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Updated: 2 hours 9 min ago

Morocco Says Forces To Withdraw In Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Standoff

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 18:52

Reuters
by Samia Errazzouki

RABAT Morocco on Sunday announced the withdrawal of its forces from a U.N. buffer zone in the disputed Western Sahara territory, where for months they had been in a standoff with troops from the Polisario independence movement.

The move took place days after a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and will reduce military tensions in Guerguerat, a remote area in Western Sahara near Mauritania.

The military moves last year were one of the most tense in recent years between Morocco and Polisario, which declared an independent republic in the disputed desert land in the 1970s and fought a guerrilla war with Morocco until a 1991 ceasefire.

The standoff in Guerguerat began last year when U.N. troops stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces.

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday, that King Mohammed had ordered “a unilateral withdrawal from the zone” in conformation with the U.N. Secretary General’s recommendations.

Polisario forces were not immediately available for a response.

The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General had released a statement on Saturday calling on all parties to “unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the Buffer Strip as soon as possible”.

Polisario accused Rabat of breaking the terms of the ceasefire last year by trying to build a road in the U.N. buffer zone. Morocco says it was just a clearing operation that broke no terms of the ceasefire.

U.N. peacekeepers had been stationed between Moroccan forces and a brigade of Polisario troops who were just 200 meters apart in an area between a Moroccan-built earth wall marking Moroccan controlled territory and the Mauritania frontier.

(Reporting by Samia Errazzouki; editing by Patrick Markey)

Moody’s: Morocco’s Ba1 Rating Changed To Positive From Stable

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 00:00

CPI FINANCIAL
by Jessica Combes

Moody’s Investors Service has changed the outlook on the Government of Morocco’s rating to positive from stable and affirmed the issuer and senior unsecured ratings at Ba1.

The key drivers of the rating action are:

(1) Improving external position reflected in the build-up of foreign exchange reserves in the wake of dynamic new export industries and lower nominal oil imports;
(2) Declining fiscal imbalances, reflecting gradual but steady fiscal consolidation, supported by fuel subsidy and public pension reforms, which in turn increase the prospect of a gradual reduction in public-sector indebtedness.

Moody’s decision to affirm Morocco’s Ba1 rating balances an institutional environment, which is supportive of structural reforms, as illustrated by the country’s industrialisation and renewable energy strategy, against low wealth levels, a volatile and subdued growth pattern, and a comparatively high public debt stock relative to similarly rated peers. The Ba1 rating also captures Moody’s political risk assessment, which is based on the delays in the formation of a new government following the elections in October last year, in addition to potential regional tensions related to the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Morocco’s foreign- and local-currency ceilings remain unchanged, namely the long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling at Baa2, the long-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling at Ba2, and the long-term local-currency bond and deposit ceilings at Baa1. The short-term foreign-currency bank deposit ceiling remains unchanged at NP, and the short-term foreign-currency bond ceiling at P-2.

Ratings rationale

First driver: dynamic new export industries and lower nominal oil imports gradually improving the country’s external position

The first driver for Moody’s decision to change Morocco’s rating outlook to positive is the country’s improving external position in the wake of lower nominal oil imports and resilient export sectors, resulting in the build-up of a foreign-exchange buffer amounting to around 7 months of import cover at the end of 2016, up from 4.1 months at year-end 2012. As one of the most energy-import-dependent countries among Moody’s-rated MENA sovereigns, Morocco is one of the main beneficiaries of the lower-for-longer oil price environment, which supports the preservation of the buffer over the forecast horizon. The forex buffer also represents a necessary precondition for the central bank’s announced strategy to gradually move towards a flexible exchange rate system starting in the second half of 2017.

Morocco’s export performance is supported by the diversification into higher value-added automotive, aeronautics and electronics sectors, which have together overtaken the more traditional exports in the phosphate, agriculture or textile sectors, and which continued to expand at double-digit rates in 2016. Moody’s expects the country’s export performance in these new sectors to remain dynamic in response to their increased integration in the global production chain.

The country’s current account deficit has improved to an estimated 3.8 per cent of GDP at the end of 2016 from a deficit of 9.5 per cent in 2012. Moody’s expects the current account deficit to remain around the 4 per cent of GDP level over the forecast horizon, with oil prices projected to remain in the $40-$60 range. Morocco’s relative political stability has also bolstered foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, which are mainly geared towards the real estate and the industrial sectors, and which balance nascent FDI outflows toward Sub Saharan Africa in support of Morocco’s regional trade diversification strategy. If sustained at current levels, Moody’s expects that net FDI inflows will remain an important source of funding for the country’s current account deficit, therefore limiting the build-up of external debt.

