Openness to Foreign Investment
Morocco actively encourages foreign investment and has sought to facilitate it through sound macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, and structural reforms. The U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Association Agreement with the EU have led Morocco to reduce its tariffs on imports from the U.S. and EU. Morocco has also signed a quadrilateral FTA with Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan, and a bilateral FTA with Turkey. Additionally, it is also seeking trade and investment accords with other African, Asian, and Latin American countries.
The U.S.-Morocco FTA has increased exports and raised inward investment. Nonetheless, challenges remain. According to the World Bank's 2008 "Doing Business in Morocco" report, the country's excessive bureaucratic red tape is a major constraint on the competitiveness of the economy and deters investors. To make foreign investment easier the government has created a number of Regional Investment Centers to minimize and accelerate all administrative procedures, but their mandate is limited to investments of up to 200 million MAD (USD 26 million). Investments exceeding that amount are dealt with by a special ministerial committee chaired by the Prime Minister. In 2008, the Committee approved 40 projects totaling more than USD 5.75 billion.
Morocco's 1995 Investment Charter applies to both foreign and Moroccan investors, with foreign exchange provisions favoring foreign investors. Foreign investment is permitted in nearly every sector. In 2008 Morocco's phosphate producer, the Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), announced it would open its phosphate hub to foreign investors to set up new fertilizer and chemical plants, a move seen by analysts as a step towards the liberalization of the phosphate sector. OCP is the largest producer of phosphates in the world. Additionally, although foreigners are prohibited from owning agricultural land, the law does allow for long-term leases of up to 99 years and permits agricultural land to be purchased for non-agricultural purposes. To attract foreign investment in its agricultural sector, Morocco recently set aside about 50,000 HA of communal land readily available for leasing to international investors. Agricultural foreign investments are targeted mostly at citrus and olives, with some small investments in grapes and berries.
Conversion and Transfer Policies
The Moroccan dirham is convertible for all current-account and selected-capital account transactions. Particularly, capital-account repatriation transactions are convertible if the original investment is registered with the foreign exchange office. Morocco's foreign exchange law enables expatriate employees to repatriate their entire salaries.
Foreign exchange is readily available through commercial banks for the following activities without prior government approval: Remittances by foreign residents; repatriation of dividends and capital by foreign investors; and payment for foreign technical assistance, royalties and licenses.
The current exchange-rate regime is a tightly managed float against a Euro-dominated basket of currencies. The Moroccan dirham thus tends to move in line with the Euro. It strengthened through much of 2008 against the dollar, but gave up those gains at the end of the year, and entered 2009 at 8.30 MAD to the dollar, down from the 7.75 MAD level at which it ended 2007.
Expropriation and Compensation
The Embassy is not aware of any recent, confirmed instances of private property being expropriated for other than public purposes, or being expropriated in a manner that is discriminatory or not in accordance with established principles of international law.
In general, investor rights are backed by an impartial procedure for dispute settlement that is transparent. In 2008, however, a few U.S. Companies had investment disputes with the Government of Morocco. In most cases, through U.S. advocacy, these minor disputes were resolved with the relevant government agency.
While Morocco's commercial and appeals courts have generally improved the dispute settlement climate, Moroccan and foreign companies continue to complain about the inefficiency and the lack of transparency in the judicial system. The World Bank notes that bankruptcy protection and liquidation procedures are inefficient and that the courts are slow and often fail to enforce legal rulings. To address this challenge, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has worked with Morocco's judiciary to strengthen the legal framework for business and the commercial court system.
In an effort to promote foreign investments, the Moroccan legislature has adopted laws to protect both foreign investors and their Moroccan counterparts. Morocco is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a party to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (with reservations) and the 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other states. New legislation extending the scope of arbitration and mediation and giving them added legal standing took place in July 2007, partly as a result of FTA required reforms. Moreover, USAID in collaboration with IFC are assisting the GOM in establishing a national commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) with the mandate to regulate mediation training centers and develop mediator certification system.
