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). The Ministry of Industry recently announced the second Industrial Acceleration Plan (PAI) to run from 2021-2025, which aims to build on the progress made in the previous 2014-2020 PAI and expand industrial development throughout all Moroccan regions. The PAI is based on establishing “ecosystems” that integrate value chains and supplier relationships between large companies and small- and medium-sized enterprises. 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 the reform to the law governing 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. The inter-ministerial investment committee, for which AMDIE acts as the secretariat, approves any investment agreement or contract which requires financial contribution from the government. AMDIE also provides an “after care” service to support investments and assist in resolving issues that may arise.
Further information about Morocco’s investment laws and procedures is available on AMDIE’s newly launched website or through the individual websites of each of the CRIs. For information on agricultural investments, visit the Agricultural Development Agency website or the National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture website .
When Morocco acceded to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises in November 2009, Morocco guaranteed national treatment of foreign investors. 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. The National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct ( NCP ), whose presidency and secretariat are held by AMDIE, is the lead agency responsible for the adherence to this declaration.
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 any 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 currently prohibits foreigners from owning agricultural land, though they can lease it for up to 99 years; however, new regulation to open agricultural land to foreign ownership is forthcoming. 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. The Moroccan Central Bank (Bank Al-Maghrib) may use regulatory discretion in issuing authorizations for the establishment of domestic and foreign-owned banks. 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. 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, nor is it aware 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.
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 ).
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.
In January 2019, the electronic creation of businesses law 18-17 was published, but as of April 2021 the new process is not yet operational. The new system will allow for the creation of businesses online via an electronic platform managed by the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC). All procedures related to the creation, registration, and publication of company data will be carried out via this platform, which is expected to launch by the end of 2021. A new national commission will monitor the implementation of the procedures. The Simplification of Administrative Procedures Law 55-19, passed in 2020, aims to streamline administrative processes by identifying and standardizing document requirements, eliminating unnecessary steps, and making the process fully digital via the National Administration Portal, which is expected to launch in Spring 2021.
The business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy. Notably, according to the World Bank, the procedure, 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.
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, and the largest African investor in West Africa. According to the Department of Studies and Financial Forecasts, under the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Administration Reform, $640 million, or 47 percent of Morocco’s total outward FDI, was invested in the African continent in 2019. The U.S. Mission is not aware of a standalone outward investment promotion agency, although AMDIE’s mission includes supporting Moroccans seeking to invest outside of the country for the purpose of boosting Moroccan exports. 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.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Morocco permits foreign individuals and foreign companies to own land, except agricultural land. Recently passed Land Reform bill 62-19, which will open rural land acquisition to joint ventures and limited partnerships, is awaiting implementation. Foreigners may acquire agricultural land to carry out an investment or other economic project that is not agricultural in nature, subject to first obtaining a certificate of non-agricultural use from the authorities. Morocco has a formal registration system maintained by the National Agency for Real Estate Conservation, Property Registries, and Cartography (ANCFCC), which issues titles of land ownership. Approximately 30 percent of land is registered in the formal system, and almost all of that is in urban areas. In addition to the formal registration system, there are customary documents called moulkiya issued by traditional notaries called adouls. While not providing the same level of certainty as a title, a moulkiya can provide some level of security of ownership. Morocco also recognizes prescriptive rights whereby an occupant of a land under the moulkiya system (not lands duly registered with ANCFCC) can establish ownership of that land upon fulfillment of all the legal requirements, including occupation of the land for a certain period (10 years if the occupant and the landlord are not related and 40 years if the occupant is a family member). There are other specific legal regimes applicable to some types of lands, among which:
- Collective lands: lands which are owned collectively by some tribes, whose members only benefit from rights of usufruct;
- Public lands: lands which are owned by the Moroccan State;
- Guich lands: lands which are owned by the Moroccan State, but whose usufruct rights are vested upon some tribes;
- Habous lands: lands which are owned by a party (the State, a certain family, a religious or charity organization, etc.) subsequent to a donation, and the usufruct rights of which are vested upon such party (usually with the obligation to allocate the proceeds to a specific use or to use the property in a certain way).
