Blasts Fail to Shake Trade Confidence. (Morocco)

By Badcock, James | African Business, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Blasts Fail to Shake Trade Confidence. (Morocco)


Badcock, James, African Business


In the months preceding the Casablanca bombings, Morocco has made considerable progress on trade agreements with both the EU and US. Although shaken by the terror attacks, the country is busy forging stronger economic links with the West.

The terrorist bombings in Casablanca in May were a terrible shock to Morocco, especially given the government's recent course towards greater political freedom within the country and the extension of trade links with Western nations.

At least 43 people were killed. Ominously the suicide bombers themselves and all those so far detained in connection with the attacks against foreign targets are Moroccans.

Prime Minister Driss Jettou's government has since stressed the extraordinary nature of the attack, pointing out that Morocco has always been tolerant towards foreign residents and the country's remaining Jewish population. However, the Prime Minister also criticised the leading Islamist party, Parti de la Justice et du Development (CPJD) for the "systematic manner" in which they condemn security measures against suspected terrorist organisations.

In other words, Morocco is not another Algeria, and the authorities will not allow fundamentalism to threaten the process of opening the country up to increased partnership with Europe and Washington.

The general economic picture, however, continues to be one of a country hamstrung by debt and the need to generate growth in the economy to provide work for the many unemployed, particularly amongst the young. Officially last year's unemployment rate was estimated at 11.6%, against 12.5% the previous year, but it is commonly considered to be far higher, perhaps as high as 30% News of a good 2002 for tourism with travel receipts of $2.3bn, up 18.8% on 2001, was welcome, as were the winter rains which mean the cereal harvest for 2002/2003 will be 59% greater than the previous season.

According to the annual IMP report, published in May, the country's economic conditions improved in 2002. Real GDP growth reached 4.5% thanks to a rise in agricultural output and somewhat higher growth than before in the non-agricultural sectors.

Despite the good news in the vital sectors of agriculture and tourism, the truth is that in international trade, Moroccan exports are slipping in comparison with imports. Figures released by Morocco's Exchange Office in May showed a 68.8% increase in the national trade deficit in the first quarter of 2003, following a 9.6% drop in exports and a 9.3% rise in imports. Excluding Morocco's staple export commodity; phosphates and derived products, exports fell by 10.6% compared to the same period last year.

MOROCCO - US TRADE ACCORDS ON THE WAY

Undaunted by the fragility of domestic industry, Prime Minister Jettou vowed in April to press on with the liberalisation of the economy to prepare the way for a future of free-flowing international trade and competition.

He made special reference to privatisation, one of the keystones of international trade agreements, announcing the onset of a fresh round of de-regulation. Public industrial and trade services, water distribution networks, electricity, waste collection and public transport will all be gradually "transferred to the private sector whenever this will draw profit in terms of investments, job opportunities and quality". In early June the sale of 80% of Morocco's state tobacco company, Regie Des Tabacs, was agreed with the French-Spanish group Altadis for an announced $l.53bn.

Negotiations with the US over a free trade accord have been moving apace with three rounds concluded before the halfway point of 2003 and talk of the agreement being finalised before the end of the year. Morocco would become only the fifth country to have reached such terms with the US, alongside Canada, Mexico, Israel and Jordan.

The first talks took place in Washington in January, while the second round was held in Geneva in March during a sensitive pen)d in relations between the Arab world and the US as the build-up to war in Iraq got under way. …

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