At present, there are no general foreign investor performance requirements. However, in the event that GOM incentives are provided, requirements may be imposed, and if so, would be spelled out in the specific investment contract.
Morocco provides a range of investment incentives, particularly in the off-shoring sector where it has developed a successful fiscal incentive scheme to attract off-shoring clientele to its facilities. The incentives include a corporate tax holiday during the first five years of business and 17.5 percent thereafter; telecommunications costs that are set at 35 percent below the market price; and training grants of up to USD 7,000 for each Moroccan employee during the first three years of employment.
American citizens can enter Morocco for a period of three months without a visa. A Moroccan residence permit is required for a period of more than three months.
Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Private ownership is permitted in all but a few sectors reserved for the state, like phosphate mining. Economic analysts, however, speculate that as Morocco's phosphate processing increasingly becomes open to foreign investment, so will its mining sector. Apart from a few exceptions, private entities may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises.
In 2008 a number of firms like the national airline carrier (Royal Air Maroc) were placed on the short list of companies to be privatized in the future.
Protection of Property Rights
The U.S.-Morocco FTA contains strong intellectual property protections, which were incorporated in Moroccan intellectual property legislation in 2006. While the protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is improving as a result of these provisions, counterfeit DVDs and CDs remain widely available throughout Morocco. Morocco's Customs Office, Copyright Office (BMDA), and the Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC) have initiated campaigns to target Morocco's largest counterfeit manufacturers and importers, with mixed success.
Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced through the "Administration de la Conservation Fonciere."
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Despite GOM efforts to increase the systems transparency, Morocco’s administration is opaque and difficult to navigate. Routine permits, especially those required by local government agencies, can be difficult to obtain. Morocco has sought to increase the transparency of its public tenders, but moves to decentralize the procurement process have had the opposite effect in recent years.
In 2006 a new charter for the Central Bank created an independent board of directors and prohibited the Ministry of Finance and Economy from borrowing from the Central Bank except in exceptional circumstances.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Morocco's banking system is one of the most liberalized in North Africa. Nonetheless, it is highly concentrated, with the six largest banks accounting for 85 percent of banking sector assets. The IMF/World Bank's updated Financial System Stability Assessment concluded that the system was "stable, adequately capitalized, profitable, and resilient to shocks." It noted the progress Morocco has made in deepening financial intermediation (37 percent of the population has a bank account, up from a quarter) and in reducing the overall level of non-performing assets (down from 10.9 percent in 2006 to 7.9 percent at the end of 2007).
A new Moroccan banking law was passed in 2006, strengthening the supervisory power of the Central Bank and improving risk management practices. Morocco is moving towards adoption of Basel II capital adequacy and risk management guidelines in order to improve financial stability, while also adopting International Accounting Standards (IAS), both intended to enhance transparency.
Credit is allocated on market terms, and foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market. There are some cross-shareholding arrangements, but they are not tailored to exclude foreign investment. The Embassy has not heard of any efforts by the private sector or industry to restrict foreign participation in standard setting organizations. The government has actively sought out the participation of foreign investors for discussions on improving the business climate in Morocco.
Some foreign banks are critical of what they view as a lack of proportionate participation in the Moroccan Bankers Association. Moroccan banks are largely in compliance with the Basel I standards and were on-target to become Basel II compliant, as required by the Moroccan Central Bank. Banks are supervised on a consolidated basis and must provide statements audited by certified public accountants.
The Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE) founded in 1929 and re-launched as a private institution in 1993, is one of the few regional exchanges with no restriction on foreign participation. An average of thirty percent of its total capitalization is in foreign hands. The Exchange prospered during the early 1990s, but suffered a bear market from late 1998 through 2002, with a decline in listings to approximately 50 companies and a reduction of market capitalization to approximately USD 8.3 billion. An ensuing bull market lasted nearly five years, but the market weakened in 2008. In addition, in late 2008 amid widespread rumors of insider dealing and market manipulation at the CSE, the stock market watchdog, the Conseil Deontologique des Valeurs Mobilieres (CDVM) moved decisively to address what it termed a "blatant failure to monitor the unlawful distribution of insider information," recommending that CSEs entire leadership be dismissed. The incident demonstrated the increasingly aggressive stance of CDVM in policing the exchange and implementing tough sanctions against those it concludes have misused or neglected their power.
