Business Brief: Dakhla and Sahara Featured at Crans Montana Forum; The Life of a Pink Shirt Dress from Morocco – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
March 29, 2017

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

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

The Crans Montana Forum’s annual foray in Morocco highlighted the Sahara region and the future of Morocco’s Africa strategy while creating a platform for the international exchange of ideas and deal-making. The BBC was busy tracing the lineage of a dress from Inditex, a­­­­ Spanish company, illustrating the global nature of the textile industry.

Crans Montana Draws Record Attendance. More than 1,000 delegates attended this year’s Crans Montana Forum to discuss developments in Africa and how to support South-South cooperation. Moroccan ministers joined senior African government officials, a special delegation from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and delegates from across Asia and Africa for five days in Dakhla, which hosted the event for the third consecutive year under the theme “Towards a New Africa for the 21st Century – Stability, Cohesion and Solidarity for a Sustainable Development.” Among topics discussed were food security, sustainable agriculture, renewable energies, public health, migration to Europe, and women’s participation in economic and political development.

In his message to the Forum, King Mohammed VI made reference to Morocco’s return to the African Union, noting that it will be at the forefront of contributing to serving Africa’s interests and “consolidating its peoples’ unity and cohesion.” He made the point that with this cooperation “Morocco will not, however, give up defending its lofty interests, particularly its national unity and territorial integrity.” For Morocco, the Sahara is a region of historic and cultural import, and is now being touted as a center from which to promote communications and trade with sub-Saharan African states.

According to an article by the Indo-Asian News Service on the Forum, “Morocco has launched a number of infrastructure projects in the Western Sahara…– part of an $8 billion development plan designed to ‘make the Moroccan Sahara a hub for communication and exchange with sub-Saharan African countries.’ The projects include new ports, fish markets, desalinization and fertilizer plants, and road infrastructure improvements.”

The Daily Sabah wrote about an interesting sub-text of the gathering: improving ties between Africa and Pacific Islands, as many of them will suffer the consequences of climate change if more countries don’t take responsibility for the goals of COP22. The Forum gave these countries an opportunity to become more engaged in building solutions to avoid catastrophic results from climate change.

Another message of interest was voiced by delegates from Turkey who talked about the role their country can play to support development in Africa. Nezaket Emine Atasoy, head of the Industrialist Businesswomen and Businessmen Confederation (SANKON), told The Daily Sabah that “Turkey has the potential to make investments in Africa. ‘Construction, infrastructure and energy sectors are the main ones for investment. Moreover, farming is a growing sector and investments in this field may create an opportunity to turn African countries into exporters.’ She also added that African businessmen and politicians were very positive on Turkey’s growing interest in the continent.”

Morocco Plays Key Role in the Global World of Textiles. Morocco has escaped one of the traps of preferential trade agreements – endemic to the textile sector – which opens up growth opportunities in a sector only to see them dominated by foreign labor, which marginally contributes to the local economy. This is the case with Jordan, Oman, and Bahrain, with Free Trade Agreements with the US, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its free trade zones. Garments are produced or assembled in these industrial parks and then shipped with little or no duty to customers around the world.

While this is a boon to manufacturers, few jobs are created for locals, even in countries where quotas are mandated. Morocco is different. Unlike the others, it has had a tradition of textile manufacturing so there are few if any cultural constraints (the “shame” factor, as it is called in Jordan) tied to working in the sector. Those working in semi-skilled jobs are seen as contributing to their families and the stability of the community.

The textile industry has changed, and Morocco is a great example of how few, if any, garments are fully manufactured in one country, similar to automobile construction. A recent BBC feature took the readers on a tour of a pink Zara-brand shirt dress to illustrate the internationalized process of clothes manufacturing.

The feature begins, “’Made in Morocco’ says the label on the pink Zara shirt dress. While this may be where the garment was finally sewn together, it has already been to several other countries. In fact, it’s quite possible this piece of clothing is better travelled than you.”

The basic material in the fabric is called lyocell, a sustainable alternative to cotton, sourced from trees in Europe. The fibers were then shipped to Egypt where low-cost factories spun the lyocell into a yarn that then went to China where it was woven into a fabric. “This fabric was then sent to Spain where it was dyed, in this case pink. The fabric was then shipped to Morocco to be cut into the various parts of the dress and then sewn together. After this, it was sent back to Spain where it was packaged and then sent to the UK, the US, or any one of the 93 countries where Inditex, the Zara brand owner, has shops.”

It’s no wonder that trade agreements which specify rules of origin – that is, the amount of content made by the trading partner, as the basis for favorable treatment – are often puzzled by how to measure value along the supply chain. “From dresses to t-shirts and trousers, most items of clothing sold around the world will have had similarly complicated journeys. In fact, they’re likely to be even more convoluted.”

According to the BBC, “Regardless of where they’re based, most factories are not owned by the fashion brands that use them. Instead, they’re selected as official suppliers. Often these suppliers subcontract work to other factories for certain tasks, or in order to meet tight deadlines.” According to a study by Christian Aid and Baptist World Aid Australia, “less than a fifth of brands know where all of their zips, buttons, thread and fabric come from.”

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