Interview: Faysal El Hajjami
What is being done to address bottlenecks in the Customs clearance process?
FAYSAL EL HAJJAMI: The Customs clearance process has improved over the last three years. The open dialogue between Customs authorities and the private sector has resulted in a significant increase in the speed and volume of clearance operations. The double-digit growth experienced by the express industry in recent years has served to drive these improvements. In this respect, it is fair to say that the just-in-time concept of our industry has been appreciated and is being facilitated by Customs officers.
The bottlenecks are partly due to the grey market, whereby people import goods illegally. This is a major problem for our industry. There is a considerable need for more officers and inspectors on the ground to process each transaction and to prevent grey market trading activities. Moreover, the growth of ecommerce could become a concern as much as it is a great opportunity. Customs and the private sector must work together to prevent the e-commerce industry from becoming a conduit for illegitimate purposes. For example, some individuals see that they can import 20 items instead of one and then use e-commerce platforms to resell their products. However, it is compulsory for such resellers to be officially registered and to obtain the necessary documentation – rules that not all resellers abide by.
Finally, there still remain a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order to further encourage and facilitate trade, and I am confident that these challenges are being tackled by our partners, the Moroccan authorities.
How can express delivery distribution networks facilitate access to rural areas?
EL HAJJAMI: Over the last three years, significant investments have been made in key regions such as Tangiers, Casablanca, Agadir and Marrakech. Meanwhile, progress in rural areas has been slow. Nowadays, the government is turning its attention to these areas; however, it is focusing first on basic needs such as water, electricity, schools and hospitals.
Enhanced transport connections and infrastructure are expected to materialise under planned investment programmes. With these in mind, we should no longer be talking just about developments in Tangier, Oujda, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech, but also about projects in Tétouan, Nador and Ouarzazate. There is now a trend towards developing the smaller towns, so we expect this to lead to improved infrastructure and logistics access too.
Partnerships with local companies, such as Poste Maroc, can also be an effective way for players in the industry to expand their activity and reach rural areas. Another crucial element is supply and demand. For employment reasons, there has been a marked level of migration from rural areas to big cities. The resulting decrease in rural demand does not encourage investment in these areas.
Which markets do you expect to become North African states’ principal trading partners?
EL HAJJAMI: Intra-regional trade in North Africa is not yet substantial, but there is great potential for future growth in this area, especially with Morocco requiring large quantities of oil and gas, and Libya and Algeria being significant importers of agricultural products. Unfortunately, the limited road infrastructure between Morocco and Algeria remains as a major obstacle and only air or sea transport platforms are insufficient and or cost ineffective.
Meanwhile, Europe remains North Africa’s number one trading partner, followed by the US, although emerging markets such as China, Vietnam and South Korea have been rapidly strengthening their trade bonds with the North Africa region. In the case of Morocco, trade with Turkey has benefited from the signing of a trade agreement between the two countries last year, helping to boost the trade in textiles.
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