Morocco: Gateway to Trade and Investment in Northwest Africa

Trade with Africa® Newsletter

We had the honor of interviewing and engaging Ms. Rabia Alama, Managing Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Casablanca, Morocco during the 2020 Trade with Africa Business Summit, Find the transcript of our discussion below.

Transcript: Toyin Umesiri: Welcome back to the second half of the Trade with Africa Business Summit 2020; The Virtual Edition. We are moving to the second half of today's event and our next speaker is an amazing connector and I'm just so much looking forward to the information she's bringing us today. Ms. Rabia Alama is the Managing Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco and today she'll be sharing with us Trade and Investment Opportunities in Morocco. Rabia you have the floor. Wonderful welcome all the way from Morocco

Rabia Alama: Morocco yes so I want to welcome everyone to Casablanca, Morocco and I want to thank you heartfully for including me in this conference today and also it's a pleasure to join the Nazaru Trade and Investment Community. So i think you're doing an amazing job to connect you know business people and connecting America and Africa and hopefully we can do business together. So I have just few comments to share about Morocco and Africa and also all these wonderful initiatives that we could start like working on soon between our community.

So when you speak about Africa I would always say that this is a huge continent with untapped opportunities. Everyone knows that Africa is about 1.3 billion population about 600(million) middle class and a GDP almost like two trillion U.S. dollars. And when you talk about the continent as huge as Africa, one has to know exactly how you enter Africa and that's why we always recommend to our U.S. companies to choose a segment to kind of make Africa accessible - you have to choose your segment and your gateways and door of entry to these huge markets. So basically if you want to sum up Africa it's five segments you know the Northwest Africa region and where Morocco is located , the Eastwest Africa, Central Africa, Southeast Africa and Southwest Africa. So today my role is to introduce Morocco as a gateway at least for this big segment which is Northwest Africa. So as you all know Morocco is located in Northwest Africa and it's only nine miles from Spain. So you can literally visit Spain and Morocco in one day and this is why a lot of U.S. companies have chosen the north of Morocco Tangier and the free zone of Tangiers to set headquarters and to export to proximity markets. And I was listening to our colleague from PricewaterhouseCoopers(PWC). So he mentioned the few U.S. companies that were successful and others that were not successful but the ones I see in Morocco they've done the best choice because their KPIs are as good as the ones in European countries.

So take the example of Lear Automotive. Lear is a U.S. company that has 10 manufacturing plants in Morocco now they started with literally 160 employees today Lear employs 18,000 workers in Morocco and they export their products all what you see inside the car to Europe in 24 hours using Morocco as a hub as a gateway to Europe. So you know those who want to work with Africa they need to choose their gateway they need to choose the platform that will facilitate their business and will help them have the best KPIs as comparable to any other subsidiary in Europe and others.

When companies come to Morocco they come for a comparative advantage. They don't come to see a beautiful country or a sunny Marrakesh; and by the way Marrakesh is one of the top 10 cities to visit in the world. So I invite everyone to come and visit this beautiful touristic city. So as I said they come for a comparative advantage because there is this proximity to markets from Europe, African countries, Middle east and the U.S because Morocco is 3,000 kilometers of sea with Mediterranean and Atlantic. We have access to New York in seven days. we have direct maritime line to Savannah in about 10 days and you know we have several Free Trade Agreements and so Morocco enjoys an advanced Agreement with Europe. We have like among the only few Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.. We also signed the Free Trade Agreement with Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Emirates and recently as you all know Morocco rejoined the Africa Union (A.U.). and signed the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

So this Free Trade proximity plus a young population; Morocco is about 36 million inhabitants and 65% of these inhabitants are under 30 years so it's a young very well educated population. They speak at least two or three languages. So by the way Morocco speaks two languages like daily Arabic and Amazigh but the daily language for professional is French, Spanish in the north and all these young generation they master English as well. So this is the comparative advantage that Morocco is offering. In addition Morocco has improved its ranking in doing business. Today Morocco is about 60 - ranked 60 out of 170 countries and Morocco has made several reforms including amending investment laws like the Investment Charter opening all the sectors for 100% ownership whereas in several countries you have to have a local partner you know the 49/51 rule in Morocco you can have 100% ownership you can also transfer all the capital when you decide to exit the country.

