused on his neighbors in Africa, saying that “These African people’s lives are a never-ending struggle, full of daily challenges. They have to face harsh conditions and can only rely on scant resources. However, they live with dignity, are true patriots and hope for a better tomorrow.”

Morocco is doing its part. Over the past five years, scholarships for students from sub-Saharan Africa have increased, a ground-breaking migrant inclusion program has been initiated, and an array of bilateral agreements covering social, human, and economic development has been signed with many African countries — by a country that has limited financial resources but understands the meaning of community and acts on it.

The King said that “an inclusive, coordinated and multi-dimensional medium-term approach needs to beblog 2 22May14 adopted.” Recognizing that Africa is the fastest growing continent and has water, energy, and agricultural potential to meet its needs if managed effectively, he remarked that “Seen from this perspective, Africa must be at the heart of international cooperation for development in order to help the continent rid itself of its colonial past and unlock its potential.”

While a variety of financial and investment projects have been launched over the past decade to support growth in Africa, there is concern that there is little coordination among donors and recipients to ensure that resources are allocated and managed efficiently for maximum impact. “For this reason,” the King added, “Morocco is calling on the United Nations Organization and on regional and international financial institutions to draw up an action plan for economic transformation in Africa and provide steady resources to finance it.”

There is no question that the King takes challenges to African development seriously. In the past year, he has made at least three major speeches emphasizing that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans and their partners in the global community. He does not underestimate the challenges, given the violence that afflicts all regions of the continent. King Mohammed added, “I also call for making peace and stability top priorities to prevent conflicts, confront extremism and terrorism and address the migration problem using an approach that takes into account the dignity of migrants, preserves their basic rights and tackles the root causes of the migration phenomenon.”

It is this long-term vision for his people, his country, and the continent, and his commitment to actions for progress and results that is the bedrock of King Mohammed’s legacy.

Why Does Morocco Continue to Draw Foreign Investors?

Defying Regional Trends, Country Benefits from Progressive Policies

Stagnation in the Chinese economy has had rapid repercussions throughout the global economy, leading many investors to step back from any significant activity until trends in emerging and frontier markets become less murky. Due to the outsized impact of China on commodity producers in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, there is great uncertainty as to how it will play out in countries that rely on Chinese imports.

However, in recent rankings of key countries in Africa and the Middle East, Morocco’s continued positive performance serves as an antidote to investor pessimism regarding other markets in the region. In a study by fDi Intelligence, “Middle East and African Countries of the Future 2015/16,” Morocco receives points for rigorous planning, strong economic fundamentals, and continued investment in policies and infrastructure that are business-friendly.

Casablanca Finance City - Exceptional Platform for Business In Africa

Casablanca Finance City – Exceptional Platform for Business In Africa

If one compares Morocco to other countries in Africa with its diversity of economies, Morocco’s rankings are quite impressive. It ranks #3 in terms of overall results in the fDi poll, #2 (after South Africa) in terms of economic potential, #2 for connectivity, and #4 in Africa for business friendliness.

Much of this success is due to Morocco’s moderate and progressive economic policies and conservative approach to global financial markets. As importantly, Morocco’s ties to the EU and the US as trading partners partially insulate it from overexposure to economies under stress. According to an article in, countries with little exposure to Chinese trade and investment are currently faring much better than those tied more closely to China. India, Morocco, and Poland are the top three countries in the rankings based on their overall stability and performance over the past year.

These results were underscored in an article in that explored the same issue of dependence on Chinese imports. “More than $8 trillion has been wiped off the value of shares worldwide as China’s move fueled speculation that a further slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy will undermine demand for raw materials from countries including Brazil and Russia.”

In its coverage of the Bloomberg study, the Wall Street Journal commented that the decline will affect frontier markets more than emerging markets in the longer term. The Journal also points out that the study “notes that the best-performing regions have been frontier Europe and Asia and highlights Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Morocco as countries that have been kind to investors.”

To continue to attract needed Foreign Direct Investment, especially in its lucrative renewable energy sector, Morocco has drafted legislation to sweeten the terms under which it will purchase energy from independent producers. According to “When adopted, the new law, bill number 58-15, will allow renewable energy producers to sell surplus electricity to establishments connected to the high voltage or very high voltage grid of ONEE, the state owned utility responsible for the provision of electricity as well as the operation of the transmission system. The proposed changes will also raise the minimum capacity of hydro power projects to 30 MW from 12 MW at present.”

What this means is that independent producers will have more customer options, including the government, for selling energy at regulated prices, thus simplifying economic models for determining the success of investments in renewable energy.

These liberalizing efforts and the rankings recently published continue to demonstrate that Morocco has made choices that both meet the country’s goals of greater participation in the global economy and benefit its economy by attracting investments that generate much-needed employment.


Plans Moving Ahead for Third US-Morocco Trade & Investment Forum

Coca-Cola to Host Event at its Atlanta Headquarters

Although security issues continue to dominate news about the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), the Moroccan Embassy in Washington, DC is also focusing on how to bring greater prosperity and stability to the region through business development. It is busy preparing for its upcoming annual trade and investment forum to be held this year in Atlanta on October 13. Much like the very successful program in Dallas last October, the agenda will bring a strong public-private delegation featuring leading officials and businesses from Morocco.

