Interview: Salaheddine Mezouar

How can policy reform support private businesses?

SALAHEDDINE MEZOUAR: Despite the common challenges Moroccan leaders face with their global counterparts on matters such as heightened protectionism, the potential impact of the numerous free trade agreements the kingdom signed and growing social unrest, Morocco’s private sector remains cautiously optimistic. There are clear expectations of stronger growth and faster implementation of economic reforms. Areas for improvement include streamlining administrative processes, reducing payment delays and issuing new tax measures.

Additionally, business executives are calling for better methods of aligning training with the needs of the job market. From the perspective of economic diversification, adapting the way we train young people to the evolution of the job market is paramount. This is where the private sector can play a bigger role. The gains that have been realised in the textile, automotive, aeronautics and offshoring sectors through vocational training programmes can be duplicated. Pushing forward with the digitisation of administrative procedures is another enabler of the business environment. As a country that aims to both attract foreign investments and stimulate local entrepreneurship, full digitalisation is crucial.

Where are reform and development initiatives most needed in the Moroccan economy?

MEZOUAR: One of the most pressing points is to accelerate territorial development, which needs to become more inclusive and offer long-term prospects and stability to everyone. The regional development plans are valuable policies, but they sometimes do not consider the reality of costs. To create growth and added value, every region must find its own vocation, adapt its territorial marketing, make itself more attractive and gather local actors around a common aim.

A region that positions itself clearly is always much appreciated by investors. The ongoing reform of the regional investment centres should help achieve that. I am convinced that the future of our national economy lies in the regions, and that the private sector should be at heart of this new economic model. Challenges like unemployment and social tensions cannot be addressed without the involvement of the private sector.

I cannot imagine a country pretending to be in line with global economic evolution without taking part in the digital economy, but Morocco is lagging behind. The private sector is responsible for showing the authorities and the public at large which segments we can move forward and how to do so. The new Agency for Digital Development is encouraging, but it is not yet fully operational. It must be a vector to accelerate digitalisation.

Lastly, as King Mohammed VI said, the state must follow exemplary conduct in matters such as payment delays, administrative processing and the distribution of value-added tax (VAT) revenue. Some Dh560bn (€50.4bn) in payments is outstanding, a large part of which is on hold within public bodies, not to mention the Dh40bn (€3.6bn) yet to be distributed as pending VAT. This cash income is likely to give a boost to private firms.

How can public-private partnerships (PPPs) and joint ventures support South-South cooperation?

MEZOUAR: The private sector has always agreed with King Mohammed VI’s vision of continental cooperation. Today, private decision-makers must work more closely with their African counterparts to foster collaboration, create joint ventures and multiply economic opportunities. PPPs also create a dynamic that we want to push for. Our main asset is that our development is much closer to the realities of other African countries than Europe. We have been enhancing our agriculture, building social housing and strengthening energy production for the past 10 to 20 years, which positions us well to help other developing countries to do the same. Having spent Dh37bn (€3.3bn) in the last 15 years, Morocco is the second-largest African investor on the continent and also the leading African investor in West Africa.