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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

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
February 3, 2017

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

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

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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