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Maghreb Matters: What’s up with Morocco’s ECOWAS membership? Morocco reports on projects in the South; and highlights its digital development at Paris tech show – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
June 1, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Morocco’s 2017 application for full membership in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has not been without controversy. Morocco’s long-term goal, according to Riccardo Fabiani, is to “Become a trade and production hub that can interface between European, American, and Sub-Saharan African trading blocs.” A majority of the current members welcomes Morocco’s potential role since many of them already have beneficial bilateral trade and investment agreements with Morocco. Others, like Senegal that want to protect its small manufacturing sector, have raised objections. Similarly, Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, continues to put roadblocks in the process, citing opposition from a large coalition of trade unions, industrialists and NGOs that lobbied the government against opening its borders to Moroccan goods. Another issue is that that ECOWAS wants to have a common tariff against imports, which Morocco would not be able to enforce due to its various free trade agreements.

Two voices were recently reported to argue the case, the first, the Moroccan Ambassador to Ghana, Mohamed Farhat, who believes that Morocco’s ECOWAS membership would only strengthen the organization. He pointed out that given its diverse economy, advanced logistics networks, manufacturing sector, and role as a leading investor in Africa, Morocco brings many assets to the table. At a recent meeting on its membership application, he noted two specific opportunities, producing local value parts for Moroccan manufacturers and collaboration in the agricultural sector between Ghana’s cocoa producers and Moroccan agricultural companies.

Farhat also noted the critical challenged posed by youth unemployment throughout the ECOWAS countries and believes that greater economic cooperation will result in more jobs. He said it is important for governments to create jobs in order to have stability and economic growth, and to give opportunities to the youth and women as well.

A broad overview of Morocco’s application for ECOWAS membership was the subject of an interview with Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital by La Tribune Afrique. He called Morocco a “locomotive for African economies” due to its general level of development and maturity of its banking and financial systems, with one of the “highest levels of investment and a controlled level of inflation.”  Its experience in infrastructure development and expertise in fertilization and fertilizer production are of immediate benefit to its neighbors. Robertson believes that opposition to Morocco’s membership comes from fears that its economy is more competitive than most ECOWAS members and will gain market share at the expense of local actors. Yet, he feels that Africa will not be able to reach it development potential without greater integration.

Government projects in the South are expected to reach 70% completion by year’s end, according to Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani, in his report to Parliament’s Upper House. Some projects are mega-scale such as a coastal highway and rail network linking the Moroccan Sahara to West Africa, and others include ports construction and upgrading, social housing and medical facilities, a university, and “an economic development fund to support businesses and the social economy, generate steady income and create jobs, particularly for young people.”

He “emphasized his government’s commitment to ensure the success of the new development model and to provide the financial and human resources to accelerate the pace of implementation,” according to the report in Morocco World News. The projects also aim to enable the local population to manage their own affairs. So far, more than $2 billon has been invested through the end of the first quarter 2018.

Morocco promotes its digital development at tech show, which was attended by a delegation led by Minster of Industry, Investment, Trade, and Digital Economy, Moulay Hafid Elalamy. According to an article in Morocco World News, the event was organized as part of the Viva Tech Show, which this year featured participants from Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Tunisia. The Minister said that Morocco has a serious digital strategy and is among the top 10 African countries in terms of its digital development.

At a roundtable on Morocco’s ‘Role as a gateway to innovation for digital Africa,’ he highlighted “The nation’s strategic geographical position at the crossroads between two continents, the free trade agreements signed by nearly 60 countries,  and the country’s outstanding infrastructure,” as well as the King’s commitment to Africa. Salou Karkri-Belkeziz, the president of the Federation of Information Technologies (APEBI), spoke about the country’s startup ecosystem, which has created “a favorable environment for the encouragement of both national and pan-African innovation.” Other topics included the increasing digitalization in the industrial sector, funding mechanisms for startups, and presentations by 16 Moroccan startups that presented their innovations.

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