Morocco

Executive Summary

Morocco enjoys political stability, a geographically strategic location, and robust infrastructure, which have contributed to its emergence as a regional manufacturing and export base for international companies.  Morocco actively encourages and facilitates foreign investment, particularly in export sectors like manufacturing – through dynamic macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, investment incentives, and structural reforms.  Morocco’s overarching economic development plan seeks to transform the country into a regional business hub by leveraging its unique status as a multilingual, cosmopolitan nation situated at the tri-regional focal point of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.  The Government of Morocco implements strategies aimed at boosting employment, attracting foreign investment, and raising performance and output in key revenue-earning sectors, such as the automotive and aerospace industries.  Morocco is increasingly investing in energy, boasting the world’s largest concentrated solar power facility with storage near Ouarzazate.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) 2019 World Investment Report, Morocco attracts the fourth-most foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa, rising from $2.7 billion in 2017 to $3.6 billion in 2018.  Morocco continues to orient itself as the “gateway to Africa” for international investors following Morocco’s return to the African Union in January 2017 and the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in March 2018.  In June 2019, Morocco opened an extension of the Tangier-Med commercial shipping port, making it the largest in the Mediterranean and the largest in Africa.  Tangier is connected to Morocco’s political capital in Rabat and commercial hub in Casablanca by Africa’s first high-speed train service.  Morocco continues to climb in the World Bank’s Doing Business index, rising to 53rd place in 2020.  Despite the significant improvements in its business environment and infrastructure, high rates of unemployment (particularly for youth), weak intellectual property rights (IPR) protections, inefficient government bureaucracy, and the slow pace of regulatory reform remain challenges.

Morocco has ratified 71 bilateral investment treaties for the promotion and protection of investments and 60 economic agreements– including with the United States and most EU nations– that aim to eliminate the double taxation of income or gains.  Morocco is the only country on the African continent with a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, eliminating tariffs on more than 95 percent of qualifying consumer and industrial goods. The Government of Morocco plans to phase out tariffs for some products through 2030.  The FTA supports Morocco’s goals to develop as a regional financial and trade hub, providing opportunities for the localization of services and the finishing and re-export of goods to markets in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.  Since the U.S.-Morocco FTA came into effect bilateral trade in goods has grown nearly five-fold.  The U.S. and Moroccan governments work closely to increase trade and investment through high-level consultations, bilateral dialogue, and the annual U.S.-Morocco Trade and Investment Forum, which provides a platform to strengthen business-to-business ties.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 80 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 53 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 74 of 126 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2017 $412 http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 $3090 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Morocco actively encourages foreign investment through macro-economic policies, trade liberalization, structural reforms, infrastructure improvements, and incentives for investors.  Law 18-95 of October 1995, constituting the Investment Charter , is the foundational Moroccan text governing investment and applies to both domestic and foreign investment (direct and portfolio).  Morocco’s 2014 Industrial Acceleration Plan (PAI), a new approach to industrial development based on establishing “ecosystems” that integrate value chains and supplier relationships between large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), has guided Ministry of Industry policy for the last six years.  The Ministry of Industry announced a second PAI to run from 2021-2025.  Moroccan legislation governing FDI applies equally to Moroccan and foreign legal entities, with the exception of certain protected sectors.

Morocco’s Investment and Export Development Agency (AMDIE) is the national agency responsible for the development and promotion of investments and exports.  Following reform to the governance of the country’s Regional Investment Centers (CRIs) in 2019, each of the 12 regions is empowered to lead their own investment promotion efforts.  The CRI websites aggregate relevant information for interested investors and include investment maps, procedures for creating a business, production costs, applicable laws and regulations, and general business climate information, among other investment services.  The websites vary by region, with some functioning better than others. AMDIE and the 12 CRIs work together throughout the phases of investment at the national and regional level.  For example, AMDIE and the CRIs coordinate contact between investors and partners.  Regional investment commissions examine investment applications and send recommendations to AMDIE.

Further information about Morocco’s investment laws and procedures is available on AMDIE ’s website or through the individual websites of each of the CRIs.  For information on agricultural investments, visit the Agricultural Development Agency (ADA) website  or the National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture (ANDA) website .

When Morocco acceded to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises in November 2009, Morocco guaranteed national treatment of foreign investors (i.e., according equal treatment for both foreign and national investors in like circumstances).  The only exception to this national treatment of foreign investors is in those sectors closed to foreign investment (noted below), which Morocco delineated upon accession to the Declaration.  Per a Moroccan notice published in 2014, the lead agency on adherence to the Declaration is AMDIE.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities may establish and own business enterprises, barring certain restrictions by sector.  While the U.S. Mission is unaware of economy-wide limits on foreign ownership, Morocco places a 49 percent cap on foreign investment in air and maritime transport companies and maritime fisheries.  Morocco prohibits foreigners from owning agricultural land, though they can lease it for up to 99 years.  The Moroccan government holds a monopoly on phosphate extraction through the 95 percent state-owned Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP).  The Moroccan state also has a discretionary right to limit all foreign majority stakes in the capital of large national banks but apparently has never exercised that right.  In the oil and gas sector, the National Agency for Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) retains a compulsory share of 25 percent of any exploration license or development permit.  The Moroccan Central Bank (Bank Al-Maghrib) may use regulatory discretion in issuing authorizations for the establishment of domestic and foreign-owned banks.  As established in the 1995 Investment Charter, there is no requirement for prior approval of FDI, and formalities related to investing in Morocco do not pose a meaningful barrier to investment.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of instances in which the Moroccan government refused foreign investors for national security, economic, or other national policy reasons.  The U.S. Mission is unaware of any U.S. investors disadvantaged or singled out by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms, relative to other foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The last third-party investment policy review  of Morocco was the World Trade Organization (WTO) 2016 Trade Policy Review  (TPR), which found that the trade reforms implemented since the prior TPR in 2009 contributed to the economy’s continued growth by stimulating competition in domestic markets, encouraging innovation, creating new jobs, and contributing to growth diversification.