Analysts note that the market is buoyed by continuing restrictions on the ability of Moroccans to invest abroad. Gradual easing of these limits is widening Moroccan investors' options, however, and while there has been discussion of full currency liberalization in the medium term, those plans will likely be delayed as a result of the international financial crisis.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a government, parliament, and judiciary, in which ultimate power and authority rest with the throne. A democratic reform process is underway and the country is broadly regarded as politically stable. The U.S. Government maintains good relations and has designated Morocco a Major Non-NATO Ally. A series of terrorist bombings in Casablanca in March and April 2007, the first major incidents since the Casablanca bombings of 2003, highlighted the fact that Morocco continues to face a terrorist threat. U.S. facilities were targeted in the 2007 incident. Counterterrorism cooperation is good. The Moroccan government aggressively investigates terrorist suspects and has dismantled a number of terrorist cells over the past year.
Demonstrations occur frequently in Morocco and usually center on domestic issues. During periods of heightened regional tension, large demonstrations may take place in major cities. Although these demonstrations have been peaceful, well organized, and well controlled by the police, some have been anti-American with isolated incidents of violence.
The sparsely settled Western Sahara was the site of armed conflict between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, which demands independence. A cease-fire has been in effect since 1991 in the U.N. administered area, but the territory remains disputed between Morocco, Algeria, and the Polisario. Negotiations to reach a settlement resumed in 2007 under U.N. auspices, but the dispute hampers development in the territory, as well as economic and political integration in the North Africa region.
Morocco has a wide body of laws and regulations to combat corruption, but it remains a problem, in part due to the low salaries in the public sector. Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi has made the fight against corruption one of his key priorities. A new anti-corruption agency was set up in 2008. Headed by a respected senior Moroccan official who has been active in anti-corruption efforts since the founding of "Transparency Maroc," the agency was created to "moralize" Moroccan public life and to propose specific steps the government can take to address the issue.
In spite of legislative improvements and a slight rebound over 2006, Morocco's 80th place ranking in Transparency International's 2008 corruption index is well below its 2002 level, when it was in 52d place. Government officials have criticized the index (which reflects public perceptions concerning corruption) for not pin-pointing recent anti-corruption efforts. These include not just heightening the transparency of public tenders, but also the implementation of a requirement that senior government officials declare their assets at the start and end of their government service.
Since 2003 Morocco has taken a series of steps to counter terrorist finance, strengthen controls against money laundering, and conform to international accounting and banking standards. Comprehensive anti-money laundering legislation was passed in 2007, and a Financial Intelligence Unit plans to become operational in 2009. The robust legislation draws largely from recommendations made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Bilateral Investment Agreements
The U.S.-Morocco FTA was signed in June 2004 and came into effect in January 2006, ending tariffs on over 98 percent of the bilateral trade in consumer and industrial goods. The GOM also signed an FTA with Turkey in January of 2006. For more details on the U.S.-Morocco FTA please see www.moroccousafta.com
OPIC and other Investment Insurance Programs
Morocco's agreement with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation was most recently updated in March 1995. Morocco is also a member of the Kuwait-based Arab Investment Guarantee Organization (OAGI) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). For more details please see www.opic.gov
Once strong and politically influential, the Moroccan trade union movement is now fragmented and no longer possesses the political clout it carried 50 years ago when it helped lead the country to independence. Nevertheless, five of the 19 trade union federations retain the potential to influence political life. Although unions claim high membership rates, Morocco has about 600,000 unionized workers, less than six percent of the 11.26 million workforce.
