Regional Round-Up: Thoughts about the Potential of a Continental Free Trade Agreement; How France Views Morocco’s Counterterrorism Efforts; EU Set to Include Western Sahara in Trade Talks with Morocco – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
June 25, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

The announcement of a Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) for Africa has attracted its share of skeptics, especially since the biggest economies in Africa have yet to endorse the proposal. Souhir Mzali, the Africa regional editor of the Oxford Business Group (OBG) recently penned her observations about the idea and summarized what many believe are the key obstacles to its realization.

Since the purpose of the CFTA is to build out a continent-side market for goods and services, it is logical to ask, is Africa ready for such a momentous effort and will it in fact enhance regional trade and investment? Since it would also provide for the free movement of businesses and investments, it raises the additional questions of how the migration of skilled and unskilled labor would be affected and what steps countries would have to take to avoid an African “Brexit?”

On the positive side, “the UN Economic Commission for Africa says that the CFTA has the potential to see trade volumes rise by 50% over the next five years.” Mzali points out many possible benefits including “better market access, aligned trade regimes, job creation, and increased investment. Importantly, the deal could lead the way for economic diversification and structural transformation as markets shift trade away from traditional commodities and move towards developing a robust and modern industrial base, boosting value added and creating new avenues for

wealth generation.” Yet, “Making this a reality, however, will not be an easy task, and the full benefits will take time to manifest.”

Concerns expressed by those countries that are holding out, such as Nigeria, revolve around three poles: protecting local industries from lower cost/higher quality competitors, ensuring the survival of the agricultural sector as it is the largest employer in most African countries, and equitable access to investment to improve infrastructure, build new industrial sectors, rationalize budgets, and obtaining new technologies to support economic growth and global competitiveness.

Mzali also notes that all African countries face the problem of generating employment for its fast growing youth, a key to ensuring stability and growth. “Currently, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 24. Respondents in OBG’s CEO survey cited leadership (32%), engineering (16%), and research and development (16%) as the skills most in need, suggesting developing training and job opportunities in these areas would best help young people meet the labor market’s demands.”

It will be a significant debate about how to best enable Africa’s future.

The success of Morocco’s counterterrorism strategy was covered by the weekly French magazine “Valeurs Actuelles,” which praised the country’s dual strategy of proactive security and religious efforts. Its strategy is effective because it both educates about moderate Islam and also supports broad security outreach with an array of methods based on lessons learned from terrorist attacks in Morocco and elsewhere.

The focal point of the security effort is pre-emption and intelligence-gathering carried out by the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DGST), headed by Abdellatif Hammouchi. “The weekly, which describes Hammouchi as “brilliant,” recalls that he was appointed to this position at the age of 39 and that this specialist in radical Islam undertook “a great cleansing operation” and an overhaul of his department. “He opens the doors, trains, modernizes, brings in foreign delegations, and signs partnerships with major European and American agencies,” as noted by North Africa Post in its summary of the report.

The fight against extremist ideas has several focal points, the most visible being the training of imams and mourchidates (women counselors) from Africa, the Middle East, and Europe at a training center in Rabat where studies include social sciences, communications, sports, counseling techniques, and Islam as an inclusive, non-violent religion. The weekly also mentioned the Rabita Mohammedia of the Ulemas, which has become, the publication noted, “a genuine think tank and an agency spreading moderate ideas,” hosting 36 websites, online video games, and distributes hundreds of thousands of comic books that counters extremist discourse.

In a setback to those opposed to including the Western Sahara in trade talks with Morocco, it appears that negotiations between the EU and Morocco are moving in Morocco’s favor. Recognizing the benefits to the region’s economy as a result of Morocco’s investments and administration, the EU Commissioners approved that agricultural products will be included in the overall agreement, and is still meeting on the fisheries portion.

Arguing against the verdict of the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the Western Sahara could not be included in any agreement with Morocco, the European Commission introduced in March a proposal for the renewal of the fisheries deal with Morocco with a mandate for the inclusion of the Western Sahara. According to MAP as quoted in Morocco World News, in its March statement, the EU Commission said that the goal is to maintain and develop the fisheries partnership between the EU and Morocco, “by concluding an agreement and protocol that are environmentally sustainable, economically, profitable, and fully in line with international and EU law.”


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