Second driver: institutional reforms likely to support gradual but steady fiscal consolidation
The second driver behind Moody’s decision to change Morocco’s rating outlook to positive is the country’s improving fiscal performance, reflecting a gradual but steady pace of fiscal consolidation, which is in turn supported by institutional improvements that are likely to reduce implementation risks in the future. The fiscal deficit has declined steadily to four per cent of GDP at the end of 2016 from 7.3 per cent in 2012, driven mainly by the reduction in the energy subsidy bill to about 1.2 per cent of GDP from 6.5 per cent in 2012. While the slump in oil prices played an important role, the complete elimination of fuel subsidies and the introduction of an automatic pricing formula in late 2015 shields the deficit from expanding again with increasing oil prices. Looking ahead, Moody’s believes that Morocco’s fiscal deficit is likely to continue to contract. Provided there are no major setbacks, the continued shrinking of the fiscal deficit raises the prospect for the central government’s debt-to-GDP ratio to begin trending downward as of this year and gradually move towards the 2020 60 per cent target envisaged by the government.

Similarly, the parametric public-sector pension reform, which the Moroccan government enacted before the October 2016 elections, has improved the financial sustainability of the public-sector pension fund, thereby reducing pressures on the budget over the medium term. Other reform initiatives, which have been undertaken with the technical cooperation of the IMF under three consecutive Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL) programmes since 2012, include the almost complete implementation of the organic budget law, the continued fiscal decentralisation under the Advanced Regionalization programme, in addition to tax reform with the objective of broadening the tax base, reducing exemptions and improving the business environment.

Rationale for affirming Morocco’s rating at Ba1

Moody’s affirmation of Morocco’s Ba1 government bond rating takes into account the continued progress in the country’s industrialisation strategy, which aims to increase the manufacturing share to 23 per cent of GDP by 2020 from 16 per cent currently, deepen its focus on renewable energy to reduce its energy import dependence, and expand the country’s geographical trade diversification into Sub Saharan Africa.

At the same time, Morocco’s rating reflects persistent structural constraints, combining low wealth levels with relatively subdued and volatile growth dynamics in comparison to peers because the county’s agriculture sector continues to contribute a significant 13 per cent of GDP as well as 40 per cent of the labour force. The Ba1 rating also takes into account the comparatively high central government debt ratio of an estimated 64.8 per cent of GDP in 2016, although the low foreign-currency share of the overall debt stock, and access to a large domestic funding base represent mitigating factors. As the main driver of event risk, the Moroccan banking sector’s foray into Sub Saharan Africa represents both an opportunity to diversify and to expand its market share, as well as a challenge in terms of cross-border supervision and risk management.

The Ba1 rating affirmation also captures Moody’s political risk assessment of Morocco, which takes account of delays in the formation of the new government following the elections in October last year, in addition to the potential for regional tensions related to the disputed Western Sahara territory.

What could change the rating up/down?

Upward rating pressure would arise from increased evidence that the country’s budgetary performance will be sufficiently robust in the coming years to firmly position the central government debt ratio on a downward trajectory, combined with a stabilisation of debt guarantees from state-owned enterprises. A resolution of the political stalemate that would secure the maintenance of fiscal discipline and the reform momentum – including the stated objective of easing the current currency peg in the second half of 2017 with the aim to moving to an inflation-targeting regime and easing capital controls over the medium term — would also be credit supportive.

If the Moroccan government proved unable to control the deficit, the debt burden and debt guarantees this would increasingly limit Morocco’s fiscal space and weigh on the country’s credit profile over the medium term.

A continued political stalemate or increased tensions with the Western Sahara territory would also be credit negative, as would an unforeseen deterioration in the external accounts due to a sharp and sustained spike in oil prices or as a result of the gradual transition to a flexible exchange rate system.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, $): 8,180 (2015 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth ( per cent change): 4.5 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)
Inflation Rate (CPI, per cent change Dec/Dec): 0.6 per cent (2015 Actual)
Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -4.4 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)
Current Account Balance/GDP: -2.1 per cent (2015 Actual) (also known as External Balance)
External debt/GDP: 42.7 per cent (2015 Actual)

Level of economic development: Moderate level of economic resilience

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1986.
On 21 February 2017, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Government of Morocco. Other views raised included: the issuer’s economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed; the issuer’s institutional strength/framework, have increased; the issuer’s fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially changed; the issuer’s overall susceptibility to event risk has not materially changed.

BRIEF-Moody’s Changes Outlook On Government Of Morocco’s Ba1 Rating To Positive From Stable

Sat, 02/25/2017 - 10:13

Reuters
Moody’s on Morocco

* Moody’s changes outlook on Government of Morocco’s Ba1 rating to positive from stable; ratings affirmed

* Moody’s says Morocco’s foreign and local currency ceilings remain unchanged

* Moody’s on Morocco says decision to change rating outlook is improving external position in wake of lower nominal oil imports, resilient export sectors Source text for Eikon: Further company coverage: [Moody’s on Morocco]

Morocco Urges UN To End Polisario ‘Provocation’

Sat, 02/25/2017 - 02:26

Daily Mail
by Afp

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI spoke with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deplore “repeated incursion by armed Polisario men” in the Guerguerat district.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday asked the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front threatening the ceasefire in the disputed Western Sahara.