Business Facilitation

In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report , Morocco ranks 53 out of 190 economies, rising seven places since the 2019 report.  Since 2012, Morocco has implemented reforms that facilitate business registration, such as eliminating the need to file a declaration of business incorporation with the Ministry of Labor, reducing company registration fees, and eliminating minimum capital requirements for limited liability companies.  Morocco maintains a business registration website that is accessible through the various Regional Investment Centers (CRI – Centre Regional d’Investissement ).  The business registration process is generally streamlined and fully digital.

Foreign companies may utilize the online business registration mechanism.  Foreign companies, with the exception of French companies, are required to provide an apostilled Arabic translated copy of their articles of association and an extract of the registry of commerce in its country of origin.  Moreover, foreign companies must report the incorporation of the subsidiary a posteriori to the Foreign Exchange Office (Office de Changes) to facilitate repatriation of funds abroad such as profits and dividends.  According to the World Bank, the process of registering a business in Morocco takes an average of nine days, significantly less than the Middle East and North Africa regional average of 20 days.  Morocco does not require that the business owner deposit any paid-in minimum capital.

On January 21, 2019, law 88-17 on the electronic creation of businesses was published, but the implementation texts have not yet been adopted and published, meaning the new process is not yet operational.  The new system will eventually allow for the creation of businesses online via an electronic platform managed by the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC).  Once launched, all procedures related to the creation, registration, and publication of company data will be carried out via this platform.  A separate (yet-to-be-issued) decree will determine the list of documents required during the electronic business creation process.  A new national commission will monitor the implementation of the procedures.

The business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy.  Notably, according to the World Bank, the length of time and cost to register a new business is equal for men and women in Morocco.  The U.S. Mission is unaware of any official assistance provided to women and underrepresented minorities through the business registration mechanisms.  In cooperation with the Moroccan government, civil society, and the private sector, there have been several initiatives aimed at improving gender quality in the workplace and access to the workplace for foreign migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa.

Outward Investment

The Government of Morocco prioritizes investment in Africa. The African Development Bank ranks Morocco as the second biggest African investor in Sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa, with up to 85 percent of Moroccan FDI going to the region.  Morocco is the largest African investor in West Africa.  The U.S. Mission is not aware of a standalone outward investment promotion agency, though AMDIE’s mission includes supporting Moroccan exporters and investors seeking to invest outside of Morocco. Nor is the U.S. Mission aware of any restrictions for domestic investors attempting to invest abroad.   However, under the Moroccan investment code, repatriation of funds is limited to “convertible” Moroccan Dirham accounts.  Morocco’s Foreign Exchange Office (“Office des Changes,” OC) implemented several changes for 2020 that slightly liberalize the country’s foreign exchange regulations.  Moroccans going abroad for tourism can now exchange up to $4,700 in foreign currency per year, with the possibility to attain further allowances indexed to their income tax filings.  Business travelers can also obtain larger amounts of foreign currency, provided their company has properly filed and paid corporate income taxes.  Another new provision permits banks to use foreign currency accounts to finance investments in Morocco’s Industrial Acceleration Zones.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Morocco has signed bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with 71 countries , of which 50 are in force.  Morocco’s most recent BIT, signed in January of 2020, is with Japan.

Morocco has also signed a quadrilateral FTA with Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan, an FTA with Turkey, an FTA with the United Arab Emirates, the European FTA with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area agreement (which eliminates certain tariffs among 15 Middle East and North African countries).  The Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Morocco came into force in 2000, creating a free trade zone in 2012 that liberalized two-way trade in goods.  The EU and Morocco developed the AA further through an agreement on trade in agricultural, agro-food, and fisheries products, and a protocol establishing a bilateral dispute settlement mechanism, all of which entered into force in 2012.  However, the legal standing of the agreement’s rules of origin, particularly for fisheries, has come into question in recent years with both sides seeking to resolve the issue.  Following an initial stay on the EU-Morocco agricultural agreement issued by the European Court of Justice in 2016, the European Parliament formally adopted an amended agreement in January 2019.  In 2008, Morocco was the first country in the southern Mediterranean region to be granted “advanced status” by the EU, which promotes closer economic integration by reducing non-tariff barriers, liberalizing the trade in services, ensuring the protection of investments, and standardizing regulations in several commercial and economic areas.

On March 3, 2018, Morocco signed an agreement, along with 43 other African states, forming the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) establishing a market of over 1.2 billion people, with a combined gross product of over $3 trillion.  The CFTA is a flagship project of Agenda 2063, the African Union’s (AU) long-term vision for an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa.  The agreement entered into force in May 2019 following ratification by 22 member states.  While continent-wide trade under the agreement is expected to begin in July 2020, as of February 2020, Morocco has not deposited its instruments of ratification to the AU.

The United States signed an income tax treaty  with Morocco in 1977.

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