Last month, the regional economic cooperation body for West Africa, ECOWAS, approved in principle Morocco’s request for membership. This step opens the door to final approval, pending studies to determine the implications of Morocco’s membership. As noted in a number of stories, Morocco’s entry into ECOWAS can only strengthen the organization. The current 15 member bloc would move from 21st to 16th in terms of GDP with Morocco’s participation. “With its strategic geographic and economic position, Morocco would be a vital platform for ECOWAS countries to secure European, American and Arab markets,” according to Front Page Africa.
An analysis of the benefits of the potential union was done by Oxford Business Group (OBG). The report looked at Morocco’s membership in terms of its continued expansion of economic ties in West Africa and how those diverse ties will have a positive impact there. Morocco’s platform as a regional economic driver, thanks to its preferential trade agreements with the EU, US, and Mediterranean countries, among others, will enable greater access to these markets for ECOWAS countries.
In addition, Morocco itself, already the second largest African investor in Africa, is building partnerships to undertake even more projects in Africa, as witnessed by the more than 950 bilateral agreements signed with African partners since 2000. OBG made particular mention of two MoUs with Nigeria as signs of future prospects. The first covers a joint venture to govern, manage, and finance a gas pipeline from Nigeria, along the west coast of Africa, to Morocco and then beyond to Europe. Some 13 countries and 300 million people will be directly affected and benefit from the badly needed access to non-polluting energy supplies. The second project, similar to one with Gabon, covers cooperative ventures in the fertilizer and chemical sectors to upgrade Nigeria’s access to fertilizers specially blended for that country’s needs.
The OBG analysis points out that this expanding effort in Africa does not mean less emphasis on Morocco’s traditional partners in Europe. “While Morocco looks to bolster ties on the African continent, its largest trading partner remains the EU, which accounted for 55.7% of trade and 61.3% of exports in 2015. Trade in goods between the two markets has risen steadily in recent years, from €29.3bn in 2014 to €30.6bn in 2015 and €34.6bn last year, according to IMF data. Of Morocco’s €13.8bn worth of exports to the EU in 2016, machinery and transport equipment made up 40.4%, followed by agricultural products (23%), and textiles and clothing (20.3%).”
These results are indicative of the shifts in the Moroccan economy as it diversifies beyond tourism and agriculture to its growing manufacturing base, which has added great value to its exports. “Recent developments in Morocco’s automotive, aeronautics and electronics sector also bode well for its trade prospects,” says the OBG. From global giants Renault, Peugeot, Boeing, and Jacobs Engineering, to the many supply chain companies that make up the technology and manufacturing ecosystems, Morocco is reaping the benefits of strong economic incentives, prime geographic location, and political stability. This is a great incentive for the ECOWAS members that are keen to step up their industrial sectors.
While the economic and business advantages of Morocco’s membership are a big part of the story, a more complete narrative would include the human development dimension of Morocco’s ties in the region. From scholarships for African students, to extensive technical and foreign assistance programs, to innovative policies towards sub-Saharan migrants, to festivals celebrating common cultural roots, Morocco provides an array of collaborative and cooperative initiatives to more closely knit together the region. Both Morocco and ECOWAS members will benefit greatly from greater regional economic integration, and possibly provide examples to other states and regions of the continent.