Top Wheat Buyers Grow More Of Their Own To Swell Global Glut

Sat, 02/25/2017 - 00:08

Bloomberg
by Manisha Jha

North Africa farms recover from drought to boost output by 25%

While still dependent on imports, region will be buying less

As if the global wheat surplus couldn’t get much worse, some of the biggest buyers may not need as much. That could swell stockpiles already expected to be the biggest ever.

Countries in North Africa like Egypt and Algeria — all dependent on foreign wheat to help keep their populations fed — probably will harvest 25 percent more on their own farms this year if the weather is as favorable as expected, the International Grains Council estimates. That means imports from the region could drop from a record high to a three-year low, according to Chicago-based researcher AgResource Co.

While global demand for wheat has never been bigger, output has risen even faster, and prices have plunged for four straight years. After droughts in North Africa hurt domestic crops last year, rain and mild temperatures will aid grain development this season, according to a report last month from the EU’s Monitoring Agricultural Resources unit. And the region’s weaker currencies against the dollar may further erode imports.

“If you want to be bullish on wheat, it can’t be based on demand or trade,” said Dan Basse, president of AgResource. “World wheat trade is stagnant, and if we have crops that are bigger in North Africa, it makes the expansion of trade by producing countries more difficult.” Prices will need to drop further to spur demand, he said.

Subsidized Bread

Egypt, which provides subsidized bread for its citizens, is the world’s top importer of wheat to supplement domestic production, and Algeria is the third-largest buyer. While food insecurity is significantly worse in drought-ravaged southern Africa, the five countries in North Africa still include millions who are undernourished, according to the United Nations.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates yield prospects in North Africa are “good to excellent,” based on weather forecasts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a Feb. 21 report, said wet weather has left favorable conditions in Morocco as well as in Algeria and Tunisia.

AgResource estimates the improved yields from better weather will boost output in the 2017-18 season to 19.6 million metric tons, up 39 percent from last year’s drought-damaged harvests. That would cut imports in the period to 27.6 million tons from an all-time high of 28.1 million a year earlier, the researcher said.

Big Improvement

In Morocco, where a drought last year cut the harvest by 71 percent and sent imports surging 64 percent, farmer Abdessamad Raiss says conditions are the best he’s seen in more than a decade.

“We’ve had plenty of rainfall this year,” said Raiss, who farms 30 hectares (74 acres) of soft wheat in Khmisset, about 50 miles northeast of the capital, Rabat. “Last year, I missed so many loan installments on my truck, but I’ve already made plans with my banker to pay back the loan in full by June.”

Wheat crops in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia rely mostly on rain, though Egypt’s farms are mostly irrigated.

“We had two years of relatively high imports in North Africa, and the situation should be different in the coming season,” said Amy Reynolds, a senior economist at the International Grains Council in London. “All these countries suffer from tight foreign reserves, so anything that cuts back on expenditure on imports is a big boon for them.”

Even in good harvest years, North Africa is still dependent on foreign grain. On average, more than 40 percent of the total cereal demand in Egypt and Morocco comes from imports, according to the FAO. In Tunisia and Algeria, it’s more than 60 percent, while Libya’s reliance on foreign supply is even greater.

The five nations in North Africa will import a record 28.6 million tons in the year that ends May 30, up for a fourth straight year and 30 percent higher since 2013, according to the USDA. Over that same period, domestic production is down 26 percent and consumption has increased 9.2 percent to a record 44.7 million tons, the data show.

“Imports will still be significant, and the impact on economic pressure within the countries depends not only on the input requirement, but also on the prices on the world markets,” Monika Tothova, an FAO economist, said in an e-mail.

Most importers have benefited as rising global output overwhelmed demand in recent years. Stockpiles will reach a record 236 million tons this season, according to a Grains Council report on Feb. 23. Wheat futures in Chicago have tumbled by more than half from a high of $9.47 1/4 a bushel in 2012 to a low in August of $3.86 3/4. Prices are up about 11 percent this year and were at $4.51 by 1:15 p.m. London time on Friday. That’s still below the average of $6.29 over the past decade.

While improving domestic supplies reduces the need for imports, purchases from some countries in North Africa also may be limited as their currencies weaken against the dollar, which reduced their buying power for grain purchases in the U.S. currency.

“From a trade perspective, it could mean less reduction of stocks from other countries, making it difficult to paint a bullish picture on wheat,” said Benjamin Bodart, a director at adviser CRM AgriCommodities in Newmarket, England.

Morocco Urges UN To End Polisario ‘Provocation’

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 23:42

Yahoo.com
AFP

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday asked the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front threatening the ceasefire in the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

Mohammed VI spoke on Friday with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deplore “repeated incursion by armed Polisario men” in the Guerguerat district, a royal court statement said.
The king said that Polisario “provocation” and “premeditated” action in the region took place a month before Morocco rejoined the African Union in January.

Morocco had quit the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the former Western Sahara as a separate member.

