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Morocco Launches Initiatives to Meet Economic Challenges

Morocco’s new government, King Mohammed VI, and the country’s private sector—with a significant assist from the international finance community—are focused on generating economic growth and job creation. While it certainly faces great challenges, Morocco is building from a much more stable and secure political and social base than its neighbors in the region. Its economic efforts have notched a number of business wins and undertaken key initiatives that hold promise as positive signposts for the future.

In this third installment of the MATIC (Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center) series on Morocco’s economy, I take a look at short and medium-term programs that target economic and job growth, and challenges from the declining European economy, drought, and the need to aggressively support new business development, that require more long-terms remedies.

According to the African Economic Outlook, Morocco is the most consistent non-energy producing economy in North Africa.  “In spite of the uncertainties raised by the Arab Spring, Morocco showed resilient growth in 2011, a trend expected to continue in 2012 and 2013 thanks in particular to robust domestic demand and steady progress in agricultural and non-agricultural production.” In addition to budget reforms, the government is keen to enhance the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“Morocco’s SMEs have been the target of a broad set of initiatives in recent years by a variety of public and private institutions to help improve SME access to funding and capacity building. The access to funding by banks is still limited because of the security required…they are a major engine of the economy and currently account for around 93% of all registered businesses, 46% of employment, and 38% of GDP. Their overall contribution in terms of added value to the economy represents only 20%, due mainly to lack of financing and bureaucratic hurdles.” The article in North Africa United goes on to mention that:

Following a recent conference in Casablanca, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced a plan to establish a new lending initiative, via local lenders, to improve access to credit for smaller firms by July…The bank has also announced it plans on providing venture capital to SMEs as a way of boosting financing, while at the same time providing advice, and improving back office functions.

As reported previously, the PNB NAPEO conference in Marrakesh in January stressed the importance of entrepreneurship in the region, targeting emerging and growing businesses are a prime vehicle for job and wealth creation. A range of programs emerging in Morocco matches aspiring entrepreneurs with business professions. Also, the US government has announced a $4 million program to assist young entrepreneurs in the Maghreb to obtain financing for their projects, while the Moroccan government has two programs managed by the National Agency for SME Promotion, (ANPME )— Moussanada and Imtiaz that specifically support SMEs through financing and advisory services. A detailed study of these initiatives and results has been published by the Oxford Business Group.

Multilateral agencies are also doing their part. A new World Bank project will help increase employment in Morocco by matching vocational skills and higher education systems with the needs of the labor market. A second project will strengthen the justice sector to deliver efficient and transparent services to citizens and businesses. The $100 million First Skills and Employment Development Policy Loan (DPL) and the $15.8 million Justice Sector Reform Investment loan were approved in May by the World Bank’s Board of Directors.

Social development programs are also being emphasized in the country’s growth strategies as both education and health care are essential for an effective workforce. King Mohammed VI recently inaugurated RAMED, a large-scale projects aimed at improving access to health care. It is based on the principles of social aid and nationwide solidarity for the benefit of disadvantaged people who are not eligible for mandatory health insurance, according to the Minister of Health El Hossein El Ouardi. He noted that this public system enables the beneficiaries to have access to health care in public hospitals and state-owned health services institutions. The government is also looking at “best practices” from Latin America and SE Asia regarding social safety needs serving the most disadvantaged. Spending in the public sector – up 25 percent from 2011 levels – has been allocated into funds for social programs, education, health, housing, and industrial relations, putting additional pressures on the budget.

Of the many challenges facing Morocco today, most pressing in the mind of the average Moroccan, is the gap between labor skills, available jobs, and efforts to restructure the educational system. According to government statistics, unemployment nationwide is conservatively estimated at 9 percent, with at least 30 percent unemployment among youth. To obtain some quick results in lowering unemployment, the government has generated thousands of public sector jobs. This projected increase by 40 percent of public sector jobs, “mostly in home affairs and education,” is accompanied by an investment of another 93.5 billion dirhams in public wages.

Subsidy reforms is the forefront of Morocco’s legislative agenda, since, as some argue, the program should more directly target the poor rather than all citizens since it is the wealthiest who are likely to consume the most goods that receive subsidies.

Will these initiatives contribute to improving the Moroccan economy? To be sure, the country is faced with a number of problems: a lackluster harvest and a slowing of foreign direct investment among them. Weakness in demand, particularly in Europe, where the country has many financial ties –reinforces the need to look for new international customers and investors. Economic realities have forced lawmakers to expand the national debt in order to pay for their initiatives.

It is the combination of government commitment, the King’s leadership, the heightened role of the private sector, and the support of the international community that holds the most promise for stable and continuous economic growth. The task of building a stronger economy by mobilizing the entrepreneurial spirit of Moroccans in tandem with other positive forces in the regional and globally has begun in earnest.

Derek Gildea and Garth Neuffer contributed to this article, which was originally published on Morocco On The Move.

Moroccan Elections Focus on Economic Issues

In this second in a MATIC series looking at the role of economic growth issues facing Morocco, we review the party platforms published in advance of the November 2011 elections to describe the economy as a dominate theme in the elections.

Despite the overwhelming approval of Morocco’s new constitution in July 2011 referendum, some demonstrations persisted into that fall. The focus of many of the protestors was a call for greater economic opportunities, transparency in decision-making, and jobs for the unemployed. As parliamentary elections drew nearer, these criticisms were taken up by many of the major political parties which sought to incorporate them into their own electoral campaigns.

The two political frontrunners—Istiqlal and the Justice and Development Party (PJD)—promised to take actions to reduce wealth disparity, create jobs, promote transparency, and boost development. Both parties guaranteed economic reforms focusing on unemployment, tax reform, international trade and investment, and poverty reduction. They also listed education and legal reforms as part of their economic growth strategies.

The PJD set an ambitious seven percent annual economic growth rate as its target, while Istiqlal committed to five percent, a figure consistent with the average rate from 2007 – 2011. The PJD vowed to reduce overall unemployment by two percent, which would require creation of over 200,000 jobs. Both parties promised to take actions to lower the youth unemployment rate, which had reached nearly 30 percent in the fall of 2011.

Both parties mentioned expanding The Compensation Fund, a social safety net financed by both the State and private enterprises that is primarily aimed at financing medical care and promoting education for children from poor families. Istiqlal emphasized the importance of the fund, but suggested adjusting its support base in order to minimize its impact on the budget deficit.

Both parties also promised to improve standards of living and support for the middle class. Istiqlal vowed to fund professional schools (vocational training) and close the gap in social inequalities by improving job focused education. The PJD pledged to increase the monthly minimum wage by over 25 percent, to approximately $370.

In an effort to encourage foreign and domestic investment, the PJD committed to reducing the company tax from 30 percent to 25 percent, and to cut the value added tax (VAT) from 20 to 15 percent. Abdelilah Benkirane reaffirmed his party’s commitment to encouraging international trade and investment after being sworn in as Prime Minister. “This new government has a true will for reform and we will keep all the promises we made. We will do everything to encourage foreign and domestic investment to create a climate of prosperity.”

The victory of the PJD, which captured the largest number of votes, was interpreted both as a validation of their hard work and detailed reform and growth programs as well as a repudiation of the traditional parties whose past performance did not inspire those supporting broader and continuing reforms.

With a new constitution and strong popular mandate to promote economic growth in all sectors and at all levels, the new government began drafting its program, which was presented to the Parliament for approval in early April. Our next segment will take a look inside the new budget and weigh opportunities for stimulating stronger economic performance in light of weakening European markets and projected low agricultural yields.

Sydney Upchurch contributed to the writing of this article, which originally appeared on Morocco on the Move.