Aziz Rabbah, Morocco´s minister for transport and infrastructure delivers his message about how the country can grow with the sustained development of its own logistics and also how it can and should strengthen its relations with European markets so everyone can reep the rewards.
Amid a global economic crisis and political turbulence in the region of northern Africa, Morocco is an alternative to economic growth and political stability. The economy of your country has grown at an average of 4.5% for the last three years; international trade has increased by 20% in 2011; foreign direct investment has doubled and political stability and social progress have continued.
Sir, what is your perspective on this economic growth and investment opportunities over the past few years?
First of all, I think that Morocco is now a stable platform, both politically and socially, and it is this social and political stability that makes Morocco more competitive in comparison with many other countries in a similar context. This was undoubtedly confirmed during what is now called the ‘Arab Spring’.
As you know, in terms of investment, cost factors, profitability and the country location in a stable region are essential factors to guarantee the completion of all projects. Morocco offers today more political stability and better conditions for long-lasting investment.
Second, we should underscore that our country has undertaken many positive political and economic changes, also in terms of good governance. Regarding investment, investors and businessmen both seek to interact with practical and transparent institutions to track their investments.
Therefore, we are in this dynamic of learning how to implement the best governance practices, improving our procedures, welcoming investors. As an example, I would like to tell you that the head of government has set up a ministerial committee to monitor different types of investments.
Third, Morocco, on top of its geopolitical situation, provides advantages for investors in terms of land policy, human resources, proximity, transportation logistics and investment incentives. We have a wide range of incentives, grouped under a stimulus package. Morocco’s today comparative advantages stand out compared to other countries. That's why I think donors, businessmen and investors increasingly have more confidence in Morocco.
The final consideration is that Morocco’s investors, businessmen and partners take into account both, the Moroccan and the regional markets. Therefore, they consider Morocco a starting point to access regional markets, especially Africa and Mediterranean zone.
Through its openness to international investment and its linkage to the global economy, Morocco has provided the northern region with a new port and a industrial and commercial complex called "Tanger Med". The objectives of this mega-port opened in 2007 were, among others: job creation, promoting the penetration of foreign markets and balancing land tenure policies.
Mr. Minister, were these objectives achieved? What do you envision for such construction in the long term?
Let me first state two major objectives in infrastructure development.
The first one is to achieve balance between regions; this means each region must be provided with infrastructure that will make them competitive. Particularly in Morocco, where regions are very active, each region should have major infrastructure. This implies a balance between regions, in order to establish regionalization. And each region will then be provided with all the means to make it more competitive and enhance interregional solidarity, which is a very important trait. As it is the gateway to Europe, developing the northern region today is essential.
The second objective is to create a balance between the developments of major infrastructure and to integrate industrial sector to those projects. This includes, for instance, the development of highways, railways and also the implementation of a free zone in Tanger.
It is important to highlight that European countries now demand strong partners and investors, and thanks to the geographical proximity and political stability occurring in Morocco creates an interest for investment opportunities. In order to support those investments, I should highlight that the entire northern region, including Tangier to Oujda, the Eastern Zone and all territory to the Mediterranean, will be further developed with the construction of port areas, highways, ports, logistical platforms and touristic projects such as Essaida station or Marshika Bay in Nador.
Concerning the sea industry, Morocco aims to develop activities such as fishing industry, sea freight, navy industry and external trade partnerships. Thus, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport has implemented a new National Port strategy for 2030 that will allow supporting economic growth and creating new opportunities in order to make Morocco more competitive on the global scale.
This policy should be strengthened by a communication strategy promoting the development of Moroccan sea industry and creating a regional hub of excellence in port and maritime professions.
Sir, in relation to the highway program of the past twenty years, traffic has registered a strong growth trend; traffic on highways rose by nearly 1 million vehicles per km in 1991 to over 13 million vehicles per km in 2010. Furthermore, an additional investment program contemplates the construction of 400 kilometers of highway in 2015 to reach 1,800 km.
Mr. Minister, according to you, what is the role of the motorway program for the social progress of the country?
I think transport is today a tool for social and economic development. It is a means to develop the country's competitiveness and the national economy because the presence of highways will increase road haulage of goods to ensure more security, fluidity and also will reduce travelling time, costs of transport, and thus develop logistical competitiveness.
We have a program in place until 2015, implemented by Société des Autoroutes du Maroc “ADM. The project will improve the connexion between the major Moroccan region and the highway network.
Moreover, the ministry is working on the project of highways for 2013 in order to optimize the connectivity between the major economic hubs by providing high capacity infrastructure and take advantage from the growth that the country is experimenting. This vision will be combine with a regional policy that will improve rural infrastructure, express roads and connect urban zone to the highways.
The implementation of this ambitious program will certainly allow reducing the social and economic gap existing between different regions in the kingdom by warranting a balanced development. In this context, the accurate industrial and infrastructural development will allow opening up the regions having natural resources and important investment in order to generate revenue, added-value and create employment.
A new orientation of this government aims to strengthen the highway development in particular by promoting the partnership between public and private sector in the realization and exploitation of these projects.
Could I then ask my next question? Concerning airport infrastructure, Morocco signed an agreement in 2005 (open sky) with the European Union and airport infrastructure has grown dramatically since then, but I'm interested in the development strategies planned for the future, taking into account tourism is expected to grow in the next few years thanks to the 2020 program,
What is the airport infrastructure development strategy?
