Since the early years of the current century, Moroccan companies – in particular in the telecoms, financial services and phosphate sectors – have been expanding into sub-Saharan African countries, with an initial focus on francophone West Africa that has since widened to much of the rest of the continent. A large share of Moroccan investment outflows currently go to Africa. The country that receives the greatest amount of Moroccan foreign investment is Côte d’Ivoire, with a total of Dh6.6bn (€593.6m) as of 2017, according to the latest figures from the kingdom’s Office des Changes, and six out of the top-10 destinations for Moroccan investment flows in the first nine months of 2018 were sub-Saharan countries. Moroccan exports to the continent have also been growing rapidly over the last decade.
The kingdom now appears to be building on such business ties to cement its political and economic relations with its southern neighbours. Perhaps most notably, in early 2017 Morocco was readmitted to the African Union (AU). It had left the organisation’s predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity, in 1984, over a disagreement related to the Moroccan/Western Sahara dispute.
In 2017 Morocco also applied to join the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), despite not sharing a border with any of its current member states. The kingdom has said it is interested in joining the bloc as part of its wider efforts to build South-South partnerships. ECOWAS reportedly agreed in principle to allow the kingdom to join shortly afterwards; however, since then there appears to have been little concrete progress, and a final decision was still pending after the December 2018 ECOWAS summit failed to include it in its agenda as had been expected. The plan is likely to face a number of obstacles, including the apparent clash between ECOWAS’ common tariff on European and US imports, and Morocco’s free trade agreements with the US and the EU, though some observers have suggested that a process of gradual transition towards full membership of the bloc would be able to resolve such challenges.
Morocco has also been seeking to strengthen relations with individual sub-Saharan states. In late 2016 King Mohammed VI visited several countries outside Morocco’s traditional area of focus in the region, francophone West Africa. The king followed this with further visits to sub-Saharan countries in 2017, visiting 14 between October 2016 and mid-2018. These visits have been accompanied by a number of major economic and investment announcements, including several that should serve to boost Moroccan exports of phosphates and phosphate-based fertiliser to the continent. These include an agreement between Moroccan state phosphates monopoly, OCP Group, and Ethiopia’s Chemical Industries Corporation for the construction of a $3.7bn fertiliser plant fed by phosphoric acid supplied by OCP. Another major project is an agreement reached in 2016 for the construction of a 5660-km gas export pipeline from Nigeria to Morocco, where it would link up with pipelines taking gas into Europe. In January 2019 the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation said that a feasibility study for the line had been undertaken and that, when completed, it would supply gas to 15 countries in West Africa.
Morocco’s bid to strengthen ties with Africa comes at a time when the continent is seeking to implement greater integration. In early 2019 some 49 countries of the African Union’s 55 member states, including Morocco, had signed up to a new regional trading accord, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, the goal of which is to create the world’s largest free trade area. The precise details of the accord have yet to be finalised. Nevertheless, the bloc, if implemented, is likely to bring Morocco further opportunities to strengthen ties with its southern neighbours.
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