The progress of Spain is totally linked with the progress of Morocco, a "Marriage sans divorce" that has turned Spain into the first commercial partner of Morocco, ahead of France.
The first matter we would like to address is the economic, political and social reality of contemporary Morocco. Under the auspices of the directives of King Mohamed VI the government of Morocco has engaged in a process of reforms of great significance embodied in the drafting of a new Constitution as well as in the new sectoral plans of economic and human development of the country. The "Moroccan exception" within the so-called Arab Spring has marked a new roadmap for the future of the country. How would you define this new chapter in the history of Morocco?
Indeed! Morocco is experiencing a promising, hopeful and very positive stage of progress, mainly as a result of several factors. Firstly, the Alawite monarchy gives great stability to the country, and at the same time Morocco has experienced a sustained economic growth in the last decade, most certainly important, around 5% of GDP on average. These are the two underlying factors. The entire reforms process launched by the Moroccan Government and the Government of his Majesty Mohammed VI mainly from the so-called Arab Spring of 2010 and that is reflected in the Constitution of 2011 is added to these factors.
That is the starting point, and from there you have to consider the whole process of reforms in the economy, in the social aspect, in the political aspect, reform of the administration, the judicial reform, economic liberalization, energy plans to change the structure of energy supply in the country, plans in all sectors.
What I would like to enhance in this regard is that Spain is committed to accompany, support and help in this process. And really Moroccans are asking us very often for technical assistance and we are providing it through the advice of Spanish officials, through exchange of visits and Moroccan or Spanish business delegations that take place, either in Spain or in Morocco.
Another important factor is the strategic positioning of Morocco with respect to the challenges of the African continent. Morocco is a strategic partner in Defense, immigration and anti-terrorism matters, not only of Spain, but of the European Union; a strategic location that has its dividends in economic and commercial matters. In your opinion what role is Morocco called to play?
Clearly Morocco's geo-strategic position is fundamental. We always say, and it is true, that Morocco, together with France and Spain, is the only country with fronts to both seas: the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean
At the same time, by its position in North Africa it is on the border of a very troubled area - the Sahel - and a very important risk zone for international security. And in this regard, Morocco has to play a key role in combating these security threats; and it is doing this through excellent cooperation with a number of countries and, of course, with Spain in the field of counter-terrorism and in the control of irregular immigration. These actions are being developed in the field of bilateral relations and through major multilateral international forums dealing with these issues such as the Union for the Mediterranean, the 5+5 initiative covering such diverse facets as defense, security or police cooperation. And it is clear that Europe's security, and that of Spain in particular, begins in the north of Africa. But it appears that in recent times this security border has moved further south so that, if anything, Morocco is still more in the front line than some time ago.
What is your opinion concerning the fact that Spain has become Morocco’s main trading partner, surpassing France for the first time ever?
That sounds very good to me. We must remember that the increase of the Spanish external sector in the Spanish economy has been one of the most important elements under which Spain is emerging from the crisis, along with other factors such as structural reforms, fiscal consolidation or reform of the financial sector. The external sector, as well as tourism, indeed, has played a very important role in that sense.
Morocco is one of the examples where we have seen it most clearly, with an increase in the arrival and installation of Spanish companies, most of them small and medium enterprises which – making a virtue of necessity also - have moved to Morocco in search of business opportunities that the crisis had denied them in Spain. There are currently around 800 Spanish companies or partly-owned Spanish companies which are installed and working in Morocco. And there are 20,000 Spanish companies exporting goods or services to Morocco each year.
Consequently we have become Morocco’s first commercial partner, both as customer and as recipient of its goods, that is to say both for Moroccan import and export to Spain. Indeed, already in 2012 and in 2013, and again in 2014, Spain has surpassed France in this regard, exceeding it in quantities representing 5% of exports and imports in relation to what France sells to and buys from Morocco.
Did we need an economic crisis to realize how beneficial it might be to invest in our southern neighbor?
Spanish investment in Morocco is not something new. It is an increase of that trend and that presence. Indeed the crisis has played a role, but I also believe that the externalization of Spanish companies is also a proof of the maturity of the Spanish economic system itself; and that it was natural in the process of modernization of the Spanish economy that Spanish companies went abroad. They were doing it and now that process has increased.
We still have things to do. We shouldn’t be over-confident in this respect. We say that Spain is Morocco’s main trading partner, which is true but, for example, if we take into account other parameters such as foreign direct investment in Morocco, there we are far behind other countries and, in particular, France. According to the data from the Moroccan Exchange Office, in 2013 we are talking about €100 million of direct investment. As far as the investor stock, that is to say total investment relying on figures for 2012, we stand around €1400 million, when other countries’ figures are much higher. We hope that, as new opportunities arise, Spanish companies, especially large Spanish companies, will know how to take advantage of it.
In which sectors is there a major presence of Spanish companies?
As they are mainly small and medium enterprises, it implies that sectors are very varied and numerous. What can in fact be said is that there are certain sectors, which I believe, and everyone believes in, and Moroccans believe in them -because they convey it to us - with the wish for these types of companies, instead of others, to come increasingly to Morocco, because there are certain sectors where Spanish companies have some comparative advantages and greater experience than in other fields.
I would mention the fields of shipbuilding, of renewable energy, tourism of course, the automotive sector both regarding the manufacture of vehicles and the auxiliary industries in that sector, and also the textile industry. Those are the sectors which Moroccans ask us that Spanish companies make an effort to be present. There have already been major contracts in these sectors. For example Ouarzazate I solar power station where Acciona and Sener are part of a consortium that is building the solar power plant. And there are certain companies that are also participating in new competitions, in new bids, and in very important projects in the energy field.