We have a strategy, a blueprint, but we are also preparing a policy for 2030 which will include all those sectors I'm responsible for. We are implementing a strategy for airports, highways, roads and railway up to 2030 which requires a vision and a deadline for completion.
This airport policy will be primarily focused on Casablanca, as we want to accommodate 20 million passengers so that Casablanca’s airport not only becomes a development tool for Morocco, but also for the entire region of Casablanca. And this is the first point. The second one is to make our airports more profitable because we have plenty of them. This means we need to offer more international and local flights.
We want these airports to outperform; we want them to be benchmarks for our cities, and this involves promoting touristic and scientific activities, sport sites… around our airports. The airport will function not only as an air base station.
On the other hand, we plan to use the same bus stations’ design concept so that our airports become benchmarks in urban centres. We must improve our airports so they can offer services other than travel transit and allow people who do not travel to use them also to hold a conference, a celebration, sports events or tourism activities. Around airports we can find logistics and cargo areas. There are thus many things that can be developed around airports; they should be like ports, which not only ensure basic functions, but also work as a development tool for a region.
Through open sky we want to develop the "low-cost" to further liberalize the aviation sector and promote, consistent with the open sky logic, the trend that developed in Europe; we want to give middle class citizens the opportunity to travel at affordable prices. And this will not happen unless we have airports, unless we proceed to their development, extension and improvement.
All these actions will help us create the ‘democratization’ of the airline industry, and therefore air transportation. With the democratization of the airline sector, we must also increase our domestic flights. This is pivotal, as there are places today where there are highways and railways, while in other places the only way to get around is by using domestic flights… Hence, it makes sense to encourage and develop infrastructure.
Germany is today the third largest economy in the world, after the United States and China, and the first in European Union with a GDP of over 3,800 billion. In addition, and more important, Germany is the leader and the voice of Europe nowadays.
Mr. Minister, what do you think should be the relationship between both nations Morocco and Germany?
As a member of this new government, I would like to emphasize the fact that Morocco will strengthen its relations with its historical partners even more, primarily with Europe. We consider Europe a strategic partner. Despite the existing differences between our countries that we must overcome, these partnerships are expected to continue.
These historical relations should be strengthened through the implementation of solid social and structural projects; at any rate, I think our economic ties should be developed further, but so far, the Germans have not made an effort from their side. I do not know if this is due to human nature, but it is clear that there is more division. There are Germans who speak Arabic, French and English, as well as Moroccans speak French, English. I do not think the problem is a language barrier; I think it is rather linked to a cooperation strategy decision.
German used to look at Eastern Europe, but now I think -and this is some advice- you should rather consider southern Mediterranean, which is an important market and gives opportunities thanks to its geopolitical position. Africa is a big market, and your technologies are very competitive. It's not me saying this, but the facts, and I am very optimistic because today foreign investment is increasing, the doors are open; good economic governance is taking place, along with investment; these aspects are now high-level initiatives that are encouraging major infrastructure projects in various public and private domains. A law on concessions is already in place, and another one concerning public-private partnerships is being prepared. Businessmen are welcome to settle down, develop activities and invest in Morocco, and even to target the African market worldwide.
International cooperation is essential to develop and promote the Infrastructure and Transport sector. Cooperation has been active in mobilizing financial resources for the projects listed in the Kingdom’s strategic infrastructure programs.
Mr. Minister, what do you think is the key to continue attracting foreign investment in Morocco? How important do you think these investments are?
First of all, I want to take advantage of this interview to send a message to German investors: it is important not to miss the Moroccan and the African markets. Morocco could become a major economic partner of Germany; we have a very good political relationship and we would like to improve our bilateral economic cooperation. I think we are about to export the Moroccan platform better.
Apart from our commercial side, you first asked about the criteria or parameters that make Morocco stands out today. I would say that what we need now is to work on some additional export and investment marketing; we also need to diversify our partners while strengthening our ties with our strategic and historical partners. I also think we should look for the best economic diplomacy practices.
We will promote win-win partnerships, by guaranteeing growth and profitability for our European partners. Such partnerships will develop companies’ capacities and will create added-value and employment. Thus we will be watchful that project orders given too international corporations will provide as much as possible added-value in Morocco in terms of industrial investments, which are sign of confidence in our country on the long term of development process.
One last question, Sir. You hold a degree on engineering and you have held high responsibility positions in politics. You were Ministry of Economic Affairs and External Trade and now you are the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.
What is the challenge you aim to take during your term ahead of this Ministry? What accomplishment you will feel more proud of at the end of the performance of your duties?
There are many points. The first one is to continue to increase investments in order to develop the infrastructure, services and logistics in the transport sector, and of course, to focus on the regions that lack major infrastructure. Moreover we want to continue the liberalization of services in the sector, we also aim to improve quality of services and develop the profitability of logistical sector. The second point I would be proud of if successful, is to reinforce the private sector’s confidence, so that they can invest more on these infrastructures. The third point is to turn over to my successors a very reliable and powerful administration, as it is important to remember that this is a very complex sector. There are many projects and challenges we need to face, and today, the only guarantee relies on human resources and a good administration. These are therefore the three things I could be proud of, apart from feeling enormously proud of serving my country through this Ministry.
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