And you have all the investments disputes resolution mechanism including arbitration, mediation and you name it. So in terms of reform Morocco has undertaken the maximum reform because when you sign Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. and Europe you have to have your laws compatible. You have to have reforms and this is what happened over the 20 you know the two decades where we have all these Free Trade Agreements signed. Morocco has really put the emphasis on reforms at all front. You know investment laws, labor law, IPR protection law and others. So I think the overall business climate here is very friendly and you know you can still access opportunities you have a lot of European companies, France is like the number one investor in the country, Spanish companies, Belgian but also we have like about 150 U.S. companies in major sectors.

As I mentioned earlier automotive, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, franchising is extremely developed here, education, technology (ITC). So I mean there are more opportunities for those who want to come and explore we can be the I would say your partner in Morocco. We can help you find the real partner. We can help you navigate the system. The roadmap of investor and by the way also Morocco has set what we call the one-stop shops means you can literally open a business in 48 hours and you don't need always to go through the big corporation like big CPAs you can do it yourself and it's only like 48 hours. Opportunities plenty from I would say agribusiness especially transformation, water and water sector desalination equipment you know precision equipment, packaging, technology you know smart technology in agribusiness; in Agriculture, in Manufacturing you know there is room available in all sectors. Especially automobile and aeronautics in education named digital education all the e-learning platforms, in franchising bring the best concepts and join the community here. Healthcare, telemedicine plenty of opportunities.

So I share some slide feel free to share them with the participants I mean I prefer one-on-one if we can really answer some questions and even tough questions. Because i'm sure at this stage I always say information is abundant on countries. You can find everything now on internet but what we need to do as a community from Africa and working with the U.S. is as I mentioned earlier how to build trust so we can do business. How to get rid of stereotypes and all these negative ideas about the continent and about the diaspora and about these countries so we can advance. And so today I mean let's answer tough questions and as I said stereotype so we can make things clear and build that trust that will help us advance together because it's easy today to connect people if you build that trust. I can easily work with you to help you promote your Cosmetic brands in my country and you can do the same in Chicago for others and this is the aim I mean if we come up out of this conference with few success stories that's the aim.

Toyin Umesiri: You know yes yes absolutely and along that line in terms I was going to ask you this question just for me so. So just like she said if you have questions drop it in the Q&A but one of my own questions would be - because i do play in the Skincare industry integrating products from Africa and producing them and then branding them here in the U.S.. So the question is what can I source from Morocco? I know we talked briefly two days ago about Moroccan oil not really Moroccan but yes yes that's something in terms of Export Development because a lot of the diaspora that also play in terms of more of connecting the dots. Part of the question is what should we be buying? What can we buy from Africa you know just understanding what that looks like for Morocco.

Rabia Alama: Absolutely I mean I wish we had like a common market of you know commodity especially you know I mean the one you have in Chicago I mean you have Mccormick for the the veggies and so I mean I hope we had that market in Africa where you have all the ingredients traded in a market in a single market with the rate every day and aggregation of imports and exports and people buying together and stuff like that. But I mean Morocco is a treasure to several raw materials especially in the Cosmetic industry. You mentioned the Argan oil. I mean this is the only I would say country in the world that manufacture that produces Argan oil because the tree is endemic is only available here and only live better and give the best fruit in this country and so Morocco is like among the best producer. I'm sure you'll find some countries who try in the tree but this is the best hub for cosmetic for Argan oil you can find all kinds of other raw materials including Clay Rhassoul you can find the Olive oil also that's commonly used both in culinary and also in cosmetics. All kind of Aloe Vera that you can also grow here and by the way we have some American companies in Morocco dealing with Aloe Vera and they have huge projects instead of sourcing some time from the U.S. or overseas or China they said we'll need to grow stuff here and because we have plenty of land - you know that only needs investment as you know Africa and in Morocco and they're like 60 percent of the arable land is in this continent so all we need is investment and drip irrigation and in technology precision technology so these investment are productive enough to generate good yield for both investor and farmers.

So you can have access to a lot of raw materials here especially for the cosmetic industry and you have like several hubs including Essaouira Agadir in the south of Morocco and by the way I mean the industry is doing good but they could do better. We want to see champions like Clinique and L'oreal coming from Morocco. It's not happening yet but you know they're on the track and hopefully with another boost from the U.S. and from other investors they could do better right.

