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Business Brief: Morocco Tops List of African Countries Investing in Climate Projects, Issues with Morocco’s ECOWAS Bid Featured, and Morocco’s Role in China’s “One Belt, One Road” Strategy is Examined for Long-term Implications – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNaderMATIC
November 27, 2017

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

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

At COP 23, Morocco was highlighted as the first among MENA countries in attracting funding for climate projects. According to a story in Morocco World News, the study was prepared by the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM) and presented at the global climate change conference in Bonn, COP 23.

Looking at investment flows in the region from 2013 to 2016, Morocco garnered 20% of climate-focused investments with Egypt at 15%, Jordan 7%, Tunisia 3%, and Algeria 1%. A total of $4.6 billion was mobilized in 2016 to finance climate action in the Mediterranean, an annual average of nearly $7 billion over the last few years. Primary sources for the funding were the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union, and the French Development Agency (AFD).

While the bulk of the projects involved mitigation of natural disasters and energy and climate imbalances, climate change adaptation projects are gaining ground.

Morocco’s ECOWAS application raises questions not only because of geography, but there are legal and implementation questions as well surrounding Morocco’s membership application, according to a lengthy article in the Nigerian media. While the benefits of Morocco’s membership may be clear from economic, security, and geo-strategic considerations, other concerns have been raised.

It is important to note, that “the requirement in the founding treaty limiting membership to ‘such other West African States as may accede to it’ was removed when the ECOWAS Treaty was revised in 1992. As such, no question of regional contiguity necessarily arises at this time.” According to the article, reactions to the application varied across West Africa, and it is important to separate which issues are serious and must be addressed, while others, such as the status of the Western Sahara, may be outside of the purview of ECOWAS.

On the legal side, there are clear stipulations governing regional integration in ECOWAS treaties. “How the community resolves this tension will have significant implications for the future peace, security, and stability of ECOWAS as a regional institution and of its member countries as they confront the shared challenge of stemming radicalization in the Sahel,” the article points out. A clarification from the General Secretariat of the organization is due at the year-end meeting.

On the security side, ECOWAS members border the Sahel, “home to some of the most deadly sources of extremist violence in the world, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and a regional franchise of the Islamic State (IS) led by Habib Yusuf (Abu Musab Al-Barnawi), whose father, Mohammed Yusuf, founded Boko Haram. “

Morocco has extensive experience in security operations that could be very useful to ECOWAS members facing terrorists and militants in their countries. “With Morocco’s accession, ECOWAS will potentially claim a contiguous stretch of territory to the Maghreb, giving it access to counter-terror capabilities that were hitherto not necessarily within its reach. Seen as a net contributor to regional security and counter-radicalization capabilities, the likelihood is that Morocco’s application could receive diplomatic backing from the current U.S. administration,” noted the article.

There are also long-standing religious and cultural ties among countries in the region, which share Sufi schools and practices including Gnawa and other musical and artistic traditions.

Interestingly, migration also raises thorny issues for the application. If Morocco joins ECOWAS, it will be required to observe its Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, which includes visa-free travel and the right to own companies across all 15 ECOWAS members, perhaps a factor in Morocco’s pioneering efforts to provide work and resident permits to African migrants. This may cause tension with the EU’s migration policies and interactions on these issues with Morocco. Or, if Morocco insists on an exemption, it could cause rifts within ECOWAS.

China and Morocco, new best friends on the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) adventure. Morocco recently signed a memorandum of understanding that will bring it more closely into the Chinese initiative, which links roads, railways, and ports financed by Chinese companies from Asia into Africa and Europe. According to Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, “Morocco will be among the first African countries to sign such a document.” On China’s official website, China claims to be in partnership with 68 countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

According to Sébastien Le Belzic, a Beijing-based journalist and founder of Chinafrique.info, “Morocco is the most legitimate country in the Maghreb, as the port of Tangier is the third largest hub in the world after Shanghai and Panama and is therefore a strategically important place for the Chinese since the objective is Mediterranean and it is question of leading investments in Africa towards Europe.”

Bourita notes that Morocco’s involvement is a priority for the Kingdom. “In 2016, His Majesty King Mohammed VI signed a strategic partnership with China on the occasion of his visit to Beijing, and since the royal visit there has been a great development in our bilateral relations,” pointing to projects such as the Mohammed VI Tangier Tech City and the industrial zone in Fez. In the article he noted that “investments have increased by 60%, tourism by 450%, and trade by almost 20%, from May 2016 to today.”

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