Morocco on the move
Business Brief: Public-Private Partnership Launched to Promote Moroccan Business Start-ups Abroad; Initiatives Announced to Boost Construction and IT Sectors – Jean R. AbiNader
Faced with an anemic growth rate in 2016 of around 1.6% due to an 8% drop in agricultural output because of drought, Morocco expands its efforts to diversity its economy and generate options for new business development that will mirror the success of the auto industry, which, for the third year in a row, leads all export sectors. In response to increased interest from the overseas Moroccan community, more concrete efforts are being made to benefit from its expertise and resources to support the domestic economy. These efforts and much more demonstrate Morocco’s commitment to generating the economic expansion needed for job and income growth.
Expat Moroccans and Women Push for Business Opportunities. One of the constant features of Moroccans living abroad is their interest in being more engaged in the Moroccan economy. In the past, this usually meant investing in family housing or supporting the education of family members. With the increased business sophistication of Moroccans abroad, there has been a constant clamor over the past decade for a more proactive role in the economy. That will be facilitated by a new agreement between the largest private sector business organization CGEM, and the Ministry in charge of the affairs of overseas Moroccans.
The agreement provides for setting up a virtual 13th region of CGEM, one that is specifically geared towards the integration of Moroccan Entrepreneurs of the World (MEM) into the Moroccan economy. The core project involves the creation of a cloud-based platform to enable Moroccans in country and abroad to exchange experiences, best practices, expertise, and access to government programs that support entrepreneurs.
According to Minster for Moroccans Abroad Anis Birrou who signed the agreement with Miriem Bensalah Chaqroun, CEO of CGEM, “Nearly 60% of Moroccan entrepreneurs of the world want to invest in Morocco to accompany the dynamics of the Moroccan economy which offers great opportunities.” He noted that there are an estimated five million overseas Moroccans, including some 300,000 businesses.
Ms. Chaqroun noted in announcing the agreement that “This public-private partnership is in line with King Mohammed VI’s vision to bring together the Kingdom’s forces in order to encourage the emergence of the country through the creation of employment and wealth and the strengthening of the experiences and expertise exchange between Moroccans residing abroad and Moroccan entrepreneurs operating in the Kingdom.”
AFEM, the premier women’s business organization in Morocco, will hold its second South Economic Women’s Initiative (SEWI) conference in early March as part of World Women’s Day. The theme is “Entrepreneurship Tomorrow, the Keys to Success,” focusing on critical skills and resources that enable women-owned companies to succeed. SEWI 2017 enables attendees who come from Morocco, Europe, and Africa, opportunities to engage entrepreneurs, network, and exchange ideas about their experiences.
AFEM supports and works with women from diverse communities and backgrounds, enabling, assisting, and inspiring them to set up their own projects and perform as entrepreneurs. In addition, it aims to encourage equitable leadership by reinforcing the role of women in diverse decision-making positions.
IBM, Big 5 Launch Initiatives. Recognizing the enormous growth potential in Africa, projected to have the world’s largest workforce by 2040, IBM has committed $70 million for digital skills training for 25 million young Africans in the next five years. Morocco is one of the five countries targeted. Dubbed “IBM Digital-Nation Africa,” the project will utilize a cloud-based platform with programs ranging from basic IT literacy to advanced IT skills, including social media, cybersecurity, and enhanced privacy. The e-learning platform will use IBM’s Watson, the company’s cognitive system. It will analyze users’ profiles to formulate individualized training models, even adapting the educational content of the program to suit each user.
The program includes training in business skills such as innovation, critical thinking, and entrepreneurship. By providing skills and business training, IBM hopes to raise overall digital literacy, increase the number of skilled developers with the ability to access high-level programming, and enable them to build businesses around new platforms. According to IBM, “In order to find solutions to Africa’s challenges, industries across the spectrum need to enable the existing and future workforce to perform at the forefront of technologies such as cognitive and cloud computing. This will be the key to spurring economic growth.”
The construction sector, which is projected to rise by a compounded annual rate of 4.7%, has drawn the attention of one of the world’s leading construction conferences, the Big 5, which will hold its Big 5 North Africa event in April at Casablanca’s Parc Des Expositions de l’Office des Changes. The sector is one of the most important in the country, employing some 1 million people. Big 5 will draw on its global network of more than 35,000 exhibitors to give visitors from Morocco and the region a look at the latest technology and methods from around the world.
