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When a Commitment to Economic Growth Has its Detractors – Jean R. AbiNader

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 14:30

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
March 14, 2017

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

You probably haven’t seen the news about Morocco and the ECOWAS yet. In fact, you may react with “Eco-what?” I wouldn’t blame you. The ECOWAS is a regional economic group of 15 Central and West African countries, including some, like Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, and Nigeria, that you may have heard of, as well as others such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and the Gambia, that are remarkable and interesting to those who follow the continent’s activities. All are countries with long histories and intriguing cultures. Several, like Togo and Mali, are historically significant countries that once had large empires, as covered recently in the PBS special series Africa’s Great Civilizations.

Today, the ECOWAS seeks to promote regional economic integration through multistate programs for infrastructure, industrial development, energy, agricultural, natural resources, trade and investment, financial services, and cultural affairs. It is only natural that Morocco would want to be part of the ECOWAS — it currently has observer status. The major obstacle to full membership is that the regional group does not currently include North Africa in its mandate. So to address this issue, the ECOWAS heads of state will vote on Morocco’s request in April.

On the “why do it” side is the argument that because the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), which includes Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia, has been unable to effectively function, then why wouldn’t Morocco want to join a more proactive and friendly organization? It makes sense for Morocco to reach out to other francophone countries, and its trading and development partners, for economic growth opportunities. In fact, King Mohammed VI has diligently pursued stronger and more diverse ties with all of these countries for more than a decade.

According to the North Africa Post, “With the inclusion of Morocco, the ECOWAS will bolster its aggregated GDP to the 16th rank globally, ahead of Turkey and right after Indonesia. The admission of Morocco to the ECOWAS sub-region will make it the second largest economy after Nigeria (which is a member). Thanks to its geographic location and trade agreements with the EU, Turkey, the US, and several Arab countries as well as its port and airport hubs, Morocco will offer West African countries a gateway to new markets.”

Building stronger trade and investment relations to its south helps Morocco diversify commercial markets beyond its traditional ties to Europe, thus enabling reciprocal benefits with its African neighbors. It is the concept of building regional growth opportunities that underscores the MoU between Morocco and Nigeria to build an Africa Atlantic gas pipeline from the fields of Nigeria along the African coast to Morocco onwards to Europe…providing new energy supplies to fuel public and private sector development projects. For its part, Morocco will support its commitment to building the continent’s food security by sharing its expertise in the production of specialized fertilizers and agro-industries. Already announced are fertilizer plants through joint ventures with Gabon and Nigeria.

Unsurprisingly, the Algerian press is taking issue with Morocco’s ECOWAS move. According to Morocco World News, the Algerian daily El Watan “claimed that Morocco membership in ECOWAS might isolate Algeria from the African continent following the recent step of Morocco to diversify and develop its economic ties within the African continent.”

Algeria, with a badly managed, hydrocarbon-based economy according to recent articles, has often spoken about stronger ties with sub-Saharan Africa, but there are few initiatives in place. So rather than bulk up its efforts to develop its own Afro-centric economic policies, it prefers to criticize the King’s initiatives and watch as Morocco continues its outreach across Africa to build sustainable friendships and economic partnerships.

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Categories: The moroccan press

Previewing USAID’s 60 Year Anniversary in Morocco – Caitlin Dearing Scott

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 21:24

Caitlin Dearing Scott
March 13, 2017

Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Programs, and Policy, MAC

2017 marks a special year for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Morocco – the 60th anniversary of its partnership in the Kingdom. According to the agency, “Since 1957, the United States has placed Morocco at the heart of its foreign diplomacy. Throughout this proud shared history, the American people, through USAID, have invested in the human, economic, and institutional development in Morocco. Hand in hand with the people and government of Morocco, we have achieved major milestones.”

USAID officially launched its programs in Morocco on April 2, 1957, when the two countries signed an agreement for the US to provide Morocco with economic and technical assistance. Since that time, the US has invested over $2 billion in Morocco working on a range of issues, including education, health, and economic development, with a special emphasis on reaching women and youth.

Some of the highlights of the last 60 years include:

  • The construction of dams and water systems to make more land available for productive use;
  • Family planning and reproductive health programs that have drastically reduced infant and maternal mortality rates;
  • Job creation programs and support for the creation of microcredit institutions to provide capital hundreds of thousands of small businesses owners; and
  • Teacher training programs to improve education at all levels.

