Looking outward: The kingdom is backed by influential partners

One of Africa’s longest-established sovereign states, Morocco has had diplomatic relations with other countries for centuries. It has particularly close ties to the US, as well as to the EU and especially France and Spain. Like many of its neighbours, Morocco is now building stronger trade and investment relations with other emerging markets, including sub-Saharan African nations and giants in Asia. The kingdom’s relationships with its neighbours in North Africa can be complicated, but recent years have seen new efforts to bridge divides and improve commercial ties.

Facing West 

The US and Morocco have good economic ties, which were deepened by a free trade deal that entered into force in 2006. The agreement has caused trade between the two countries to surge, with total trade topping Dh31.4bn (€2.88bn) in 2015. The Moroccan government is keen to leverage its relationship with the US to encourage American investors to use Morocco as a gateway to the rest of Africa. Through schemes such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and US Agency for International Development, the US is also active in supporting the development of agriculture, fisheries, education and civil society in Morocco.

Mediterranean Partnership

Morocco’s geographical location has ensured that it has had close ties with Europe for millennia. In the modern, post-independence era, these have strengthened through a series of bilateral and multilateral deals with the EU and its member states. Cooperation has accelerated in recent years, including through the 1995 Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (inaugurating the so-called Barcelona Process on strengthening economic, political and security ties); the 2000 Association Agreement between Morocco and the EU; the granting of “advanced status” to the kingdom in 2008 (allowing for further deepening of the political and economic relationship); and an EU-Morocco agreement on agricultural and fisheries products in 2012.

The EU is Morocco’s biggest trading partner, with trade totalling €30.6bn in 2015, of which €12.5bn of Moroccan exports went to the EU and €18.1bn of imports from the bloc entered the kingdom, according to the European Commission. Exports to the EU have been growing rapidly, averaging 9% a year between 2011 and 2015. Morocco’s exports to the EU are dominated by machinery and transport equipment, textiles and clothing, and agricultural products. The EU largely exports machinery and transport equipment, fuels and metals to Morocco.

The EU is also supportive of social and political development and the kingdom’s reform agenda. Much of the funding is channelled through the European Neighbourhood Initiative (ENI), which will allocate between €728m and €890m to Morocco between 2014 and 2017. In this period the ENI is focusing on social services, governance and employment. In 2015 EU assistance under the ENI totalled €180m, including €100m to support the government’s efforts to boost growth and competitiveness and €45m to reform the vocational training system. However, relations are not always smooth; in February 2016 Rabat suspended contact with EU institutions following an European Court decision over farm trade, though the EU itself challenged the ruling.

Reaching Further

Morocco continues to diversify its economic interests beyond its traditional trading partners. With relations with some other countries in its region challenging, it has reached beyond its immediate neighbours to build links in sub-Saharan Africa and with some of the world’s biggest emerging markets. As of 2014 Brazil was the third-largest export destination for Moroccan products, while China ranked third in imports to Morocco. The Moroccan government sees China as an important long-term strategic partner, while Chinese firms are showing interest in establishing manufacturing capacity in Morocco.