In late October, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) released a policy brief “Morocco’s New Geo-Economics: Implications for U.S.-Moroccan Partnership.” Authored by Dr. Ian Lesser, Executive Director of GMF’s Brussels Office and its Senior Director for Foreign and Security Policy, the paper was reviewed by a roundtable of experts whose insights were incorporated into the final document.
It is fitting that the paper was released during the week that marks the founding of the United Nations. As the world’s leadership in the 21st century has moved beyond a handful of Western powers and the Soviet Union to a broader, more diffuse global network in which regional alliances and relationships are increasingly significant, Morocco’s maturing strategic role in Africa points to how emerging states linked together by a wide range of interests are reshaping models of bilateral and multilateral relations.
As Dr. Lesser explains, the US-Morocco relationship is longstanding, and “Morocco’s strategic significant for the United States has been shaped…by Morocco’s proximity to areas of vital U.S. economic interest.” He points to several trends that have reinforced the “geo-economic dimension of Morocco’s international posture and its importance to U.S. interests. From African development to global food security, from new transport hubs to renewable energy…Morocco’s focus is increasingly drawn south and west, to Africa and to the wider Atlantic.”
For Morocco, this growing outreach is driven by four overlapping trends in the region. First of all, traditional trade and investment ties to Europe are increasingly weaker due to the recent economic stagnation in the EU. This is clear from slowdowns in foreign direct investment (FDI), purchases of Moroccan products, tourism, and remittances from Europe. In looking for new business partners, Morocco has several differentiated marketing strategies: more tourism promotion globally, with initiatives along both sides of the Atlantic basin (regular flights to Sao Paulo are a recent example) and into Asia; the Moroccan Investment Development Agency (AMDI) has an eight-city road show covering markets in Asia, North America, and Europe to highlight opportunities in Morocco; and Moroccan firms are benefiting from government subsidies to attend trade shows and expand their export operations.
The second trend is the growth in trade and investment agreements linking Morocco to a potential market of one billion consumers, from the US and EU to Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf. With its rapidly expanding manufacturing and logistics/distribution capabilities, Morocco is fast becoming a key regional hub for business activity north and south, into Europe and Africa.
The Africa Imperative
A third component in Morocco’s evolution as a regional economic player is its commitment to renewable energies and the potential for “substantial offshore oil and gas resources,” which would both reduce Morocco’s “high national expenditure on imported energy and domestic energy subsidies” and provide the backbone for expanding power transmission to meet the growing demand in African markets. With most projections for economic growth pointing to sub-Saharan Africa as the next great opportunity, Morocco is well-positioned to increase its already sizeable presence on the continent into an effective network for economic growth.
Regional stability and security issues are the fourth element that affects Morocco’s regional designs. Although Morocco is committed to regional integration across North Africa, the continued stalemate with Algeria frustrates that ambition. For now, it appears that Maghreb relations will be more bilateral, building on shared business interests. So Morocco is looking elsewhere for growth to drive job creation to absorb local demand and provide a reservoir of talent for opportunities in target markets. It recognizes the importance of linking jobs, economic stability, and public security throughout the region. “To be sure, political and security factors are also at play in Morocco’s growing African interests, especially in light of the rapidly evolving terrorism, insurgency, and trafficking scene affecting Atlantic Africa and the Sahel – the dark side of regional geo-economics.” It is no surprise that King Mohammed VI has made Africa a priority in his travels, speeches, and support for economic and policy conferences focusing on Africa.
Dr. Lesser points out that “Morocco’s expanding economic role looking south shows every sign of becoming a structural factor in regional development and a more significant facet of U.S. interest in, and cooperation with, Morocco.” To this end, the policy paper concludes with several recommendations for US policymakers:
- Morocco’s growing Atlantic engagement should be made an explicit part of the US-Morocco strategic partnership.
- The US should renew its commitment to greater regional economic cooperation and integration in the Maghreb.
- In the context of transatlantic trade negotiations (TTIP), consideration should be given to implications for the US-Morocco FTA and ways to streamline the current provisions on roles of origin and other constraints to extend the value of the FTA to other African countries.
- The private sector should be more broadly integrated into US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue.
- Morocco’s growing role in Africa should be part of the agenda with Washington and with European partners.
These recommendations are part of a common-sense approach to recognizing how the US can support Morocco’s growing global engagement, which enables Morocco to enlarge its leadership role while contributing to security, stability, and prosperity in a critically important part of the world.