As a result of this support and cooperation with the Moroccan government, the Kingdom has witnessed profound change, leading USAID to conclude its overview of the last 60 years by noting:

Today, Morocco remains a stable Monarchy and a vital ally to the United States. The Government of Morocco and its citizens show clear commitment to democratic change and are working towards enhanced citizen participation in achieving greater social and economic opportunity for all citizens through targeted and progressive reforms.

USAID plans to honor this anniversary with a special celebration every month of the year, focused on “past and present successes in a specific sector: from civil society engagement, to agriculture, to youth opportunity.” Stay tuned to MOTM as we cover the anniversary and celebrate this special relationship!

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Categories: The moroccan press

US News & World Report Names Morocco among 50 Best Countries

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 00:00
Kingdom Shines in Business and Cultural Sub-Categories

Washington, DC, March 10, 2017 (MACP) — For the second year in a row Morocco was ranked among the top 50 best countries by US News & World Report’s Best Countries listing, released earlier this week. Produced in partnership with Y&R’s BAV Consulting group and the Wharton School of Pennsylvania, the listing evaluates 80 countries based on a survey of more than 21,000 respondents worldwide in nine sub-categories: Adventure, Citizenship, Cultural Influence, Entrepreneurship, Heritage, Movers, Open for Business, Power, and Quality of Life.

Ranking at 48th overall, Morocco showed especially strong performances in the Movers sub-category, which identifies “up-and-coming economies,” coming in at 14th; the Heritage sub-category, which identifies those countries “most readily associated with a unique identity,” ranking 16th; and the Adventure sub-category, signaling destinations most likely “to fulfill your wanderlust,” ranking 24th.

Of the remaining nine sub-categories, Morocco also placed in the top 50 in the categories of Open for Business (“market-oriented” countries that are “a haven for capitalists and corporations”), ranking 40th; and Cultural Influence (countries that serve as “cutting-edge centers of art, entertainment and fashion”), ranking 41st.

The report, now in its second year, used other combinations of survey responses to identify additional “Best Of” lists wherein Morocco also figured prominently but that were not accounted for in the overall rankings. Morocco ranked 39th among Best Countries to Travel Alone; 41st in Best Countries for a Comfortable Retirement; 43rd in Most Forward-Looking Countries; and 48th in Most Transparent.

In many categories, Morocco emerged as a leader in Africa and the Middle East. Morocco was number one in the Open for Business and Best Countries for a Comfortable Retirement categories among African and Middle Eastern countries; number one in North Africa for Forward-Looking Countries; and second in Africa in the Movers category.

“Morocco’s overall success and its exemplary performance in business and cultural sub-categories are a testament to the country’s strengths and vision for itself as a diverse, modern, and innovative world leader,” said former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel.

The US News & World Report findings echo the results of many other industry indices over the years. Earlier this year, Morocco was again named among the 50 most innovative economies in the world and one of just two such economies in Africa by the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index. In September last year, the World Bank’s 2017 “Doing Business” report ranked Morocco 68 out of 190 countries in ease of doing business, making it number one in North Africa and fourth overall in the greater Middle East/North Africa region. Meanwhile, Marrakesh, Morocco was named the most popular travel destination in the world by TripAdvisor last year; and the World Tourism Organization’s 2016 Tourism Highlights report cited Morocco as the top tourist destination in Africa.

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 Contact: Jordana Merran, 202.470.2049

The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials, and interested publics in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East.

This material is distributed by the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

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Categories: The moroccan press

Western Sahara: Who Should Be Watching? Why Not Us? – Robert M. Holley

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 20:54

MINURSO Monitors Ceasefire in Western Sahara. Photo: UN

Robert M. Holley
March 9, 2017

Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Adviser, MACP

Where tensions are running high and opposing armed forces are facing off with one another, separated by only a couple of hundred meters, the risk of an accident with unpredictable and potentially terrible consequences also runs equally high.

Such has been the case for the last several months in Western Sahara, where, until very recently, substantial deployments of the armed forces of Morocco and the Polisario Front nervously eyed one another across only a couple of hundred meters of no man’s land.

