Morocco, a gateway to Africa for Irish commerce and investment

Morocco's strategic geographic location, its political stability, safety, good governance and modern infrastructure together with direct flights from Dublin and a new Irish embassy in Rabat, make doing business in the North African country an attractive proposition

The Tangiers-Med Port: Morocco is positioning itself as a competitive industrial and exportation platform. PIcture: Michael Teuler

Morocco has long been synonymous with colour, beauty, mystique and endless sunshine. But it is also a thriving hub of commerce and industry, with its strategic geographic location making it the gateway to Africa and a vital link between two continents.

With advanced infrastructure and a highly qualified workforce, the North African country represents a business-friendly environment with a resilient economy and continued political stability.

It has long enjoyed a strong relationship with Ireland and to cement that friendship and continue to work towards a mutually rewarding diplomatic and economic future together, last October the Embassy of Ireland in Morocco, opened in the capital, Rabat.

Headed up by HE James McIntyre, Ireland’s first resident Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, the Embassy offers support to Irish nationals resident in the country along with the many businesses, institutions and public bodies which engage in activities there.

Enthusiastic about his new role, the Ambassador says there are many opportunities available for Irish businesses and he and his team are looking forward to, not only exploring the many facets to the country, but also working towards building business, political, educational, and cultural links between the two countries.

“Ireland is fully committed to further deepening relations with Morocco and to serving the needs of Irish citizens,” he said. “I see so many connections between our two peoples and also see much untapped potential in our working together and sharing experiences.

“So, we look forward to building our network with Irish companies doing business with Morocco and Moroccan companies investing – or hoping to invest – in Ireland.”

Indeed, the country is ripe for business opportunities across all sectors and its strategic location, just 14km across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, is extremely advantageous, making it a crucial stepping stone between Europe and Africa.

With superb transport links across the globe, Tangiers-Med Port has 184 connections with 71 countries. Morocco also boasts excellent infrastructure with the first-ever high speed train link in Africa. In addition to this, major towns and cities are connected by highways which link up to road networks across the African continent all the way from Tangier to Cape Town - and by air, Casablanca airport is a hub which is directly connected to over 20 major African airports.

Effortless connectivity is also apparent in its exceptional broadband capabilities, which are higher than any other country in Africa. And Youssef El Bari, CEO of AMDIE, the Moroccan Investment and Export Development Agency, says these advantages make Morocco an ideal hub for strategic investments and international sourcing.

“Morocco has completed an impressive transformation in the past 20 years under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, raising itself as a competitive industrial and exportation platform and one of the most attractive for investment in the continent,” he said. “Also, in the context of climate emergency and value chains reorganisation, pioneer options taken by Morocco in renewable energies and in free trade are translating into distinctive assets.

“We believe that Morocco is more than ever the right place to invest, so we have decided to highlight our distinctive value proposition while launching our national brand of investment and exportation, Morocco Now – one of AMDIE key initiatives along with a new large scale prospecting approach inspired from the best in class selling practices and the development of tailormade services and accompaniment for strategic operators.”

Trade and investment opportunities

Ensuring Ireland has a seat at the table when it comes to future trade and investment is something which both countries are keen to promote and in March 2021 a week-long collaboration between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment of Ireland, The Arab-Irish Chamber of Commerce and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Ireland, set out to showcase the opportunities for Irish businesses to expand into the Moroccan market.

In organising the event, as Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, Mike Hogan brought together speakers and participants on five virtual sector webinars, covering Aerospace and Automotive, Fintech and Financial Services, Healthcare, Agri and Food Tech and Sustainability.

Highlighting the fact that Irish exports to Morocco were up 31 per cent in 2019, and the country has become one of the key trade partners for Irish innovation and trade - Hogan says Virtual Morocco Week allowed Irish companies to meet their Moroccan counterparts and gain a better understanding of the market.

“The event was attended by Irish companies interested in exporting to Morocco and North Africa and/or using the country as part of their supply chain,” he said. “Also present were Moroccan companies interested in expanding into the EU, Irish and Moroccan government economic agencies and representatives from the education sector.

“(It is clear that) Morocco is fast becoming a hub for trade and business for Irish companies.”

As Ireland’s Agri Tech industry continues to thrive, the equivalent in Morocco is growing fast and strong and is attracting the interest of Irish companies looking to supply new technologies and solutions.

There is also an increasing interest from Irish companies looking to sub supply the aerospace sector and the car manufacturing industry in Morocco, the latter of which is the largest in Africa (for passenger cars). And as the fifth largest economy on the African continent, along with being an ICT hub for accessing Francophone Africa, it is becoming more and more connected to the European supply chain and of increasing interest to Irish companies across a myriad of different sectors looking to expand outside of Europe.

And the creation of Casablanca as a financial services and banking hub for Ireland has been mooted as a plus point for Irish businesses looking to expand into North Africa and the wider Sub-Sahara region – with substantial efforts continuing to be made to promote and facilitate investment, including new Industrial Acceleration Zones, subsidies, tax advantages and trade agreements.

Renewable energy strategy

In addition to these incentives, investing in Morocco is further enhanced by its renewable energy strategy which aims to put the country among the top renewable energy producers in the world (today 38 per cent of its energy is based on renewable sources – sun, wind, and water).

And another, clear advantage is its young and competitive workforce, with an estimated 152,000 graduates per year. And with 39 per cent of the population aged between 20 and 45 years of age, it also has a growing number of partnerships with leading international universities and a well qualified labour force.

This, says Youssef El Bari, facilitates companies looking to have a footprint in Morocco which will offer a competitivity boost.

“Beyond tangible advantages such as the supply in renewable energies, the Free Trade Agreements giving access to large consumers markets and the government incentives which usually attract investors, companies discover here the amazing spirit of a young diverse skilled population willing to make a success,” he said. “One investor in electronic manufacturing services, described it as a ‘fabulous breeding ground of know-how and interpersonal skills, mobilised to build together the world of tomorrow, both in Research & Development and in high tech production.”

Dr Lahcen Mahraoui, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Ireland, agrees and says there has never been a better time for Irish investors to avail of excellent opportunities and easy access to investment in Africa within a politically and economically stable country with a forward thinking and sustainable outlook.

This is further enhanced by the fact that Ireland and Morocco are in the same time zone and there are direct flights from Dublin to Marrakesh and Agadir, with a further link proposed to Casablanca.

"And to enhance the transport of goods and products between the two countries, a new shipping line between the Port of Cork and the Port of Tangiers-Med is being considered," he said.

“Many investors may benefit from the renowned financial centre ‘Casablanca Finance City,’ the African economic and financial hub located at the crossroads of continents,” added the Ambassador. “And thanks to political stability, pro-business environment, competitiveness and sustainability, Morocco has become one of the world’s most attractive destinations for investment and trade and is a well-equipped platform to face the global economic challenges.

“I think that the Irish investors had better get on this particular business caravan, because it is going to a promising oasis of business.”