Toyin Umesiri: I also see an opportunity where indigenous brands actually could - we could create a market access in the U.S.. So when you think about the skincare industry in U.S. you think about the Korean brand right - actually made a name for themselves where in the U.S. Korean skincare is like lighting up right. So I know that as Africans we have our own remedies whether medicinal or beauty you know things that are native that we've been using for hundreds of years that the world knows nothing about but I think the opportunity we have is how do we bring those brands and how do we tell our story and how do we own that supply chain. Because we usually play at the raw commodity mostly but how do we not just do Cocoa but we do Chocolate not just do Shea butter and Argan oil but we actually have branded items so that's the entire retail supply chain that we also see an opportunity in. And I think Morocco has - you already have that name. It would be incredible to see how we can find you know brands that we can actually take global. So that's something that I think about when I think across because your country is prime. I mean the beauty industry is mature. I know you have a lot of trade fair I subscribe to some of them in terms of your beauty - yes I do.

Rabia Alama: that's cool that's cool

Toyin Umesiri: I'm telling you nobody does beauty like Morocco that I mean that I know of and then South Africa also the skincare industry in South africa is very good as well. Okay so I want to change - shift a little bit - In your role at the American Chamber of Commerce you deal a lot with trade facilitation and one of the things I try to tell people particularly diaspora that they have to up-skill. They have to step up the game in terms of how they engage in trying to bring a buyer and a seller or an investor or define having to bring them together to actually see a deal happen. So I don't know if you could just share a little bit like what does it take to close a deal?

Rabia Alama: Well look I mean our role for example I mean we used to take delegation to the U.S.; exporters for example you cannot sell to the U.S. if you do not go and see a trade show like the Fancy Food show - this is for food. Basically Morocco will exhibit Olive oil and some other commodities for sale but so you have to go and see what the other competition is doing and this will be like taking a role in this in connecting like exporters with the trade show with the buyers in the U.S. and we'll do the vice versa too for example we work closely with the commercial service of Casablanca here at the U.S. Consulate when they receive a trade mission from the U.S.. Recently we helped the trade mission from Miami. It was a multi-sectoral for example they had companies in the OTC they have all the vitamins to be represented here in Morocco. They had fashion design, they have interior design companies and so basically we connect them through B2B but they do their homework before coming. You cannot come to a market before you're doing like your homework on knowing the market knowing how to find the best partner and also using trade facilitation institution like ours and our partner strategic partner the U.S. commercial service so we work closely almost daily on connecting the U.S and Morocco.

Today I mentioned we have about 150 U.S. companies and several distributors of U.S. brands and even the number of franchises is growing in Morocco from Starbucks to KFC, Pizza hut, Domino and named the franchises so this is a joint effort where you connect the buyer the seller the franchise or the franchisee but everyone does his homework. Everyone does his part of the work so we can identify the best partner because the day you identify a partner who's not credible then the whole business collapses and you end up producing failures instead of producing success stories. So it takes some joint effort of market research, field work and then connecting B2B networking and today the world is amazing with all this virtual platform where you can put you know all these beautiful information from training to market research to videos to networking in one platform like the Nazaru Trade which I you know I really want to keep promoting and keep talking about because it could really produce amazing success stories.

Toyin Umesiri: Well I really appreciate that because the reason we actually built that is exactly what you described because I think your country is well advanced in trade facilitation than other countries on the continent and what I get a sense of in other parts of Africa is that everybody wants trade but they think it just happens. Trade doesn't just happen. No absolutely no. Just because you want it or you wake up screaming about it right - and I love that when you said that you actually physically bring people to the market and you reverse it. One of the jokes I say is and this it's funny but it's not. I say if my event was called Trade with China business summit do you know how many planes would fly from China? Wow yes I say that to say one of the challenges we have as a people is that what you just described. We need to grasp that what we truly want requires a lot of handshake and consistency and staying at it sticking at it and showing up. We know because the first event we had - I lived in Bentonville I used to work for Walmart - when I left I was like - wow I know what's going on with global market. I know everybody coming in and out but I want my own - you know, I want Africans to be here and to showcase their products and we had it there but I also saw the challenges that they are not used to - we expect the buyers to come to Africa. So i'm glad you said that - that's where that question was coming from. And I see some some questions for you as well Did you want to say something before i move to the questions?

Rabia Alama: well look I mean definitely, I mean there is an enormous work as I said of getting rid of stereotype - creating that trust between markets and Africa also African countries need to take charge and to put budget for marketing and promotion. How many countries does promote itself on big chain channels or how many countries like take consistently delegation to the U.S. to promote their investment platform or their local industries? So I think there's a consistent I will say engagement and budget from these countries to help the industry and the exporters and to help them access new markets.