According to Big 5 Portfolio Exhibitions Director Andy Pert, “The Big 5 Construct North Africa in Morocco will promote the long term growth opportunities, and development of the Moroccan construction industry, along with creating new export partnerships for local Moroccan companies. By sharing global best practices and innovative ideas, beyond providing networking, business and learning opportunities through our internationally recognized Continued Professional Development (CPD) workshops, we are confident The Big 5 will support the Moroccan economy catering to the needs of the local manufactures and construction professionals.”
The Big 5 is the largest, most influential and renowned portfolio of construction industry events spanning the Middle East, India, South East Asia, and Africa. In 2016, it connected over 35,600 exhibitors, 195,500 visitors, 1000 speakers and 20,000 conference and summit attendees.
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The Family Grows Bigger: Reactions to the African Union’s Historic Decision to Admit Morocco – Jordana Merran
By Jordana Merran
February 9, 2017
It’s been just over a week since an overwhelming majority of African Union (AU) member states (39 of 54) agreed to admit Morocco to the pan-African organization after a 33-year hiatus. The historic decision is a crowning achievement for Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who has made Africa a foreign policy priority during his reign. As he outlined in a speech to the AU the day after the news broke, Morocco’s African links “have remained strong and African sister nations have always been able to rely on us.” Indeed he cited his 46 visits to 25 African countries and noted that “since 2000, Morocco has signed nearly a thousand agreements with African countries, in various fields of cooperation”—almost twice as many as during the period between 1956 and 1999.
Not surprisingly, world leaders, institutions, and policy observers welcomed the widely-reported decision. Here’s a sampling of what’s been said:
- “OAU [the Organization for African Unity, predecessor to the AU] finds itself again” – Alpha Conde, President of Guinea and newly elected chairperson of the AU
- “Morocco will now be able to throw its political, military and economic clout, as well as its direct experience of terrorism, behind [AU] operations” – Terence McNamee and Greg Mills of the South Africa-based Brenthurst Foundation and J Peter Pham at the Washington-based Atlantic Council
- “Both the African Union and Morocco are key partners for the EU. We look forward to working with both the African Union and Morocco to consolidate the EU’s growing partnership with Africa.” - European External Action Service
- “If the family grows bigger, we can find solutions as a family,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall in a Voice of America report
- “As Morocco claims its place as a major player in Africa, I hope that Western powers grappling with the same issues can recognize the deeper significance of this latest development: that with cooperation and unity comes strength.” – Former US Ambassador to Morocco Edward M. Gabriel in The Hill
- “… the return of Morocco in the AU family would further enhance African voice and weight at the international level and would facilitate the resolution of critical challenges facing the continent” – Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen
- “With Morocco, the AU gains a well-connected—and deep-pocketed—member as it seeks to move away from international funding and become more self-reliant in the face of isolationist tendencies in the U.S. and Europe. Rabat, meanwhile, gets a seat at the table of an increasingly influential AU that is likely to open up investment opportunities across Africa.” – Wall Street Journal
- “Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU) is a welcome move that is likely to strengthen the unity of the bloc and possibly lead to more African involvement in regional disputes. It was high time that a country as big a player in Africa as Morocco reclaimed its rightful place in the union.” – Gulf News
While nine AU member countries were against Morocco’s return (and six countries abstained from the discussion) King Mohammed VI spoke candidly: “We know that we do not have unanimous backing from this prestigious assembly. Far be it from us to spark off a sterile debate! We have absolutely no intention of causing division, as some would like to insinuate!” With enthusiasm he countered, “You will see: as soon as the Kingdom becomes a member and is able to contribute to the agenda of activities, its action will, on the contrary, help bring about unity and progress. We participated in the creation of this beautiful pan-African edifice and we naturally look forward to regaining the place that is ours within it.”
Morocco’s role as a platform for business in Africa does not only benefit Western companies. The Gulf countries have been major investors in the country and are poised to expand their activities on the continent via Morocco. As Islamic banking is rolled out later this year and next with three Gulf partners, hoped-for investments from the Gulf become even more viable.
Saudi Arabia to Boost Business Ties with Morocco. Saudi Arabia and Morocco are looking to develop economic ties as strong as their political and security relations. ME Confidential reported on the recent meeting of the Morocco-Saudi Arabia Business Council and outlined its results. Among other agreements, the partners will hold two events in 2017, a business delegation from Saudi Arabia to Morocco in February, and a meeting of the two countries’ joint high commission in May. And they are working out the final details of the proposed joint public-private investment fund of some $500 million to support SME investments in both countries.
