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Will Morocco Give up the EU and Turn into Its African Roots?

Source : | 13 September 2015 |  Economy | 742 views

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Rabat – With an average growth rate of nearly 5 percent, an emerging middle class, natural resources, and telecommunications infrastructure, Africa has managed to attract an average foreign investment of 32.5 billion USD in 2014, and an expected 38.4 billion USD in 2016. This new emerging trend has led Morocco to reconsider its economic ties, especially with some long-standing and traditional economic partners – including the European Union – while promoting its strategic choice of “south-south cooperation.”

Morocco has become aware of the risk of being too bound to the European Union with all of their bureaucratic policies and internal constituencies’ competitions, favoring their interests over third countries – including Morocco. Certainly, economic exchanges with the European Union continue to grow from 21 billion Euros in 2010 to over 29 billion in 2014. However, these exchanges involved more than 7 billion Euros in 2014 as trade deficit that Morocco needs to fill, especially as the deficit is expected to widen.

Moreover, the exchange agreement conducted between Morocco and the EU are drafted in a way to serve the EU’s interests, especially with quotas imposed on some Moroccan products including vegetables and fruits (tomatoes, oranges, etc), considered as its only comparative advantages in transactions with the EU. Besides these unbalanced economic ties, the economic slowdown hitting most of the EU member states has forced Morocco to strongly reaffirm its African roots, which extended in the past to the gates of Timbuktu.

Morocco’sraising investment rate in Africa and key economic agreements with many African countries confirms, first and foremost, a strong orientation toward African roots. Additionally, this demonstrates a long vision to take the lead in the continent and to benefit from the political unrest and the economic slowdown caused by the Arab Spring in geopolitical context.

 This new economic orientation of Morocco toward its African neighbors is reflected through the huge investments conducted by Moroccan public and private companies in different economic sectors. These investments include the banking sector, with a lion’s share ensured by Attijariwafa Bank, BMCE and Banque Populaire; real estate developers like Addoha and Alliances Développement Immobilier; insurance companies including the Saham Group;  mining  sector and industrial companies with  the Managem Group and OCP; and Maroc Telecom in communication, which has and extended network over 23 African countries, including in the members states of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS).

Morocco’s direct investments toward Africa amounted to 40 percent between 2006 and 2012 and is set to reach 60 percent in 2015, especially after visits by King Mohammed VI to countries that were often put at the bottom of Morocco’s interest agenda. Not to mention additionally, Morocco is investing in sectors with social aspects, including low-cost housing, water quality, environment protection, transportation, and more.

These new trends and orientations Morocco is taking in Africa could be explained by some key factors, including but not limited to:

New Development Model Based on Co-Dvelopment  

Morocco presents itself as a partner, seeking to develop win-win relations with its African neighbors. It projects itself as an African partner able to bring about key economic and political changes as a regional anchor, especially as it is not associated with any connotation of colonization. In addition, Morocco prides itself in a co-development model, which favors complementation over substitution. Unlike traditional powers in Africa, which have promoted a development model based on natural resources exploitation and local manpower exclusion, Morocco puts human capacities in the core of economic relationships with African partners.

Unstable Regional Context 

The geopolitical regional context marked by political unrest, social turmoil and insurgent violence has made of Morocco a comparatively exceptional case in Africa. While its neighbors able to compete over Africa’s investments are still struggling to cope with the repercussions left by the Arab Spring, Morocco is positioning itself as politically stable country able to serve as bridge between other international  economic actors and Africa. This logic is further consolidated by the establishment of Casa Finance, serving as capital stock for international investors, combined with enhanced air links to many other African countries. Royal Air Maroc currently flies to more than 30 African countries.

Internal Political Reforms Initiated after 2011

The new constitution, adopted in 2011, relatively reconfigures the map of powers Morocco’s political apparatus and has initiated new governing patterns and avoided the country the political chaos experienced by other countries in the region. Besides, the rise of the long-doubted Party of Justice and Development (PJD) into power has contributed to Morocco’s stability and helped market a political model with the adage “reform within stability”. These slow-motion reforms, even small in their scale, have enabled Morocco to extend economic reach into Africa, making use of stability within chaotic regional context.

In addition, the recent political internal dynamics taking place in Morocco would lead to a great deal of geopolitical changes, especially with Western allies and African partners.  The September 4, 2015, regional and communal elections, granting the lead to the PJD over Morocco’s main prosperous and developed cities, would institute for new governing patterns, especially as these elections were the first to be democratically held. With this new emerging parameter, often-repeated criticism of the West over Morocco’s corrupt and nontransparent elections would no longer weaken Morocco’s position as a crucial player in any changes in Africa, be it economic or political.

Certainly, Morocco’s relationships with the EU would continue to grow, but if the gain share continues to tilt in favor of the EU, Morocco would gradually give preference to African partners to outpace traditional European partners. Besides, with the internal political changes and the ongoing geopolitical dynamics in its regional context, Morocco is positioning itself as an important gateway for the fast-growing African continent, particularly for investors from the United States and Europe. This would give Morocco more economic leverage in the regional context and a large margin of maneuverability in economic ties with the EU.

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