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Morocco Strengthens Ties with Gulf Countries – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
February 9, 2017

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

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

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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