To support more efficient agricultural trade access, the Business Council has proposed a new direct maritime link that would enable Moroccan exports to compete more effectively with a fast and direct link to Saudi markets. Currently, trade is quite lopsided in an 8:1 ratio in favor of Saudi Arabia because of Morocco’s need to import energy and downstream products.
Another High-Profile Finance Conference Scheduled. Dawood Al Shezawi, CEO of the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) headquartered in the UAE, has indicated that his organization will hold its annual meeting in Marrakech October 29-31, 2017. The theme is The Future Investment Landscape of Africa: Sustainable Investment through Innovation and Partnership. The objective is to “direct international investments to the continent and other promising markets in Africa.” It will be the first time that AIM is being held outside of the UAE.
Prior to its being held in Morocco, the 7th Investment Meeting (AIM) is set to run from April 2-4, 2017, at the Dubai World Trade Center, under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the theme “International Investment, Path to Competitiveness and Development.”
Mr. Al Shezai said, “We are delighted with our new partnership and the signing of the agreement with Marrakech-Safi to host the Annual Investment Meeting for the first time outside the UAE. This reflects the prospering UAE–Morocco relations, especially at the economic level and direct investments. The agreement also demonstrates the great importance attached by international and UAE investors for the African market and their quest to expand investment there, which was evident over the past few years through numerous visits by delegations of the investment companies to a number of African countries.”
From the Moroccan side, the host is HE Ahmed Akhchichine, President of the Marrakech-Safi region, who commented “As the host destination for the Annual Investment Meeting, Marrakech-Safi believes this is a great opportunity for the Kingdom of Morocco to boost its presence on the map of international investment and diversify the aspects of direct investment into the country and other African countries. This will provide new avenues for the diversification of industries, which is already pursued by the major global investment companies, led by leading UAE companies.”
The UAE has had a very special relationship with Morocco in recent years, signing eight bilateral agreements, 11 trade protocols, and four cooperative agreements including the establishment of a joint free-zone and economic and trade cooperation in telecommunications and IT. The UAE was the first investor in the Casablanca Stock Exchange in 2014, with an investment of 55 billion Moroccan dirhams ($6 billion). The UAE is the fourth largest investor in Africa.
Islamic banking poised for strong start. Reuters reported on Morocco’s plans to reach out to international debt markets via its newly sanctioned Islamic banking sector to raise $1 billion in bond issues. Morocco has a $3 billion anticipated deficit in 2017, about 3% of GDP, and Islamic banking is providing an attractive option for raising funds. It is expected that this first-ever offering will see light in the first half of this year due to favorable market conditions.
OIC welcomes Morocco‘s rejoining the AU. Yousef bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, issued a statement soon after Morocco was voted into the AU last week. He said that the decision was in the best interests of both parties and would enable Morocco to play a constructive and vital role more broadly on the continent.
As the statement read, “During its absence from the AU, Morocco, thanks to its location, was the intersection of global markets and forged closer relations with countries of the continent through a strategy called South-South in Morocco. That strategy is based on promoting Africa’s self-reliance on its resources and capacities. The strategy also aims to consolidate Moroccan-African relations through initiatives in the religious, humanitarian and development fields. Morocco’s strategy, backed by a strong local banking sector as well as human development programmes, has enabled it to become the second biggest African investor on the continent behind South Africa.”
The OIC is composed of more than 50 Muslim-majority countries worldwide and serves as a forum for discussing common issues and projects at all levels – local, national, and regional.
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Business Brief: Morocco’s Success in Rejoining African Union Strengthens Commercial Role in Africa; and Rural Development in the Spotlight – Jean R. AbiNader
While rejoining the AU is big political news, a huge side benefit is the strengthened business presence of Morocco on the continent. Not only does this support King Mohammed VI’s economic diplomacy, it enables investors to feel reassured that they have the right platform for entering the African market. More details emerge on the Morocco-Nigeria pipeline project, and several new projects are launched in agriculture and technology.
New Chapter for AU with Morocco on Board. Most commentators noting the successful re-entry of Morocco as an AU member describe the many benefits of its membership, from its contributions to regional security to its decade-long economic policy of broadening commercial ties among African countries. Morocco is more than a “good neighbor.” It provides scholarships for African students, enables and supports agricultural and renewable energy projects, invests in housing, banking, and tourism projects, and participates in regional economic development efforts.
This consolidation of Morocco’s role has many implications for companies that want to invest in Africa, the fastest growing region in the world. From Casablanca Finance City – set up to provide a wide range of support services to firms targeting Africa – to its strong transportation and distribution networks, Morocco is a welcome, stable platform for business outreach to the continent.