Mohammed VI urged Guterres to “take urgent and necessary measures to put an end to this inadmissable situation which is seriously threatening the (1991) ceasefire and placing regional stability at risk,” the statement said.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat district near the Mauritanian border, within a stone’s throw of Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last summer started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.

Sound Energy Making Rapid Progress With Latest Morocco Well

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 13:35

Proactive Investors

Work began Sunday and is likely to take 40-50 days to complete with drilling going down to a vertical depth of 2,975 metres.

Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) said that it had drilled down to the first casing point at its latest well on the Tendrara licence in Morocco.

TE-8 has so far been sunk to a depth of 461 metres and a 13-3/8 inch casing is being set in cement in the Upper Lias formation. The second casing point is at 2,070 metres.

Work began Sunday and is likely to take 40-50 days to complete with drilling going down to a vertical depth of 2,975 metres.

Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day side-track will be drilled to prove a potentially deeper gas contact 900 metres to the north-west, Sound said.

TE-8 will be around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.

Whatever comes in the next two months, the firm has already enjoyed considerable success at Tendrara.

Results from TE-7 were revealed on January 19 with the company telling investors that over a 56 day period of continuous flow the well has yielded just under 1bn cubic feet of gas.

That figure is made all the more impressive given that the gas flow was constrained in test conditions, at a maximum of 40% drawdown, in order to protect the integrity of the well completion to date.

No formation water was produced during testing – as the company had expected – and there were no indications of barriers.

As such Sound said that the result had confirmed a “significant connected volume” of gas is present at Tendrara, and it would now monitor pressure across past wells to confirm the physical connectivity of the reservoir.

Morocco, Zambia Pledge To Strengthen Cooperation

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:04

Xinhuanet china
Source: Xinhua

Morocco and Zambia have pledged to strengthen bilateral cooperation in various areas, local media reported on Thursday.

The two countries agreed on the need to establish a Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation to provide the necessary legal framework for enhancing bilateral economic and social cooperation, le360.ma news site reported, citing a joint statement issued following Morocco’s King Mohammed VI finished his four-day visit to Zambia on Wednesday.

The Moroccan king and Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu underscored the role of investment, both public and private, in promoting economic growth and development in various areas, according to the joint statement.

The two leaders held a fruitful one-on-one meeting, where they discussed issues of mutual interest on bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, the statement .

During the king’s visit, the two countries signed 19 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding covering areas including political consultations, air services, investment protection, finance, insurance, education, training, tourism, agriculture, technology, industry, mining and renewable energy. Enditem

The never-ending dispute : Western Sahara Edges Closer To Renewed Conflict

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 07:45

The Economist

Back in the spotlight, the fate of Western Sahara is no closer to resolution.

ACCORDING to the map sold in the gift shop at the airport in Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, the territory belongs solely to Morocco. But the airport itself contains signs that this is contested land. Planes bearing the UN’s marking sit on the runway, while its soldiers, sporting blue berets, roam the arrivals hall. They are there to keep the peace between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a nationalist movement that has fought for independence for more than 40 years.

Fears are growing of a return to armed conflict. Provocations by Morocco have infuriated Polisario, which has responded in kind. Since last summer the UN has stood between the two enemies, just 120 metres apart, in the remote area of Guerguerat. Diplomats worry that an itchy trigger finger could restart the 16-year war that the UN helped end in 1991. “The threat to peace and security is probably the worst we have seen since then,” says a UN official.

Hostilities between Morocco and Polisario began shortly after Spain, the colonial power, withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, when Morocco annexed the territory. A ceasefire agreement in 1991 promised a referendum on independence, but no vote was held. Morocco was thus left in control of two-thirds of the territory, including Laayoune, while Polisario runs the remaining part. They are separated by a 2,700km (1,700-mile) sand berm, built by the Moroccan army and sown with mines.

Morocco moved south of the berm last August, when it began paving a road in Guerguerat, ostensibly to combat smuggling (but probably also to facilitate trade). Its deployment of security forces with the construction crews was seen as a violation of the ceasefire agreement. In response, Polisario also began building new structures and positioning armed elements in the area. The secretary-general of Polisario, Brahim Ghali, paid a visit to the region in December, stoking the tension.

The standoff in Guerguerat is a symptom of much deeper problems. While Morocco’s portion of Western Sahara contains valuable phosphates, oil and fish stocks, the Polisario’s third provides little of value. Many Sahrawis continue to live in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria, which supports the cause of Western Sahara. “Refugees born and raised in exile are beating the drums for war,” writes Hannah Armstrong, an analyst.

Many Sahrawis also believe that the UN will not stand up to Morocco. The kingdom expelled some 70 UN workers last spring after Ban Ki-moon, then the UN’s secretary general, described Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara as an “occupation”. (It has since let some, but not all, back in.) Morocco spends large sums of money lobbying governments, and threatens those that are unsupportive. It dressed down America’s ambassador last year over a report that criticised its human-rights record. And it has reacted angrily to rulings by European courts that dismissed its claim to Western Sahara.

