Business Brief: Morocco Lands Big Infrastructure Projects; English Language Education Gains Regional Recognition – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
December 2, 2016

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

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

COP22 wasn’t the only big news in Morocco;  the country signed a $10 billion project to build a new city, English language education in public schools was lauded for its success, Islamic banking moved forward to public opening, and several projects were announced in automobile manufacturing and port facilities. Not wanting to lose momentum from the international attention to its economic growth as a result of COP22, the government has been quite active in broadening the base of the economy in order to generate much-needed employment.

China and Morocco to Build New City. The Chinese group HAITE has agreed to work with Morocco on a $10 billion project to build a new city near Tangier. The initial plan includes a large industrial park on the Mediterranean hosting major manufacturers and their supply chains, linked to the existing Tangier-Med Port. Originally envisioned for around 2500 acres, the site can be expanded to nearly twice that size.

The project emerged from bilateral discussions during the King’s visit to China that resulted in a strategic partnership agreement. In addition to industrial plots, the site will include apartment towers for some of the expected 300,000 Moroccan employees. The Chinese model integrates the work and living components for more efficiency and coordination of activities.

This coincides with Morocco’s decision to build a second major port on the Mediterranean to further enhance its logistics and distribution networks throughout Europe and Africa. In an interview with the American Media Institute, Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s Minister of Economy and Finance, said that “The Chinese looked very carefully at Morocco before they began making such large investments and picked a location to invest, infrastructure was one factor in the investment. They looked at what Boeing, Peugeot, Ford and other companies were doing before they made their move.”

More Good News for Tangier-Med. APM Terminals, a Belgian conglomerate, will build Africa’s first automated container terminal at Tangier-Med Port. APM secured a long-term agreement with Morocco to supervise several trade capacity development projects on the country’s coasts. The consortium includes Aswebo, Aannemingen Van Wellen, Franki Construct and Cosimco under the Willemen Group banner. According to a release, APM has invested 758 million euros in the upgrade, which will increase the profitability of the 30-year lease it holds on the Tangier Med 2 port complex. The 53-hectare facility is scheduled to become operational in 2019, providing quicker access to products and markets on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Speaking of its participation, Willeman Group president Johan Willeman said that “To win this enormous project, a team of 35 people, spread across multiple companies within the group worked together on this project for four months.” The agreement with Morocco includes all road and sewage infrastructure, a 1200-meter crane beam, all utilities, and a gas station to be completed by September 2018. Partner company Cosmico has completed two projects in the Tangier port to date and another will wrap up construction soon. It is by far the largest project undertaken by the group in Africa.

Speaking of Tangier-Med, Again.

Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Morocco’s Minister of Industry, Trade, and New Technologies, recently signed nine investment agreements to expand the automobile industry centered in Tangier. The investments announced at the biannual gathering of the Tangier-Med Automotive Meetings have a combined value of more than $45 million and will generate more than 2100 jobs and $200 million in revenue by 2020.

The Minister said that the deals both expand existing operations and enable new companies to come to Morocco, adding value to the automotive sector. The project manager of PSA Peugeot-Citroen updated the company’s plans for Morocco, noting that “the earthwork is practically completed with construction set to begin early next year.” And the site is expected to produce 200,000 cars and 200,000 engines in Kenitra by the end of 2019.

The goal for the sector is to add $10 billion worth of exports by 2020, with some 175,000 jobs, according to Haim Abdelmoumen, president of the Moroccan Association for the Automobile Industry and Trade (AMICA).

Islamic Bank to be Launched by end 2016. The Qatar Islamic Investment Bank (QIIB) has announced that it expects to secure its license to open its joint-venture bank with Morocco’s CIH bank by the end of the year. QIIB has been making plans for the new project since Parliament passed enabling legislation earlier this year. A story in the Gulf News said that the decision followed a detailed feasibility study, and the partners have already identified the branches involved and installed the IT systems required.

QIIB CEO Abdulbasit A. al-Shaibei said that Morocco presented a “good opportunity” for the bank. “We have a commitment with Morocco; we have been working on it for many years now. Morocco is one country, which enjoys economic and political stability. Moroccan authorities are waiting for the emergence of Islamic banking in the kingdom,” he noted. He further said that QIIB viewed Morocco as a “gateway” to North Africa. “There is a huge market waiting to be tapped in North Africa, which is in need of Shariah-based, value-driven banking. Morocco can provide us a gateway to this huge market and the kingdom has good relationship with the countries in North Africa.”

Morocco Pressing Ahead with More English-Language Education. 

It is news worth waiting for and a potential boon to job seekers in Morocco. After years of controversies regarding the language of instruction in public schools, Moroccan authorities have come down on the side of English as the second language of instruction. Minister of Education and Vocational Training Rachid Belmokhtar mentioned in a recent speech that the Ministry has undertaken serious procedures to expand and improve the use of the English language among students in Morocco. In line with the King’s call to expand English in schools, the Ministry has adopted new approaches and methods to improve the level of proficiency in what is now the country’s second foreign language after French.

The Minister mentioned two positive indicators of progress: The quality of English spoken by the students participating in COP22 and the fact that Morocco recently ranked first in the MENA region for English proficiency, outranking those countries that list English as their official second language.

The article noted that “The growth of the English language cannot be attributed to the Ministry’s initiatives alone, as Moroccans themselves have shown great interest in learning what is now considered the most influential language in the world, knowing that it can open doors to new experiences and better job opportunities.”

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