Toyin Umesiri: Fantastic. So I'll take one question now and before we move on. So Dr. femi Osidele said: Rabia great presentation. I know very little about Morocco except football - wow with a smile so he's smiling at you. Then he says so I will ask a question about my field which is energy and natural resources - what are the primary energy sources in use for electricity, transportation industry in Morocco?

Rabia Alama: yes well it's great that you know football. I mean as I always say a country has to make itself known by something. If it's not food it's soccer if it's not soccer it's tourism but it's easy if you know soccer you made my life easier because I know these young Moroccans football players are so motivated and they always want to win and make Morocco on the rise and raise the flag. So this is one of the characteristic of Moroccans in general so they do a lot of effort because they always want to succeed. But in terms of energy Morocco is not an energy producer. All we have and this is maybe a pride for the country is solar energy. So yes Morocco has among the first biggest station of solar energy in the world and you can check it - you can google it online. It's called Noor. It's near Marrakesh and Morocco is aiming to have a mix of renewable energy of at least 50 percent before 2025 and so this huge project of solar is to help Morocco reduce the cost of production by at least 20 25 so all the energy today is put into solar and wind. So please if you have time google Noor and you will see how huge - I mean some people compare it to the one in Las Vegas the one owned by the U.S.. Some people even say it's like number one station in the world. I know a lot of countries are building solar station including Egypt and a few other countries but Morocco is far well advanced in solar and renewable in general.

So this is the number one source of energy. In terms of transportation Morocco is pretty well connected in terms of railway roads but also in the region I think Morocco is the only country that has the fastest train that connects Tangier in the north to Casablanca in two hours and this is almost like one thousand kilometer. So this is a huge project that was inaugurated just in 2019. So transportation is pretty well organized from highway railway and fast train we also have a subway called here not really the real subway but tramway that uses electricity. So overall the country is doing well in terms of alternative energy instead of like oil and gas because we're not a producer of oil and gas but we use a lot of solar and renewable and wind as well.

Toyin Umesiri: wow i just learned something new today. Yes I see more questions I'm going to take one more. I know because we had this glitch in the beginning so I'll take one more. Catlego says pertaining to digitization in the agriculture spectrum how is Morocco playing a role in digitizing the agricultural field?

Rabia Alama: Yes this digitization is a hot topic today not only in Morocco but I think in all over Africa and the good news is Morocco is taking it seriously now. Like three years ago they created a special agency called the Digital Agency of Morocco and so basically they will go through every field. The number one priority today for Morocco is all kind of e-services and e-government which makes sense because you know as soon as you go with e-government and e-services you cut bureaucracy and you cut corruption and you cut delays and administrative treatment. So this is a very good priority on the agenda today in terms of sectors and you know technology we have a lot of agencies helping Morocco with digitizing the sectors including USAID and other countries Germany and others but the good news we have some farms with several hectares like from 8000 to 10000 hectares using drones and precision agriculture to treat like using pesticide.

And even in organic industry a lot of precision agriculture drip irrigation very well automation. So I think the the sector is at least for the big farms like the eight thousand, ten thousand hectares they're really taking the thing seriously of course it's not generalized for small farmers but there are several local initiatives mostly from startups that they try like to help small farmers use the technology even though they are not technology literate. But overall the trend is here and even the aid and the government are helping so the production and productivity is better.

Toyin Umesiri: wow incredible you do have more questions but I think this is what i'm going to try to do is - all the open questions that we're asking here in Zoom I think I would find a way to move them to the platform. Sure I know usually when you come for Zoom and you end the Zoom everything goes away but I'll see where we can shift some conversations that way you can respond directly and maybe the person is actually asking something in context of their own work then we can take that conversation forward. I really want to thank you. This is only the beginning and I guess more engagements again. You are a gatekeeper and you have the key to Morocco and we are so happy for you to be on this platform.

Rabia Alama: Anytime we wish the best to the our African diaspora and to the African continent because we want to see it flourish and prosper because we want our youth to stay in the country instead of seeing them dying in the Mediterranean just to look for opportunities where the opportunities are here right.

Toyin Umesiri: wow that's the whole essence - I see a situation where with the population growth we've got to put the youth workforce to work.

Rabia Alama: absolutely

Toyin Umesiri: if not and it's our responsibility nobody's going to do it for us. So thank you again and I look to more partnership thank you so much.

Rabia Alama: all the best have a good day you take care.