Despite many years of the Polisario’s bombastic threats of a return to war, no one seriously believes that Algeria would green-light its Polisario client to pull the trigger on a new war with Morocco.

Nevertheless, when excitable soldiers are facing off with live ammunition in their weapons, the risk of an accident is a dangerous possibility.  And once someone fires that first round, you never really know what happens next. If you doubt that, just review the consequences of that first single shot fired in Sarajevo, Concord or Fort Sumpter to refresh your memory of just how quickly things can get totally out of hand.

Fortunately, after a phone call from King Mohamad VI to the new UN Secretary General, Morocco did the responsible thing and withdrew its forces from the area. The Polisario, however, remains in place, locked and loaded and refusing to budge, despite the repeated urgings of the international community to withdraw its forces and reduce the tensions in this volatile dispute.

This four-decade-old problem has been ripe for resolution since the United States changed its policy in early 1999 and called for a mutually acceptable political solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Most of the international community followed suit, and the UN Security Council has since repeatedly urged a fundamental political compromise. The United States has repeatedly called Morocco’s compromise plan to offer the region a generous autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty serious, credible and realistic. Indeed, in a letter to King Mohamad VI, former President George W. Bush made clear that he viewed Morocco’s initiative as the only viable solution and reiterated longstanding US policy to support such an outcome.

That policy has not changed, despite vigorous efforts to resist its implementation in the bowels of the State Department and from former senior members of the National Security Council during the last four years of the Obama Administration.

Much has changed on the ground in the Moroccan Sahara over the last 15 years to lay the groundwork for granting the local population both a better quality of life and preparation for the autonomy that Morocco has offered under a negotiated political solution. The US Congress has applauded those efforts and, through bipartisan legislation, has obliged a reluctant State Department to provide material assistance to support Morocco’s efforts in the Sahara.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are almost impossibly difficult to credit, or even understand, the State Department continues to refuse permission for the US Ambassador in Morocco to visit the region to see, listen and report on those developments from a personal perspective.  It’s as though the State Department simply doesn’t care to have the personal views of the President’s own personal representative. This makes no sense at all.

The US Ambassador in Algiers has recently visited the Polisario enclaves in southern Algeria and presumably provides her personal views on the local circumstances in her reports back to Washington.  This despite the fact that the United States does not recognize the Polisario’s fictional Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or its claim to Western Sahara.

Washington should also have the views of its most senior diplomat in Morocco on developments on the other side of the military berm separating Moroccan and Polisario armed forces.

It is absurd that the State Department continues to hide behind some bogus argument that allowing the US Ambassador to visit Moroccan Sahara might signal US recognition of their claim to the territory, when our Ambassador in Algeria meets directly with the senior-most “officials” of a fictive state that we most certainly do not recognize.

Tensions in the region are growing. Military forces from both sides have recently faced off. One side, the Polisario, continues to threaten war and remains deployed for it. The President and senior US policy makers deserve the views and counsel of the US Ambassador in Morocco. It’s time to bring this charade to an end.  Hopefully, new leadership at State will do just that.

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Categories: The moroccan press

Business Brief: Innovation on the Uptick on Morocco; South African Investor Looking to Add Morocco to Portfolio; Islamic Finance Moves a Step Closer; Tangier Grabs Headlines for Place to do Business and Have Fun – Jean R. AbiNader

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 15:28

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
March 9, 2017

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Recent figures released by the government of Morocco show increases across the board in new business start-ups, patent and trademark applications, and other signs of a maturing private sector, while Islamic finance readies final steps for debut later this year. A major US investment fund announced plans to spread its activities in Africa, while the wonders of Tangier were given a thumbs-up by a major business magazine.

Statistics Indicate Morocco Moving Ahead in New Business Development. The Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC), responsible for foreign and domestic licensing companies, patents, trademarks, and legal registrations, recently provided statistics for 2016..

Moroccan companies continued to grow in all categories. A record 12,800+ trademark applications were submitted, 56% of them from Moroccan companies. This is important to the country’s international business rankings, as it illustrates the growing business capabilities of domestic companies, maturity of relevant regulations, and the impact on the market. For example, Morocco is now ranked 42nd worldwide in the 2016 edition of industrial property indicators.