Coca-Cola’s hosting of the Forum is an indication of its long-standing business relationship with Morocco,. The company has its regional headquarters there and has made Morocco a major transshipment hub for distributing its products. First introduced in Morocco 1947, Coke now rivals tea as the favorite beverage of the country. According to a feature on the Travel Channel, Morocco is the fourth-largest consumer of Coke products in Africa, following South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt – countries with much larger populations. Hawaii, a fruit punch concoction produced by Coke, was pioneered in Morocco and is now sold around the world.

Morocco’s love affair with Coke products was well illustrated in an economic impact study undertaken by Al Akhawayn University, which indicated that more than 70,000 Moroccans are employed in upstream and downstream operations, where the company has a significant impact on multiple sectors of the economy, from small farmers to truckers, retailers, food and beverage services, sports teams, to its wastewater recycling plants in Marrakech and elsewhere.

Atlanta Skyline  credit:

Atlanta Skyline

So it makes good business sense for Coca-Cola to show other companies in the south why business in Morocco is a win-win proposition. According to a draft program of the Forum, three key areas will be highlighted: Agriculture and Food Investment Opportunities, Banking and Financial Services, and Manufacturing. In addition, there will be sessions devoted to Morocco’s rapidly growing renewable energy sector and its leadership in water management technologies.

A number of state and local public officials will be on hand to tout the bilateral relationship with Morocco and encourage Moroccan companies to source more products made in Georgia and the surrounding states. From the Moroccan side, you can expect high level participation from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment, and the Digital Economy, Casablanca Finance City, AMDI (Morocco Investment Development Agency), agencies dealing with renewable and hydrocarbon energy projects, and US companies doing business in Morocco.

In the agricultural sector, Morocco is introducing new technologies and crops to reduce fluctuations caused by variable rainfall. Through its Maroc Plan Vert (Green Plan), the government is providing support to small and large farming enterprises to improve their productivity and timely access to markets. As a result of its well-developed transportation and distribution infrastructure, Morocco has already established itself as the regional hub for doing business in West and Central Africa, including the Casablanca Finance City (CFC), where a diverse group of financial services companies are based to address the region’s needs.

Aeronautic and automotive manufacturing are the success stories in Morocco that continue to blossom. Automotive now is the leading manufacturing sector in the country, with more than 300 companies in the supply chain – a valuable market for regional businesses in Atlanta. Similarly, the aeronautics manufacturing sector, with its more than 100 suppliers based in an around Tangier and Casablanca, is an attractive destination for its counterparts in the southern US.

Of course, networking is the primary purpose for the forum, getting into the details of how to do business. Time has been set aside for individual meetings between companies and with government leaders as well as a novel format that provides for face-to-face meetings with the US and Morocco Ambassadors together to address company requests.

We will continue to update the program as details become available.

Morocco’s Financial Sector Continues to Draw Support, Grow Regionally

Attijariwafa Bank and EBRD Reaffirm Regional Strategy

Morocco’s regional economic leadership role continues to draw media attention, signaling a growing recognition that its role in Africa is substantive and long term. For example, a recent article noted that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has opened its first full-time office in Morocco. Previously, its offices there were tied to specific project funding. Given the breadth of EBRD’s commitment to Morocco for the foreseeable future, “[o]pening a resident office is an affirmation of our commitment to Morocco and to helping achieve its potential. It is a key step in implementing the bank’s country strategy and boosting economic growth through development of the private sector and promoting regional inclusion,” says Phil Bennett, EBRD’s first vice-president.

EBRD currently has 18 projects in Morocco, according to its website, focusing on “supporting sustainable energy, direct and indirect financing of private enterprises and promoting infrastructure reform and facilitating non-sovereign financing.” It recently approved a comprehensive strategy “which focuses on realising the entrepreneurial potential of the country targeting women’s entrepreneurship and increasing finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through private equity funds, as well as providing dedicated credit lines associated with technical assistance.” Since 2012, EBRD’s disbursements have grown more than ten-fold, from 22 to 250 million Euros. Part of its success is that the private sector contributed 72 percent of the cumulative investment in projects. In this regard, local banks, financial institutions, and private equity, as well as companies, are the partners of choice for EBRD.

Domestic and International Commitment

Of course, the largest bank in Morocco, Attijariwafa Bank, is one of those key players. An article about Attijariwafa Bank, posted on, is an interview with co-CEO and Director General Ismail Douiri about his thoughts on leadership, his bank, and business in Africa.

Ismail Douiri speaks at L'economiste forum  photo credit: L'economiste

Ismail Douiri speaks at L’economiste forum photo credit: L’economiste

Mr. Douiri recently joined the African Leadership Network (ALN), a group of the “most dynamic and influential new-generation leaders in Africa. The ALN creates and strengthens relationships between these leaders to encourage intra-African trade, investment, and collaboration.” As Africa matures as a group of developing, frontier, and emerging markets, professional networks such as ALN provide opportunities for collaboration and strategic cooperation enabled by technology, common business vocabularies, and a shared commitment to human and economic development. This is a role for which Ismail Douiri is well prepared.