Some hope that Morocco’s readmission to the African Union (AU) on January 31st will help to resolve the dispute. The kingdom left the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after a majority of the member states recognised Polisario and granted it membership as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). By returning, Morocco is supposed to accept the AU’s protocols, which state that members’ borders (including those of the SADR) are inviolable.

Others, though, believe Morocco will instead work from within the organisation to undermine the AU’s support for Polisario. Indeed, Nasser Bourita, Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, has said as much. “Not only does Morocco not recognise—and will never recognise—this so-called entity,” Mr Bourita told Le Desk, a website, referring to SADR. “It will redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognise it, change their positions.”

Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara were rejected by the International Court of Justice in 1975, but most Moroccans still feel that it is part of their country and that autonomy is a fair solution—or, at least, will be when Morocco fully embraces democracy. Most Sahrawis, though, are holding out for the referendum that was promised. The alternative, some now say, is not autonomy, but a return to war.

Allianz Launches Operations In Morocco

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 07:36

Insurance Business
by Louie Bacani

Not too long after insurance giants RSA and Aon announced their expansion moves in Africa, another industry heavyweight has increased its presence on the continent. Major insurer Allianz has officially entered the Moroccan market with the launch of a new company.

Allianz Maroc began its operations on January 30, although it has been part of the German insurer since November following the acquisition of 98.9% of Zurich Assurances Maroc.

According to Allianz, its Moroccan business aims to double market share by 2021 and become the benchmark in the African country’s insurance market.

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Customer satisfaction will be the first priority for Allianz Maroc, which will orient its offerings around multiple customer segments to provide more targeted and personalised value propositions.

Allianz Maroc will focus on digital channels to communicate with customers in real time and quickly handle claims. It will also develop synergies with other Allianz entities, including Euler Hermes, to better serve business customers interested in expanding or exporting to other African markets. The company is also launching a communication campaign to boost its brand reputation.

“We are confident that we have all the means necessary to claim a greater position in the Moroccan insurance market and will continue to grow faster and in a sustainable way,” said Allianz Maroc CEO Dirk De Nil.

Allianz said Morocco is an important growth market in its strategy in Africa as the country has positioned itself as a hub for the continent.

“Our investment in Morocco shows that we believe in the growth potential of the Moroccan insurance market,” said Hicham Raissi, Head of Allianz’s business divisions for Africa, MENA and India.

“We will accompany our retail and business clients in Morocco and all over the world, while providing superior quality service,” Raissi added.

Morocco’s Film Industry Gets Mixed Reviews

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 16:51

US NEWS & World Reports
By Mackenzie Ritter | Contributor

Young extras get a brush with fame, but at what cost.

Strolling this town on the western edge of the Sahara Desert, you might hear a man relating a conversation he had with Brad Pitt. Or a 20-something talking about how he saw Tom Hanks on the street. Or a girl gushing about how beautiful Emilia Clarke is in person.

Ouarzazate may be far from Hollywood, which hosts the Oscars this weekend, but it is a well-established location for international film shoots. It already was a tourist center when Atlas Studios, one of Morocco’s biggest movie makers, brought film work here decades ago. Since then, the city has hosted productions such as “Gladiator,” “The Red Tent,” “Babel” and “Game of Thrones.”

[RELATED: Is the Tanger-Med port good for Morocco?]

With competition fierce, Morocco is poised to go after an even bigger piece of the pie. Parliament has approved a rebate on expenses of major film projects, which is expected to go into effect this year. Proponents say the rebate will create jobs. But it does nothing to reform a system in which film workers sometimes sign contracts they can’t read, or earn below minimum wage. Teachers and parents fret that the allure of film work – and the money it brings in – keeps too many kids out of school.

Amine Tazi, general manager of Atlas Studios and CLA Studios, says foreign production companies come to Ouarzazate for desert scenery and cheap human capital. The new rebate will return 20 percent of their expenditures in Morocco if they spend at least $1 million and 18 days in country. The policy is expected to go into effect after a new national government is formed.

Excitement has grown since December, when Richard Lance Smotkin, Comcast senior vice president of global government affairs, led a delegation of U.S. filmmakers to visit Moroccan facilities.

Craftsmen, technicians and extras in Ouarzazate have a long history of working on Moroccan and international films – and besides tourism, there’s not much else. A vast solar power project in the desert nearby doesn’t employ many local people.

“You can tell just from the people in the street, the way they start getting ready for the projects,” Tazi says. One major production can employ hundreds of extras. When word of a production starts to filter out, residents shave their heads if they want to appear more Egyptian, dye their beards to look like they’re from Afghanistan, or do whatever else will help land a role.

It can be exciting, and lucrative. Boubker Ait El Caid, now 24, rates getting a role in “Babel,” a film that starred Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, as the best experience of his life. Abdelaziz Bouyadnaine, who bears a resemblance to Osama bin Laden, has appeared in nearly 100 films in the past 30 years.

Hanks was here for “A Hologram for the King,” and Clarke for season three of “Game of Thrones.”