Another area of growth is renewal of trademarks, which is an indicator of the longevity of local firms. The rate was 30% for 2016. And almost 60% of the industrial designs submitted were Moroccan, which makes Morocco 22nd internationally.

Similar strength was shown in a 21% increase in patents, of which 20% were of Moroccan origin. Having a growing number of patents is one of the most important indicators of local innovation that has staying power rather than relying largely on foreign sources. If Morocco is to continue to expand its manufacturing and services capabilities, a strong intellectual property regime is a must, and these statistics clearly illustrate that Morocco is on the right track – upwards!

Major South African Investor Looking at Morocco. Looks like a firm from the number one investor in Africa is looking to invest in the number two! Alexander Forbes recently announced its interest in looking for acquisitions on the continent, and Morocco is one of its priorities. The company is looking to invest in small existing companies that give them ready-to-go projects and businesses. As a diversified financial services company, Alexander Forbes has a keen interest in companies that are pension fund administrators, as well as smaller financial services companies that serve large corporate entities.

Islamic Finance on Course for 2016 Launch. The central bank of Morocco has approved the use of five types of Islamic banking transactions, according to a story in Arab News, and also a central board of Islamic scholars to oversee the sector. Any category of Islamic transaction must gain preliminary approval from the board.   The five types of transactions are
Murabaha (joint ventures), Musharaka (partnership between investor and agent), Ijara (leasing), Mudaraba (financing acquisitions) and Salam (advanced payments). The central bank also set regulations for conventional banks to open windows selling Islamic products.

The initial regulations establish conditions and frameworks for banks to manage deposits, funds and investments under Shariah principles, which ban interest and pure monetary speculation. Morocco’s government plans to issue its first Islamic bond in the domestic market in the first half of 2017; experts said that would stimulate business in the sector. Still awaiting approval from the Parliament is a bill regulating Islamic insurance.

Tangier – More than a Pretty Face. No longer the refuge of hippies, Beat poets, and European bohemians, Tangier – with the development of TangerMed Port, the revival of the old medina, and tourism promotionhas emerged, particularly with the support of King Mohammed VI, to reclaim its role as an attractive entrepôt bridging two continents and myriad cultures.

Tangier’s renaissance began with reviving its role as an international center for trade. TangerMed Port is now the largest shipping port in Africa, with a capacity to process more than 8 million TEUs a year. It is drawing business from its competitors around the Mediterranean basin, especially Algerciras, which has not been able to keep up with the state-of-the art facilities available across the straits. Despite Algeria’s commitment to build a deep water port, it will be years before it matches the productivity and efficiency that make TangerMed Port attractive to companies.

On the tourism front, Tangier continues to build its visitor base by more than 5% annually, despite the downturn in the region due to security fears emanating from attacks in Tunisia and Algeria. The addition of a high-speed TGV train next year will likely double traffic between Tangier and Casablanca. Continued improvements in infrastructure throughout the north, easy access by ferry to Spain, the draw of the old medina, and the increasingly attractive regional tourism destinations are several of the reasons why some are saying that the northwest of Morocco could rival more traditional tourism spots such as Marrakech and Fez.

Among the star performers in the regional economy, largely based in Tangier, are the automotive and aerospace industries, which, according to the Oxford Business Group (OBG) are accelerating their large-scale development. The signing of an MoU with Boeing to develop an industrial park focused solely on the aeronautics sector should create close to 9000 direct skilled jobs while generating $1B in exports. There are currently 120 companies in the sector.

Like aerospace, the country’s automotive industry has surged in recent years, reaching record export levels for the third straight year in 2016, with the 316,712 units shipped abroad representing a 22.4% year-on-year rise, the OBG underlined.

The post Business Brief: Innovation on the Uptick on Morocco; South African Investor Looking to Add Morocco to Portfolio; Islamic Finance Moves a Step Closer; Tangier Grabs Headlines for Place to do Business and Have Fun – Jean R. AbiNader appeared first on Morocco On The Move.

Categories: The moroccan press

News Brief: Polisario Fuels Standoff in the Sahara – Jordana Merran

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 22:19

By Jordana Merran
March 8, 2017

Since last summer, Moroccan troops and Polisario fighters have stood “within 200 meters (yards) of each other in a narrow strip of land near the Mauritanian border.”