Moroccan labor law and practice draw from French models. The labor code was reformed in 2004, reducing the maximum workweek from 48 to 44 hours. Labor codes concerning unions and the right to strike do not cover agricultural and domestic workers. Investors continue to view labor regulations as a significant constraint. They complain that procedures regarding lay-offs remain complicated and onerous, and impose a significant financial burden on companies. Rules regarding foreign personnel are also vague, and can lead to conflicting interpretations and arbitrary decisions.
Morocco has ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention covering the right to organize and bargain collectively, and any group of eight workers can organize. Article 14 of the Constitution gives workers the right to strike, but no detailed law exists to define it. For a union to engage in collective bargaining it must have at least 35 percent of the enterprise's workforce as registered members. The Ministry of Interior occasionally intervenes, especially if the government believes strategic interests are threatened. There are mandatory procedures governing the settlement of disputes, though the government settles them on a case-by-case basis. The number of workdays lost to strikes in 2005 was 72,745.
The official national unemployment figure at the end of the third quarter in 2008 was 9.6 percent with the more meaningful urban unemployment figure at 15.9 percent. This represented a slight improvement over the same period in 2007. The minimum wage is currently 2,010 dirhams per month, approximately USD 240.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports
The industrial free trade zone in Tangier has brought foreign investment and employment to the northern region of Morocco. The companies located in the zone may import goods duty free and are exempt from other taxes. Moroccan labor laws still apply, but few, if any, firms are unionized. There is also an offshore banking law covering Tangier.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
The Moroccan foreign exchange office maintains balance of payments statistics that include annual foreign exchange inflows for private foreign investment. These statistics differentiate between foreign direct investment (purchases of companies or increases in capital), portfolio investment, and short-term financing for current account expenditures (e.g. lending to a subsidiary for purchases of equipment). There are no statistics on the stock of foreign investment in Morocco, but investment was over USD 4 billion in 2007, and appears to have remained strong in 2008. The following tables are based on balance of payments statistics.
Foreign direct investment in Morocco
(Millions of USD)
|Year||Total FDI||Percent of GDP|
Foreign direct Investment Inflows by Country of Origin (Millions of USD)
|(Billions of USD)|
Foreign direct Investment Inflows by Sector
(Millions of USD)
|Energy and Mining||11.1||37.9||42.5||11.4||343.7|
Major Foreign Investors
Industries Marocaines Modernes
Parent company: Procter and Gamble
Sector: soaps and toiletries
Number of employees: 500
Coca-Cola Export Corporation
Parent company: The Coca-Cola Export Corporation
Number of employees: 3200
J.R.A. Morocco S.A.
Parent company: Jordache Enterprises Inc.
Sector: manufacture of jeans
Number of employees: 1000
Delphi Automotive (former Division of GM)
Sector: auto part manufacturer
Number of employees: 1500
Sector: Food Products
Number of employees: 60
Minco Aviation Electronics
Sector: Aviation/Hi Tech
Number of employees: 250 direct and indirect jobs
USD 17 million temperature sensor production unit
Number of employees: will generate 9,000 direct and USD 45,000 indirect jobs
USD 1.2 billion in over ten years
Emerging Capital Partners and Truffle Capital
Number of employees: 1,500
Fruit of the Loom
Number of employees: 1,150
USD 162 Million in new and expanded production units
Sector: Computers/Hi Tech
Number of employees: 1,700
Jorf Lasfar Energy Company
Parent company: TACA Energy (operated by CMS Energy)
Sector: independent power project
Number of Employees: 500
$1.2 billion project
Parent company: S.G.S. Thomson (France)
Sector: electronic components and semiconductor manufacturing
Number of employees: 1,600
Pechiney - MMA
Parent company: Pechiney (France)
Sector: aluminum cookware manufacturing
Number of employees: 1,280
Parent company: Bouygues S.A. (France)
Sector: civil engineering
Number of employees: 1,000
Parent company: Renault S.A. (France)
Sector: motor vehicle assembly
Number of employees: 800
Parent company: C.G.E. (France)
Sector: electric cable and transformer manufacturing
Number of employees: 675
Parent company: Hoechst AG (Germany)
Sector pharmaceutical manufacturing
Number of employees: 350