Interview: Simon McDonald
How have recent efforts helped to strengthen the Moroccan-UK relationship?
SIMON MCDONALD: There have been a number of efforts made by both countries to foster cooperation. The inaugural strategic dialogue between the UK and Morocco was held in 2018, which sought to deepen and strengthen collaboration across many areas. This has enabled us to work better together – on trade and economic issues, for example – and we are continuing work on a replacement for the current EU-Morocco free trade agreement. The Casablanca Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange are partners and will continue to work together. Casablanca Finance City has 13 UK companies registered, including Shell, and law firms DLA Piper and Clifford Chance. The model has real potential to act as a gateway to Africa.
Morocco and the UK are also historical partners in the security sector, working together to tackle a range of challenges. We will continue our efforts to ensure the development of this relationship.
What factors have given rise to the importance of building a relationship with Morocco, and how will the UK-Morocco partnership develop?
MCDONALD: As we look at the needs of the UK and the needs of Morocco, we recognise a shared interest. Brexit is going to happen, and once we are out of the EU we will focus on our national interest rather than a more generalised European interest. In that context, the UK will look to boost its relationships beyond Europe, especially with a country such as Morocco, given its market of 35m people and its geographical proximity to the UK. The kingdom already provides consumers in the UK with 60% of their sardines, 30% of their tomatoes and 25% of their soft fruit. More than 200 Moroccan firms export their products to the UK while approximately 100 UK companies are present in the African nation. Morocco has the potential to become a key international partner if it can build on its trading activity. It shows an increasing desire to diversify its relationships overseas and establish itself as a major international actor. Part of that strategy has been the growing promotion of the English language and the establishment of a number of English-speaking schools. Most Moroccans under the age of 30 are English speakers and as many as 5000 Moroccan students attend UK universities. The confluence of these factors has created the perfect environment for our relationship to grow even stronger. Cultural and sporting events have also brought both countries closer in recent years with visits in 2018 from the British showjumping team and the Oxford University Boat Club, for example. We must keep up the momentum of such cultural exchanges.
What Moroccan industries offer investors from the UK the greatest opportunities, and which sectors require further investment?
MCDONALD: There are certain sectors in which we do well, and others in which we are really underinvested. One of the sectors in which we do well, but could further improve, is tourism. Some 700,000 UK tourists visit Morocco every year. Morocco’s tourism offerings cover the full spectrum of the market, from boutique, top-end tourism to adventure tourism and mass tourism, so we could definitely do more in the way of increasing tourist numbers. To that end, Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism has set the goal of attracting 1m UK visitors by 2020, and the Association of British Travel Agents plans to organise its travel convention in Morocco that same year. Conversely, one of the sectors where the UK is very underinvested is automobiles. UK automobile producers are going to have to re-examine their entire supply chain, which for the moment is largely sourced in Europe and is more expensive than many other alternatives. We will begin analysing those alternatives, and Morocco is likely to be a strong candidate. The country is uniquely positioned thanks to its already well-established automobile industry.
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