And how are you trying to strengthen that business relationship in these sectors from the Embassy?
It is being reinforced first through countless visits in both directions of Spanish personalities to Morocco, and Moroccans to Spain. The Ministers of Transport, Energy, Economy, and Industry, have established frequent contacts, practically every month. Only a few days ago the Spanish Minister of Industry who, as you know, is also in charge of Energy and Tourism, has been here and has met with his three colleagues, energy, industry and tourism. The same can be said for other sectors like agriculture where the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Arias Cañete, has been here recently just before he was appointed European Commissioner. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, obviously, speaks almost every week with his Moroccan colleague.
And there is another thing that, we understand, influences and helps, which is the work being done by the Embassy of Spain through a series of departments, primarily the Economic and Trade Department, but also the Agriculture Department, the Employment Department. And, then, the two Spanish Chambers of Commerce that exist in Morocco, in Tangiers, which is one of the oldest in the world, and that of Casablanca. There is something I would like to mention, because I understand it is also important, which are the associations of Spanish-Moroccan entrepreneurs that have emerged in line with the increased presence of Spanish companies in Morocco. There are associations of this kind in Casablanca, Tangiers, and a third one being created in Nador. I think that this is good because it involves mutual support and exchange of information and experiences and if more, as a means to convey their concerns both to Spanish and Moroccan officers.
Regarding the European Union, and considering that Spain is Morocco’s key access link within the EU, in what other areas would you like to see strengthened cooperation; to extrapolate the fisheries agreement in other areas where there is a mutual benefit between the two countries, between the European Union and Morocco?
With the European Union there is a very close, very important and very solid relationship. Morocco is one of the non-member States of the European Union which has the closest relationship with the Union. This leads to an advanced status; it also results in the commercial field in a very important liberalization of trade, already affecting the agricultural and industrial sectors as well as a series of other sectors, but that now also wants to broaden through the negotiation of what in the European Union is called ALECA(accord de libre-échange complet et approfondi) or DCFTA(deep and comprehensive free trade agreement) that in addition to this commercial side, provides for the inclusion in a policy of regularization and exchanges which will cover new sectors, such as public procurement, such as services, very important things, and which were not contemplated thus far.
Along with this, indeed, is the fishing agreement that particularly interested us Spaniards and which is in effect since last September. And there is another major agreement that is in negotiation between Morocco and Spain which is the mobility protocol, affecting both what is visa facilitation - i.e. the trips of Moroccans to Europe, towards the Schengen area - and everything that has to do with the control and regulation of illegal immigration mainly through the readmission of migrants entering irregularly in the European territory. That negotiation is underway, along with many other issues covering all the fields of economic and political activity. There is also a very important enhanced political dialogue taking place between the European Union and Morocco, notwithstanding the bilateral agreements that then, each of the member countries of the European Union may have with Morocco.
A basis for understanding between two cultures is also education, to know otherness, the neighbor across the street. With your experience in Morocco do you feel that we know each other well?
This is one of the most important issues we have ahead: improving the knowledge, the information of each other. We have to work very hard because although it is true, and I do believe, that this knowledge has improved in recent years, I also think that there is still much to be done.
We are working on some initiatives that can contribute to this improvement of knowledge and to this improvement of image. Improvement of the image that, I insist, and forgive the repetition, has improved lately as a result of various factors. To begin with, as a result of the mere presence of nearly one million Moroccan immigrants in Spain, who are also a community that is well integrated into Spanish society, who does not cause any problems, who work; an emigration which is already within society and within the Spanish labor structures functioning properly like any other one.
But that said, and stressing that improvement, it is true that we must do more. How? For example through the organization of mutual trips of groups of Spanish journalists to Morocco and Moroccan journalists to Spain. I believe that there are still a number of clichés that we have to fight concerning the image of Morocco in Spain as well as the image of Spain in Morocco. In this context, opinion makers such as journalists have to play an important role and thereof our idea of promoting and organizing these trips. Or for example through an exchange of Moroccan and Spanish civil servants who can do internships or some kind of work experience placement in the corresponding Ministry of the other country. I mean for example Moroccan diplomatic civil servants who could spend some time in Spain or Spanish diplomatic civil servants who could come here; something that exists within European countries as it is known and gives very good results; I understand that our relations with Morocco have already reached a level that may allow such exchanges; agreements with the Moroccan Diplomatic School and the Spanish Diplomatic School in the process of diplomatic civil servants training. The same could be said of the judicial organization system.
We are working on that, with the aim, I insist, to improve that image and to know each other better because it is a crucial precondition to a deep and stable improvement of these relations.
What are the images that define our country for Moroccans?
Spain for many Moroccans is football. And Spanish football is as important in Morocco as in our own country. At the same time, they are aware that Spain is a country with great economic potential, much more developed than Morocco. It is a country that has a head of State with a very privileged relationship with their head of State. That goes for King Juan Carlos as for King Felipe, because that relationship, fortunately, has been renewed with the arrival of Felipe VI. And therefore that’s what is in the collective mind of the ordinary Moroccan; these are the important things.
Then, there are others who have in their memory unfortunately something less positive: the Green March whose anniversary has been held a few days ago; the colonial past, perhaps not too brilliant in certain aspects of the Spanish Protectorate. But I think that is improving and Spain remains a country where many would like to go to work. There are still 42% of Moroccans who would like to work in another country, essentially a European country, and I believe that many of them think about Spain in this regard.
In our last report we said that Morocco was a strategic ally and an economic partner. What could be the title of this second edition?
I would propose the idea of a changing country, a country that is reformed, a country that progresses, that is modernized, and Spain supports this process. That would be the important thing.