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Morocco Resists Regional Status Quo, Moves Ahead to Define Future – Jean R. AbiNader

 

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
Washington, DC
September 17, 2013

It’s the weekend in Casablanca. A shallow rain has dampened down the dust on the construction sites, for a few hours. Many people are just starting their day, having had their fill of a Friday dinner that always features heaping mounds of tagine and cous cous. I have been here for more than a week, enough to enjoy the fullness of the days and a good night’s sleep. And they have been full.

The biggest news this past week has been about King Mohammed VI welcoming recommendations by the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) for migrant policy reform, the introduction of sweeping judicial reform legislation, and reports about an agreement for a new governing coalition, one that will hopefully break the stalemate in Parliament.

While these larger issues are in play, I went to meet some of the newer and more active players in Morocco’s retooling of its economy and political life, to get a sense of how Moroccans are managing while the rest of the region stutters through transitions and setbacks.

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I began at Maroc Taswiq, a company that is working to solve one of the most vexing challenges to exporting – how to coordinate many small suppliers such as local cooperatives, so that buyers don’t have to make a pilgrimage to have access to Moroccan natural products. In its showroom, located between the Sofitel and the Royal Mansour, are hundreds of organic and otherwise certified products for which Morocco can be a major international source.

From 25 different flavors of honey and dozens of spiced versions of cous cous, to armfuls of spices, nuts, soaps, and olive oils, to various versions of argan oil products, to the latest fad – cactus products – it is hard to take it all in.  Maroc Taswiq’s government title is “Office de Commercialisation et d’Exportation (OCE)” and it provides testing, packaging, marketing, and distribution services.

When I visited, a USAID-financed expert was on site providing his expertise on next steps for marketing OCE’s many products. I managed, barely, to avoid filling a suitcase with the most attractive products, but I encourage US wholesalers to find a home for some dozens of these specialties in their catalogs.

Moroccan Voices for Progress

My next stop was the Moroccan Institute for International Relations (IMRI) where I met with Jawad Kerdoudi, who heads this independent think tank with a keen interest in US-Morocco relations. We talked about the Free Trade Agreement and its impact on bilateral trade; the work of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE), which is a year-long study on how to implement regionalization in the Southern Provinces; and also regional political relations. As one of the leading Moroccan intellectuals who travel across North Africa, he has perspectives that are very helpful in framing issues within a context that is less covered in the US media. IMRI is an important stop for anyone who wants to have a helpful exchange about regional issues.

As is not surprising in Morocco, time spent in a hotel lobby can lead to interesting meetings. While talking with the head of Dow Chemical for North Africa, we sat with the head of Green Maghreb Banking, who is working with Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to promote greater consumer use of solar and green products. We were then joined by former Moroccan Ambassador to the US, Aziz Mekouar, who updated us on Morocco’s outreach to Africa.

The lobby began to fill, as there was a book signing and reception that evening. We were happy to see Mbarka Bouaida, former Parliamentarian and one of Morocco’s most dynamic young leaders, who was the first woman to head Morocco’s version of the committee on Foreign Relations. She provided us with a quick assessment of the ongoing negotiations to build a new governing coalition. As the evening moved along, we caught up with Liz Fanning, former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, who is the founder and executive director of Corps Africa, which will soon have its first group of African volunteers to work in Africa on development projects.

Morocco’s Solar Energy Agenda

Back to my business agenda, I met with Ilias Hamdouch, a senior advisor at Morocco’s solar agency MASEN, who provided his thinking on the next two tenders that will be coming out shortly to expand the initial 150mw CSP project in Ouarzazate and how the initial project is impacting the overall energy diversification strategy.

He believes that cost competitiveness and innovative project structure are the top priorities for selecting the contractors. MASEN’s solar strategy goes beyond producing energy to identifying and promoting industrial clusters and teaming with other investors and developers to build a solar industry in Morocco. The opportunities for US companies in downstream solar development range from infrastructure projects like extending the national grid throughout the country to piloting energy efficient building materials, technologies,  services and products.

My next post will feature interviews with CDG Capital,  and Casablanca Financial City, two major players that are coming to New York and Washington, DC the week of October 6 along with the Moroccan Agency for Investment Development (AMDI); and with Phillip Nelson, the US Economic Counselor to Morocco, who gave me an overview of US trade and investment priorities with Morocco.

Jean R. AbiNader is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Co-published with Fair Observer (www.fairobserver.com)

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