Updated

Morocco’s Scorecards from IMF and World Bank Detail Growth Challenges – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
May 19, 2017

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

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

In 2016, Morocco was granted a third two-year Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL)—a provisionary line of credit from the IMF—which Morocco uses as an insurance instrument against external risks such as severe trade imbalances while supporting its efforts to promote higher and more inclusive growth. During its annual review conducted recently, Mitsuhiro Furasawa, IMF Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, said, “Morocco’s sound economic fundamentals and overall strong record of policy implementation have contributed to a solid macroeconomic performance in recent years. The external position remained strong in 2016, as international reserves further increased despite a higher-than-expected current account deficit. While fiscal developments were less favorable than expected, this was due in part to slower growth and accelerated value-added tax reimbursements. Growth is expected to rebound in 2017 and accelerate gradually over the medium term, subject to improved external conditions and steadfast reform implementation.”

So, on both fronts—external trade and domestic reforms—Morocco is making progress, but not without continuing challenges. Mr. Furasawa pointed out, “This outlook remains subject to significant downside risks, including from weak growth in Morocco’s main trading partners, geopolitical risks, and global policy uncertainty. In this context, Morocco’s PLL Arrangement with the IMF continues to serve as valuable insurance against external risks and supports the authorities’ economic policies.”

This comes against a backdrop of a broad program to stimulate economic growth, encourage greater participation in the economy by women, and several investment stimulus measures waiting for action in Parliament. Mr. Furasawa noted that “The authorities are committed to further reducing fiscal and external vulnerabilities while strengthening the foundations for higher and more inclusive growth. Building on progress made in recent years, further fiscal consolidation is needed… Finally, improving the business climate and governance, competitiveness, access to finance, and labor market policies is essential to raise potential growth, reduce persistently high unemployment levels, especially among the youth, and increase female labor participation.”

Similar recommendations were included in the World Bank’s Country Economic Memorandum (CEM), which focused on these issues and quoted King Mohammed VI’s call to better develop Morocco’s “intangible capital” to identify other recommended policy priorities. The report notes, “Morocco stands out as an exception in a turbulent Arab world. It has considerable assets to be able to drive up its distinctiveness and become the first non–oil-producing North African country to join the ranks of upper-middle-income countries by the next generation. To achieve this goal, Morocco can take up real drivers for change on both the political level (the stability of its leadership), the institutional level (the values and principles endorsed by the 2011 Constitution), and the economic, social and environmental levels (normative convergence with the European Union) to build its intangible capital, the main source of any future shared prosperity.”

The CEM acknowledges the great progress that Morocco has made through a series of reforms that have moved sectors of the economy forward, improved the quality of life for most Moroccans, generated more jobs, and supported a range of “significant social and economic achievements over the past fifteen years.” It cautions that “Bringing Morocco’s improved development outcomes to the next level and achieving economic convergence with Southern European countries will require it to further deepen and integrate sector and governance reforms.”

So, what is this “intangible capital” to which the King referred? It refers to enhancing the productivity of the Moroccan economy through strengthening the quality of the institutional, human, and social capital of the country; in short, an advanced social contract based on more efficient and inclusive institutions, better and healthier options for individual growth, and a society that provides opportunities for better health and work outcomes.

Jean-Pierre Chauffour, World Bank Lead Economist and author of the report, believes that Morocco’s youth bulge can be turned into a long-term asset by reforms that remove obstacles to business development; an overhaul of the educational system to produce a qualified workforce of men and women operating in a mobile labor market; and a progressive market-oriented economy that eschews obstacles to trade in order to boost productivity and promote conditions that support fair market conditions for investors small and large, domestic and foreign.

Specific measures related to education and health are proposed “to achieve an ‘education miracle’ and give Moroccan students the needed skills to integrate into a more competitive job market.” According to the CEM, “Morocco’s ability to empower and mobilize greater economic opportunities for women will be instrumental to significantly enhance economic growth.” Finally, the CEM views the strengthening of institutions and the country’s governance model as key preconditions to reinforce the rule of law and place the Moroccan citizen at the heart of its development model. This ranges from more accountable and efficient public services to giving voice to citizens and enhancing respect, interpersonal trust and civic duty.

Among challenges highlighted in the report are the following:

  • Although barely 15 kilometers separate the kingdoms of Morocco and Spain, the average Moroccan’s purchasing power stood at only 22.5% of its immediate European neighbor in 2015.
  • The country is ranked 126th worldwide out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index and 91st of 157 countries on the World Happiness Index, a more subjective index measuring well-being, trust in society, solidarity, and the feeling of freedom.
  • Whereas the unemployment rate for unskilled young people is 4.5%, the rate is 21.7% for young technical college graduates and 24.6% for young university graduates, even as growing numbers of young people are entering university. Moreover, approximately 90% of young people who do have a job do not have an employment contract and work in the informal economy, indicative of the insecurity of their employment situation.
  • On average, over the last five years (2012–2016), only 26,400 net new jobs were created per year for a working-age population (15–65 years old) that grew by a net 270,000 people on average per year, according to Morocco’s High Commission for Planning (HCP).
  • All in all, the Moroccan economy has not managed to make any significant efficiency gains despite its structural reforms, economic openness, improved business environment, imported technologies and increase in school enrollment rates.
  • With regard to raising the level of social capital, the report calls for ensuring greater respect for, and improved application of, the rule of law; promoting a sense of civic duty and exemplarity in all decision-making spheres; encouraging engagement in associations and the development of civil society; and supporting a change in attitudes and sociocultural norms through targeted information campaigns.

While someone unfamiliar with Morocco may think these remarks and others in the report reflect a “tough love” perspective, the recommendations actually echo many of the points made by the King in his speeches going back to Throne Day 2014, if not before. It is remarkable that a sovereign has the vision to measure what has been accomplished without hesitating to spell out what needs to be done. The recommendations highlighted by the CEM require a comprehensive strategy to advance Morocco’s future growth. There may be no better starting point than the King’s own words.

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