He has been instrumental in the growth of Attijariwafa Bank, which now has assets exceeding $34 billion, more than 3,000 branches, 15,000 employees, and close to five million clients. Douiri believes that Morocco’s banking story is not well known. He points out that, relative to its economy, Morocco’s banking sector is larger than South Africa’s, and the two largest Moroccan banks each have more than twice the assets of the largest Nigerian bank. With a stock exchange that ranks between second and fourth largest in Africa, Morocco is well qualified for its leadership role.

He attributes much of the bank’s success to building a strong internal culture focusing on serving the customer as the first priority. Knowing that there is no single style or talent of leadership, Mr. Douiri believes in openness to innovation, developing and enabling diversity in staffing, supporting talent and hard work, and listening…always listening. And he never forgets, despite the breadth of the challenges he faces, what matters. “I love being part of new projects aiming at entering new territories, or introducing new financing instruments that will bring value to people and help them realize their own dreams. I also love to contribute to broadening our community involvement through Attijariwafa bank’s Foundation.”

His experiences have clearly shaped his vision. When asked about inclusive growth, he replied that that is not something easily defined or arrived at. “My personal view is that the pursuit of economic growth, if coupled with the right governance principles – transparency, accountability, organized stakeholder communication … and a safety net to prevent extreme poverty, leads to inclusive growth, a growth that will generate a middle-class better able to educate their children than their parents did for them.”

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Bottom Line of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue

On Thursday, April 9, the US and Morocco issued a joint communiqué at the conclusion of the third Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. The US praised Morocco’s progress on many fronts, Morocco lauded the commitment of the US to stand by its ally and support its economic, social, and democratic reforms. The language of a special partnership resonated throughout the statement.

Building on the priorities established during King Mohammed VI’s visit to President Obama in November 2013 and subsequent senior-level visits, the statement noted that “our strategic partnership and shared vision will promote a secure, stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Sahel region, Africa, and Middle East.”

Secretary Kerry “reiterated the United States’ appreciation for the action and leadership of His Majesty the King …,” including his “continuing efforts to strengthen further Morocco’s democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity and human development.”

In anticipation of Moroccan local elections coming in September, the Secretary specifically noted “programs designed to strengthen political parties and civil society” as they prepare for the first ever elections under regionalization – Morocco’s program to devolve more power to locally-elected officials. These elections and the training programs are part of a continuing campaign to build local capacity to administer municipalities, determine local priorities and planning, and implement local solutions to address human development needs.

After lauding Morocco’s progress in reforming the military justice system, enabling more organizations to officially participate in civil society, advancing the powers of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), and implementing immigration reforms enacted since last year’s Dialogue, the Secretary noted that both countries will work together to advance human rights at the UN Human Rights Council.

Business, Africa, Security, and Regional Affairs

On the business front, the major item discussed in the communiqué was the anticipated second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, which focuses on education for a skilled workforce, and improving land policies and productivity. The communiqué also noted that both countries had signed an MOU wherein Morocco will share with select countries in Africa its expertise and lessons learned in the MCC relationship.

Secretary Kerry highlighted the leadership of King Mohammed VI in broadening and deepening Morocco’s relations with Africa. This has become a priority in recent years as instability and violence threaten more countries on the continent. The US and Morocco agreed “to work jointly … through a comprehensive and coordinated approach including food security, access to energy, trade promotion, conflict prevention, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity.” With more than 100 agreements already signed between Morocco and African countries, and the King poised for another five-country visit later this month, Morocco is working hard to strengthen its leadership role in south-south cooperation, a role strongly supported by the US.

Reiterating America’s long-standing policy of support for autonomy for the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, the communiqué stated, “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 of the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.” Both countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to improving the lives of the people in the Western Sahara and will consider a number of options to move ahead on that objective.

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

As expected, security cooperation was a key agenda item. In addition to addressing the various means through which Morocco and the US are working to counter violent extremism, Secretary Kerry thanked Morocco for its participation in efforts such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Initiative on Open Border Security, as well as Morocco’s innovative training center for Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates – prayer leaders and male and female religious counselors from Morocco, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

The dialogue included discussions on “Morocco’s reform of its justice sector and promoting the rule of law, and … the launch of new law enforcement and counterterrorism programs, including a trilateral initiative with Moroccan and American trainers working together to train other African partners in border security and crisis management.” The communiqué further highlighted Morocco’s role in promoting dialogue among factions in Libya, working towards a comprehensive solution in Mali that deals with root causes, and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In short, the friends were able in a few hours to reiterate their long-standing security commitments based on broadly shared goals and objectives.

“The Minister and the Secretary concluded by noting that the Moroccan–American strategic partnership is based both on shared interests and shared values which provide many avenues for cooperation and collaboration bilaterally, regionally, and globally.” It is a partnership that offers many opportunities to advance the quality of life for the people of Morocco, provides means for enhancing regional security and prosperity, and enables the United States to work effectively in a part of the world where it has an effective and motivated partner.