Of increasing importance is Morocco’s role in promoting North-South as well as South-South commerce. In this role, Morocco is also a gateway for African countries to access markets in Europe and the West, which are linked to Morocco by preferential trade agreements. This and many more benefits make this latest achievement by Morocco “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” that will serve the interests of all parties and the people of Africa.
According to an article in Morocco World News, the good news from the AU is having an impact in Asia as well. The largest Muslim country – Indonesia – recently commented on the reunion. Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, spoke with Morocco’s Ambassador to her country and reiterated that it was natural for Morocco to return to the AU as it has played a significant role in the organization’s early consolidation and development. Indonesia sees Morocco as a natural gateway to expanding its business in Africa.
African Pipeline Project Gathering Steam. While the skeptics take aim at the project’s feasibility, Morocco and Nigeria – who have agreed to undertake the project after a similar Nigeria–Algeria pipeline never materialized – are moving ahead with the technical and diplomatic efforts to move it closer to reality. An article in Africa Outlook provided more details that emerged after further consultations between the countries took place. The two primary next steps are: bringing on board the West African countries that will most directly benefit from the project, and developing specific operational guidelines.
The concept is to extend Nigeria’s current gas pipeline beyond its current route through Benin, Togo, and Ghana, around the west coast of Africa to Morocco and eventually Europe. Analysts have pointed out that this is an uphill challenge in that it may involve as many as 13 countries when completed. Morocco and Nigeria, however, see it as an opportunity to forge greater regional economic cooperation and development, bringing low cost energy supplies to countries that require energy imports and lack affordable energy.
As the article in Africa Outlook explained, “In West Africa, the Trans-African Pipeline is designed to support the creation of industrial hubs that attract foreign investment. The project will therefore facilitate the expansion of sectors ranging from industry to food processing to fertilisers and improve the competitiveness of exports, particularly amongst African countries.”
When completed, the pipeline will run an estimate 2,500 miles along the west coast of Africa, reaching a potential population of 350 million Africans. The agreement between Morocco and Nigeria goes beyond the pipeline to include cooperation in mining, agriculture, education, and collaboration to meet the carbon emission goals of COP22. A priority goal of the project is to create new regional initiatives that will draw needed international investments to West Africa to accelerate its regional economic growth.
Rural Development Highlighted in CESE Study. In line with its mandate to undertake regional economic development studies throughout the country, the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) released its latest assessment of rural development in Morocco. The objective of the study, carried out by its committee on Advanced Regionalization and Rural and Territorial Development, was to formulate a national plan for advancing rural and mountain areas of Morocco, involving collaboration across sectors and stakeholders in the private and public sectors.
The vision is broad, projected out through 2050, and lays out the markers for comprehensive development in rural areas, towns, provinces, and regions. One of its main recommendations is to set up an administrative body specifically tasked with implementing the guidelines of the vision statement. The study’s text noted that “This body would be tasked with the following responsibilities: coordinating and integrating sector related measures, while strengthening decentralized governance and ensuring the integration of information systems and evaluation actions and the dynamics of rural development on a regional scale.”
On the economic front, it would look at the development profile within each area including occupations, human resources, demographic indicators, areas of potential economic development, and how these can be augmented, strengthened, and enhanced through the use of information and communication technologies.
According to the report, the CESE “Called for the implementation of gender equality in rural development policy and the implementation of positive measures for the empowerment of rural women. This approach would help eliminate structural and cultural obstacles. It would also eradicate discriminatory practices women experience in the family and in society, increase women’s participation in decision-making, access to land and material assets. The issues of marriage of minor rural girls, child labour and the exploitation of women in the workforce would also benefit.”
Despite Morocco’s success in bringing power to almost all of the country, there is still a lag in access to social services and infrastructure, including education, health, and family support services. The report also mentioned the need for better integration in the rural areas in support of cultural and sports activities as well as ensuring that development funds were spent through local organizations and in response to local needs.
The CESE had earlier done a similar landmark study on conditions in the Southern Provinces (Western Sahara) and proposed a comprehensive development strategy for that part of Morocco.
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The United States congratulates Morocco on its return, the State Department said, underlining that “HM King Mohammed VI’s strong leadership and the government of Morocco have returned the country to its rightful place in the institutional family of the African continent”.
“We believe Morocco’s membership in the African Union will positively contribute to the continent’s further economic, political, and social integration and to its stability and security”, the same source added.
An overwhelming majority of African countries on Monday voted in favor of Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU), during the 28th Summit of African Heads of State and Government, which is being held in Addis Ababa…[ORIGINAL STORY, SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED]
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