Free Trade as a Strategic Instrument in the War on Terror?: The 2004 US-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement

By White, Gregory W. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Free Trade as a Strategic Instrument in the War on Terror?: The 2004 US-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement


White, Gregory W., The Middle East Journal


In June 2004, the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Morocco. FTAs are typically thought of as economic agreements, but the agreement with Morocco has an explicit security component. Indeed, US officials have cast the agreement as an opportunity to support a close ally in the region, and its signing coincides with Morocco's denomination as a non-NATO ally of the US. Yet even if the FTA achieves its stated economic goals - a very tall and ambitious order - it remains to be seen whether or not the benefits will extend to a society divided by enormous social cleavages. As a result, the US-Moroccan FTA and Morocco's new found stature in US security policy paradoxically run the risk of deepening societal resentment within Morocco toward the government and, by extension, the US.

Step by step, the Administration is working to build bridges of free trade with economic and social reformers in the Middle East. Our plan offers trade and openness as vital tools for leaders striving to build more open, optimistic, and tolerant Islamic societies.

- US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, at the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with Morocco, June 15, 2004

On April 23, 2002, seven short months after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, King Muhammad VI of Morocco visited Washington to meet with President George W. Bush. The visit was the occasion for the announcement of the intention to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Morocco. Although Morocco is a longstanding ally of the US, the statement was nonetheless a remarkable development. At the time of its announcement, a Free Trade Agreement with Morocco would have been only the fifth free trade agreement between the US and a trading partner, after Israel (1985), Canada and Mexico (1993), and Jordan (2001).

After several months of repose - during which time under federal law Congress had the opportunity to "comment" on the proposal - formal negotiations began in January 2003. Discussions proceeded for 15 months through 9 difficult rounds in Washington and Rabat, with a set of negotiations also conducted in Geneva during the Iraq War in March 2003. Ultimately, on March 2, 2004, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Taieb Fassi Fihri signed a US-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement. Zoellick and Fassi Fihri signed the treaty in Washington on June 15, 2004, and both houses of Congress ratified the treaty in July 2004.1

The Bush Administration has explicitly portrayed the FTA with Morocco as an effort to build strategic, economic, and political ties with a moderate, friendly regime in the region that will serve, in turn, as a model for other countries. The obvious question: Will it work? The advent of the agreement presents a paradox. In addition to its obvious economic goals, the agreement has clear security and strategic goals as well. Yet if the FTA does not generate long-term economic growth and is not perceived by Moroccan society as beneficial to the country, it threatens to undercut Morocco's already shaky domestic stability and exacerbate anti-US sentiment in the country.

FTAs are typically thought of as economic issues - more the domain of international political economy - with negotiators having to take into account their own country's economic interests as well as the political and economic constraints confronting their counterparts.2 This FTA is no exception; it certainly has a significant economic component. Despite the fact that the overall volume of trade between the two countries is quite small, negotiators had to bargain hard to get concessions and understandings about the full scope of the agreement. To cite a quick example, examined more fully below, Rabat was keen on securing safeguards that its agricultural sub-sector of wheat would not be affected adversely by imports of low-cost, highquality US grain. Morocco's agricultural sector employs nearly half of the country's population, and roughly 75% of the sector is devoted to cereal production. …

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Free Trade as a Strategic Instrument in the War on Terror?: The 2004 US-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement
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