But there is a downside, too, and residents point to local casting companies that have taken over the role of finding the technicians and extras for foreign productions.

Bouyadnaine, 59, says job seekers occasionally sign contracts in English or French that they can’t read; even if they can read it, they rarely know what they’re signing.

In order to get a job, prospective workers present a copy of their Moroccan identification card, Bouyadnaine says. Employers place a form in front of them, stressing that company rules are non-negotiable. If one won’t sign, there are dozens more who will.

Extras are paid by the day – typically 200-300 Moroccan dirhams ($20-$30). But they may spend long hours on the set, occasionally resulting in pay below the minimum hourly wage of 13.46 dirhams.

The burden often falls on Ouarzazate’s children. “The cinema has become a family business, where parents make a living from their children,” Bouyadnaine says.

Unlike one of Morocco’s major competitors, South Africa, no child labor laws apply to the film industry. The U.S. Department of Labor credits Morocco with making modest progress in clamping down on child labor, and movies appear to be far from the worst offender. More attention is focused on farming, domestic work, traditional crafts and the sex trade.

All the same, one 20-year-old man says he was on a set seven days after he was born. Leaning against the wall of his home in the kasbah, he scrolls through photos on his phone of himself in rags, plates of armor and other costumes.

[READ: Why Morocco’s burqa ban is more than a security measure.]

“I worked like a donkey,” says Salah, who didn’t want to use his last name out of fear it would hurt his career. But his parents took the money.

Ait El Caid said that in order to film “Babel,” he left his village as a 12-year-old with a virtual stranger, and he didn’t see his family for months. “There was no schooling happening,” he says. “My goal was only concentrating on the scenes.”

He since scaled back his movie work to finish his studies.

Nadia Zedek used to send her daughter Fatima unaccompanied to the studios more than four miles away from home. The girl is now 11 and gets an occasional speaking line. At times, Fatima has to miss school. Sometimes production crews come directly to her school to pull her out.

Zedek says she realizes the sacrifices involved in allowing her daughter to go in front of the camera. Teachers get angry that she is not in school.

“They tell me she shouldn’t be working – she is a bright student, she should be here,” Zedek says.

But the draw of film – and the power of local casting companies – is powerful.

Salah, the young man in the kasbah, says most of his friends and neighbors rely on work as extras. Challenging the casting companies to improve conditions is too dangerous.

“If we want to talk about our rights, we will never get another job,” he says. “If I talk, I won’t work again.”

Sapha Bouamara contributed reporting.

Morocco Sets Up Friendship Group With China

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:45

Xinhuanet
Source: Xinhua

Morocco parliament launched on Tuesday a Moroccan-Chinese friendship group, aiming at promoting joint actions between legislative branches in the two countries.

The speaker of Morocco’s House of Representatives Habib El Malki announced the establishment of the group, saying that the movement would contribute to fostering bilateral cooperation between the two countries, according to an official statement.

El Malki met with Chinese Ambassador to Morocco Sun Shuzhong, and underscored parliamentary diplomacy in consolidating bilateral ties, which were cemented by the Moroccan king Mohammed VI’s visit to China in May 2016.

He also hailed China’s leadership in the world, calling for a tripartite partnership among Morocco, China and Africa to speed up development in the continent.

Algeria, Polisario Caught Short By Morocco On The African Chessboard

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 16:10

Sahara News
by Ali Haidar

Algerian rulers and the Polisario leaders are caught short by the diplomatic and economic offensive Morocco is staging on the African chessboard, at the initiative of King Mohammed VI.

After he consolidated the standing of his Kingdom in French-speaking Africa and after his country’s triumphant readmission within the African Union (AU), Mohammed VI adopted a very subtle approach of unprecedented rapprochement with English-speaking African countries.

Through this large-scale approach, the Moroccan sovereign seems determined to tackle the problem at its roots, since the pseudo Sahrawi republic “RASD” was created on African soil, in Algeria, and since it is in Africa that the Polisario has most of its supporters.

It is in this context that King Mohammed VI began on Sunday (Feb.19) an official visit to Zambia, which was preceded by similar visits to South Sudan and Ghana. Trips to at least three other African countries are on the King’s schedule.

It is worth mentioning that Ghana and Zambia, both from Anglophone Africa, have long shown hostility to Morocco’s sovereignty, but were among the 28 countries that signed a motion, addressed to the African Union President on 18 July 2016, calling for the suspension of SADR from the continental organization.

It is also worth recalling that the somewhat dubious relationships between the regimes of Algiers and Pretoria have for a long time transformed Anglophone Africa into a preserve of Algeria, that it used in its fierce diplomatic battle against its Moroccan neighbor over Western Sahara.

By ending the policy of the empty chair within the pan-African organization, Mohammed VI showed determination to cast a wide net in Africa, without excluding the few pro-Polisario countries.

No need to say that Morocco has generously extended its hand to African countries for a solidarity-based cooperation and a win-win partnership, while Algeria, with the hydrocarbon sector providing 90% of public revenues, has nothing to offer to the continent, now that it was brought to its knees by the collapse of oil & gas prices.

