Interview: Alistair Burt

In what ways can the British private sector help stimulate or sustain job creation in Morocco?

ALISTAIR BURT: Growth leading to job creation is important for Britain as well. In Morocco, British firms can bring a range of abilities and experiences to complement those of the local private sector, such as knowledge of new technologies, processes and markets. However, it is important that the local education system give people the skills that employers want. This is an area where cooperation between Morocco and the UK is rapidly developing. In addition to giving English-language lessons and qualifications to increasing numbers of Moroccan students, the British Council works closely with the Moroccan government to provide expert advice on education practices. Ties between the best universities in Morocco and the UK are closer than ever, allowing for a fruitful exchange between leading academics.

How can the Moroccan economy strengthen ties with the British private sector?

BURT: For historical and geographical reasons, France and Spain are likely to remain Morocco’s biggest trading partners, but as Morocco’s economy expands, opportunities for British companies will increase. UK firms are indeed seizing these opportunities, as steadily increasing trade figures show. The biggest obstacle in expanding trade relations is a lack of knowledge about Morocco among British business people. Government activity cannot entirely replace the need for Moroccan business people to reach out to British counterparts and explain opportunities. Finally, there is the importance of continuing to look after existing investors. There is no better advertisement for Morocco than existing investors seeking to increase their investment.

To what extent is there potential for Casablanca to develop into a financial centre?

BURT: Two of the most important factors that underpin London’s success as a financial powerhouse are openness and the rule of law. Openness covers both economic policy – government allowing business the space to innovate and grow – as well as a receptivity to people and ideas. The rule of law requires certainty of outcome and the ability to enforce contracts. In recent years, Morocco has made excellent progress on both fronts, but more must be done. The British Embassy is active is in supporting the process of judicial reform being led by the Moroccan government at present.

I know the aim is for Casablanca to become a centre for financial and professional services in the Maghreb and African region. This is a realistic objective and allows much scope for London to assist. The memorandum of understanding signed in October 2012 between the membership body TheCityUK that promotes UK-based financial services and the Moroccan Finance Board provides an excellent framework for such cooperation.

What are the biggest risks that could contribute to further regional instability in North Africa?

BURT: There are both political and economic risks. The region needs strong, inclusive growth so it can create jobs, particularly for the high numbers of unemployed youth, and to lift more people out of poverty. The governments of the region must be seen as responsive to their people and capable of delivering effective services. The UK is helping support both political and economic reform through its Arab Partnership Fund, worth £110m over four years, launched in 2011. It provides expert advice at the request of reforming countries, to facilitate economic reform and to build more inclusive, vibrant and globally integrated economies, and offers funding to support free and fair elections, stronger parliaments, civil society participation, responsible media and improved judiciaries. The UK will also use its presidency of the G8 to ensure the Deauville Partnership delivers meaningful support for economic transition in the region and stimulation for private sector development to encourage job creation. This is just part of the continuing assistance we offer Morocco and the wider region in support of reform programmes.