On Sunday, February 26, days after a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Morocco announced “‘a unilateral withdrawal from the zone’ in conformation with the UN Secretary General’s recommendations,” as reported by Reuters.

The same day, the US Embassy in Rabat tweeted, “We welcome Morocco’s decision to withdraw personnel from the buffer zone in the region of Guerguerate in support of SecGen’s request.”

Over the weekend, Special Representative for the Sahara and Head of MINURSO Kim Bolduc, accompanied by MINURSO Force Commander Wang Xiaojun, met with Polisario officials in Tindouf urging them to withdraw from the area. However, they refused.

According to The Arab Weekly, “Polisario Front fighters re­main in the buffer zone of the Guerguerat region, in­timidating Moroccan truck drivers despite the United Nations’ call for unconditional withdrawal.”

We are following the situation closely.

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Categories: The moroccan press

On International Women’s Day, a Reflection on the Past Year in Morocco – Caitlin Dearing Scott

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 16:06

Caitlin Dearing Scott
March 8, 2017

Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Programs, and Policy, MAC

International Women’s Day – observed every March 8 – is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of women and the successes of the fight for gender equality while reflecting on the challenges that remain. In Morocco, the last year certainly brought some progress worth mentioning, as well as some reminders about the need for continued advancement.

Most notably, the percentage of women in Parliament increased from 17% to 21% after the 2016 legislative elections. Women now hold 81 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives (Lower House) – 71 of them thanks to a quota system introduced in 2011 that encourages women’s representation. The other 10 were elected through the general election process, and though that number is still small, the fact that political parties are putting more women on the top of their lists augurs well for future progress.

And last year’s newly nominated Ambassador class made the country a leader in the Arab and Muslim world for the representation of women in diplomacy:  13 of the 65 new Ambassadors named were women, “a strong signal that reflects the importance of Moroccan women in diplomacy,” as noted by the Maghreb Arab Presse. Among them are Morocco’s Ambassadors to the United States (the country’s first female Ambassador to Washington), Tunisia, Panama, Angola, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Macedonia, Colombia and Ecuador, Hungary, Norway and Iceland, Denmark and Lithuania, Chile, and Sweden and Latvia.

This progress is not limited to the political realm – women continue to excel in Morocco’s boardrooms, too. According to a newly released ranking from Jeune Afrique, 13 businesswomen from Morocco ranked among the top 50 most influential businesswomen in francophone Africa, with eight of them placing in the top 10.

Despite the presence of high-profile women business leaders, Morocco nevertheless continues to face challenges with women in the workforce. A recent International Monetary Fund study on the implications of gender equality for growth found that the country is missing out on significant growth because of the limited role of women in the labor force. With women’s participation at just 25% — a rate that has declined over the past decade due to falling participation for women over 25 — Morocco lags behind other countries at a similar income level. And this is happening in spite of significant improvements in closing the gender gaps in education and literacy. While the report praises Morocco’s efforts to boost women’s participation in the economy through measures such as gender budgeting and a progressive maternity leave policy, it calls for more to be done to integrate women in order to improve the country’s growth. Policy recommendations include lifting legal restrictions on inheritance, investing in public childcare facilities to make it easier for women to work outside the home, and removing gender-discriminatory tax practices.

Other challenges, such as gaps between existing legislation and implementation and continued cultural conservativism also remain; there has been little progress on those issues over the past year because they require a more long-term approach. The latest debate is over the need for improved legislation on domestic violence. Women’s groups and the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) have advocated for sweeping changes in both law and practice to address this issue. As a result, there is a draft law before the upper chamber of Parliament that increases penalties for existing criminal offenses and provides guidelines for protecting victims of violence. But many in the advocacy community believe that it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the needs of Moroccan women, as it does not criminalize marital rape or provide guidelines to police, judges, and lawyers in prosecuting offenders. And though the law was put forth in March and adopted by the lower chamber in July, there has been little movement on it since, highlighting challenges in both the content and the legal process.

This reality of successes achieved and obstacles remaining is all the more reason to join women in Morocco – and the rest of the world – in celebrating today and committing to the achievement of full gender equality.

For more on the topic, please see our issue brief.

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Categories: The moroccan press

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