Morocco Tops New Survey On Quality Of African Urban Life

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 07:17

Yahoo.com
AFP

Marrakesh, nicknamed the Ochre City for the walls surrounding its old medina district, clinched the top ranking in the top 10 African cities for quality of life.

More

Paris (AFP) – Four Moroccan cities, led by Marrakesh, ranked among the top 10 African cities for quality of life in a new survey published Tuesday.

Marrakesh, nicknamed the Ochre City for the walls surrounding its old medina district, clinched the top ranking, with three other Moroccan cities — Casablanca, Rabat and Fez — in the top 10.

Sound Energy Well Will Test Lateral Extent Of Morocco Gas As Well As Tapping Deeper-Lying Formation

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 21:16

Proactive Investors
Ian Lyall

TE-8 will be around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.

Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) has begun drilling its latest well on the Tendrara licence in Morocco.

TE-8 will be around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.

It will also for the first time assess the potential of the deeper-lying Paleozoic formation.

WATCH: Analyst tells us why this latest well really could be a ‘significant’.

Work began Sunday and is likely to take 40-50 days to complete with drilling going down to a vertical depth of 2,975 metres.

Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day side-track will be drilled to prove a potentially deeper gas contact 900 metres to the north-west, Sound said.

Whatever comes in the next two months, the firm has already enjoyed considerable success at Tendrara.

Results from TE-7 were revealed on January 19 with the company telling investors that over a 56 day period of continuous flow the well has yielded just under 1bn cubic feet of gas.

That figure is made all the more impressive given that the gas flow was constrained in test conditions, at a maximum of 40% drawdown, in order to protect the integrity of the well completion to date.

No formation water was produced during testing – as the company had expected – and there were no indications of barriers.

As such Sound said that the result had confirmed a “significant connected volume” of gas is present at Tendrara, and it would now monitor pressure across past wells to confirm the physical connectivity of the reservoir.

These results will all be valuable as it advances field development planning.

Last month the company announced a non-binding agreement to acquire all of Oil & Gas Investment Fund’s (OGIF) assets in Eastern Morocco – that includes 20% Tendrara, 75% of the Meridja project and a 75% stake in acreage close to Tendrara.

In return the AIM-quoted company offers OGIF some 272mln new Sound Energy shares, notionally worth nearly £200mln based on Sound’s present market price. It will mean that OGIF – a fund owned by seven Moroccan financial institutions – will own around 29% of Sound Energy’s enlarged share capital.

Sound said Monday the outline deal had crystalised into a binding agreement.

At 1.45pm, the shares were changing hands for 90p each – off around 3% for the day.

Sam Wahab, of City broker Cantor Fiztgerald, said: “We believe that Sound has sufficiently grown its acreage position to become a material player in Mediterranean gas.

“The company is benefitting from attractive and robust pricing fundamentals which have served to boost project economics. With a number of event driven catalysts on the horizon, supported by a robust financial position, and a funded 2017 drilling campaign, we see Sound’s current share price as representing a compelling entry point for investors.”

—adds broker comment and share price—

Ian Lyall

Sound Energy Commences Drilling Of Third Tendrara Well In Morocco

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 06:39

World Oil

UK — Sound Energy, the African and European focused upstream gas company, is pleased to confirm the commencement of drilling at the third Tendrara well, onshore Morocco.

Following the recent success at the Company’s first two Tendrara wells (TE-6 and TE-7), the Company’s third well (TE-8) was spud on Feb. 19, 2017. The TE-8 well is a step out appraisal well some 12 km northeast of TE-7, with the objective of proving up significant additional volumes in the TAGI (Trias Argilo-Gréseux Inférieur) reservoir whilst also, for the first time, drilling deeper into the Paleozoic formation.

The drilling and logging of the TE-8 main wellbore to a true vertical depth (TVD) of approximately 2975 m is expected to take approximately 40 to 50 days. Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day sidetrack will be drilled to a TVD of approximately 2633 m to prove a potentially deeper gas contact approximately 900 m to the northwest.

The Company looks forward to updating shareholders on achievement of each of the three casing points (13 3/8-in. casing at 450 m TVD, 12 ¼-in. casing at 2,070 m TVD and 7-in. casing at 2,587 m TVD) in the main wellbore and achievement of total depth.

Chariot Oil & Gas Expands Footprint Offshore Morocco

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 14:19

proactiveinvestors
by: Jamie Ashcroft

“Chariot will develop the drilling inventory on these permits through seismic acquisition which capitalises on the current excellent seismic contract rates,” says chief executive Larry Bottomley.

Chariot Oil & Gas Limited (LON:COPL) has expanded its interests offshore Morocco, snapping up an area close to upcoming drilling activity.

The AIM quoted explorer already owns a 10% stake in the Rabat Deep project, where partner ENI plans to drill an exploration well in 2018.