Morocco’s rating for “Registering Property” regressed over the past year, with a ranking of 81 out of 190 countries worldwide in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report. Despite reducing the time it takes to obtain a non-encumbrance certificate, Morocco made property registration less transparent by not publishing statistics on the number of property transactions and land disputes for the previous calendar year, resulting in a lower score than in 2019.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment, and the Digital Economy oversees the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC), which serves as a registry for patents and trademarks in the industrial and commercial sectors. The Ministry of Communications oversees the Moroccan Copyright Office (BMDA), which registers copyrights for literary and artistic works (including software), enforces copyright protection, and coordinates with Moroccan and international partners to combat piracy.
In 2020, OMPIC launched its second strategic plan, Strategic Vision 2025, following the conclusion of its 2016-2020 strategic plan. The new 2025 plan has three pillars: the creation of an environment conducive to entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation; the establishment of an effective system for the protection and defense of intellectual property rights; and the implementation of economic and regional actions to enhance intangible assets and market-oriented research and development. In 2016 OMPIC partnered with the European Patent Office and developed an agreement for validating European patents in Morocco, and now receives roughly 80 percent of total applications via this channel. In 2020, OMPIC recorded a 25 percent increase of the patent applications filed domestically.
In 2016, the Ministry of Communication and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) signed an MOU to expand cooperation to ensure the protection of intellectual property rights in Morocco. The memorandum committed both parties to improving the judicial and operational dimensions of Morocco’s copyright enforcement. Following this MOU, in 2016, BMDA launched WIPOCOS, a database for collective royalty management organizations or societies, developed by WIPO. Despite these positive changes, BMDA’s current focus on redefining its legal mandate and relationship with other copyright offices worldwide has appeared to lessen its enforcement capacity.
Law No. 23-13 on Intellectual Property Rights increased penalties for violation of those rights and better defines civil and criminal jurisdiction and legal remedies. It also set in motion an accreditation system for patent attorneys to better systematize and regulate the practice of patent law. Law No. 34-05, amending and supplementing Law No. 2-00 on Copyright and Related Rights includes 15 items (Articles 61 to 65) devoted to punitive measures against piracy and other copyright offenses. These range from civil and criminal penalties to the seizure and destruction of seized copies. Judges’ authority in sentencing and criminal procedures is proscribed, with little power to issue harsher sentences that would serve as stronger deterrents.
Moroccan authorities express a commitment to cracking down on all types of counterfeiting, but due to resource constraints, focus enforcement efforts on the most problematic areas, specifically those with public safety and/or significant economic impacts. In 2017, BMDA brought approximately a dozen court cases against copyright infringers and collected $6.1 million in copyright collections. In 2018, Morocco’s customs authorities seized $62.7 million worth of counterfeit items. In 2018, Morocco also created a National Customs Brigade charged with countering the illicit trafficking of counterfeit goods and narcotics.
In 2015, Morocco and the European Union concluded an agreement on the protection of Geographic Indications (GIs), which is pending ratification by both the Moroccan and European parliaments. Should it enter into force, the agreement would grant Moroccan GIs sui generis. The U.S. government continues to urge Morocco to pursue a transparent and substantive assessment process for the EU GIs in a manner consistent with Morocco’s existing obligations, including those under the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement.
Morocco is not listed in USTR’s most recent Special 301 Report or notorious markets reports.
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/. For assistance, please refer to the U.S. Embassy local lawyers’ list, as well as to the regional U.S. IP Attaché .
Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:
Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi | U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Tel: +965 2259 1455
10. Political and Security Environment
Morocco does not have a significant history of politically motivated violence or civil disturbance. There has not been any damage to projects and/or installations with a continued impact on the investment environment. Demonstrations routinely occur in Morocco and usually center on political, social, or labor issues. They can attract thousands of people in major city centers, but most have been peaceful and orderly.