Preparing for the chance to follow up any success at Rabat Deep the company has now secured a 75% interest of a new adjoining area, which was previously part of the Rabat Deep project.

It was awarded the interest in the Kenitra Offshore Exploration Permit by Morocco’s Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) which retains the other 25% of the project.

The untested Kenitra area also lies next to the Mohammedia Offshore Exploration Permits I-III, also 75% owned by Chariot, where seismic data gathered in 2014 shows exploration targets in shallow water (with resource potential up to 350mln barrels) as well as deeper prospects.

A new 3D seismic programme specifically assessing the Kenitra and Mohammedia areas is now planned, and will satisfy the minimum work commitments for the respective permits.

“This award allows us to capture the extension of the Lower Cretaceous play which spreads from Mohammedia into the Kenitra acreage,” said chief executive Larry Bottomley.

“With our focus on de-risking our assets, Chariot will develop the drilling inventory on these permits through seismic acquisition which capitalises on the current excellent seismic contract rates.

He added: “The RD-1 well scheduled to be drilled in early 2018 on Rabat Deep has the potential to further de-risk the hydrocarbon charge system in the Cretaceous play in Kenitra and Mohammedia which has prospectivity in excess of a billion barrels in which the Company holds 75% equity.”

Breathing In Morocco! Shanina Shaik Smokes Hookah And Visits Souk During Exotic High Fashion Shoot In Marrakesh

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 13:36

Daily Mail Australia
By Hannah Paine

In one photo shared to Instagram on Thursday, Shanina wears a leopard-print blouse and her hair in an elegant bun.

Exhaling smoke, the model poses with other women on a couch while holding a hookah pipe.

Gulfsands Secures Extension To Moulay Bouchta Agreement

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 22:07

Digital Look
Josh White Sharecast

Syria, Tunisia, Colombia and Morocco-focussed oil and gas company Gulfsands Petroleum announced on Wednesday that its subsidiary, Gulfsands Petroleum Morocco, had been awarded an extension to its Moulay Bouchta Petroleum Agreement, together with a revised work programme.

The AIM-traded firm had previously disclosed in its interim report that an agreement had been reached with Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines, subject to the usual government approvals and certain conditions precedent, to extend the duration of the initial phase of the exploration period at Moulay Bouchta from two years to three years.

On 8 November 2016, the group reported that all conditions precedent had been satisfied, and it was awaiting formal approval of the extension from the Moroccan authorities.

“The group confirms that all approvals have now been received, such that the extension has become effective,” Gulfsands’ board said on Wednesday.

As a result, the Initial Phase will now run to 19 June 2017, with a revised work programme for the extended Initial Phase consisting of the acquisition of 200 km 2D line seismic data, the reprocessing and interpretation of selected legacy 2D seismic data, and a legacy field study with the aim to identify any potential for re-activation.

“Consequently, the estimated cost of the work programme as specified in the amendment to the Petroleum Agreement has been reduced from $3.5m to $2.5m,” the board added.

Gulfsands Petroleum Morocco will immediately seek to begin the Environmental Impact Study in anticipation of commencing the seismic acquisition, it said.

The company was already in discussions with ONHYM to secure a further extension to allow additional time to complete the revised work programme.

“The work programme focusses on an oil prospective area identified to the east of the depleted Haricha oil field.

“Based on work performed to date, GPML has identified new lead concepts with gross recoverable prospective resources internally estimated at 149 mmbo,” the board explained.

“This estimate has not been subject to external audit.”

Gulfsands said it continued to be interested in identifying a farm-in partner for the Moulay Bouchta permit, with any parties interested invited to contact the group directly.

Morocco, GCC Eye Closer Economic, Trade Ties – Economics

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 13:14

KUNA

A Moroccan-GCC panel convened on Tuesday in Rabat and agreed on a number of measures to beef up economic and commercial cooperation.

The panel agreed a slew of measures and mechanisms to boost mutually-beneficial economic partnership, Moroccan Minister of State for Foreign Trade Mohammad bin Ayyad told KUNA on the sidelines of the first day of the third session of the panel.

The agreed upon measures relatives to removal of customs barriers, evasion of tax duplication and encouragement of mutual investments in industry, commerce, agriculture and services, he said.

He pointed out that the conferees have also discussed increasing trade exchange and cementing partnership between private and enterprise sectors in both sides.

For his part, head of Kuwait’s delegation to the meeting and director of economic negotiations department at Kuwait’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry Talal Al-Nemash told KUNA that the Moroccan and GCC officials have concurred on signing a memorandum of understanding for ameliorating commercial and industrial exchange.

They also mulled preparation for holding the fifth Moroccan-Gulf investment forum and coordination of stances of economic issues at the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Al-Nemash underscored the importance of the meeting in boosting economic partnership between Morocco and Gulf countries.

He noted that Kuwait is keen on expanding economic and commercial cooperation with Morocco.

Al-Nemash, however, urged Moroccan officials to remove barriers obstructing the smooth influx of Gulf investments into their country.

(end) mry.ibi

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