SOCIETY publisher Gerti Tauchhammer spoke with the Moroccan Ambassador to Austria, H.E. Azzeddine Farhane, about the long historical ties of the two countries.
The Moroccan-Austrian relations date back to the year 1783, which is remarkable. How did Mohammed Ben Abdelmalik become the first Ambas-sador of Morocco to Austria?
Morocco and Austria have enjoyed historic and excellent bilateral relations that span over two and a half centuries. In the eighteenth century, Sultan Mohammed III of the Kingdom of Morocco adopted an open foreign policy aiming at opening up Morocco to European trade, as well as invigorating relations with the established European powers. Following up on this policy, in 1783 he sent the Pasha of Tangier (northern Morocco), Mohammed Ben Abdelmalik, as his emissary to the Imperial Court in Vienna. H.E. Mohamed Ben Abdelmalik arrived in February 1783 in Vienna, and became the first Ambassador of H.M. the Sultan Moulay Mohamed III under the patronage of H.M. Joseph II, Archduke of Austria. Once in Vienna, H.E. Mohamed Ben Abdelmalik extended the personal condolences of the Moroccan Sultan Sidi Muhammad to the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, on the loss of his mother, Maria Theresia, who had died a little over two years earlier. During his stay in Vienna, he successfully negotiated a Peace and Friendship treaty, as well as a trade agreement between the two nations. Then, a reciprocal delegation headed by the Habsburg court secretary, Emanuel von Tassara, was sent to Morocco for their ratification. Franz von Dombay was also sent as part of Tassara‘s entourage and became Consul and imperial translator in Tangier, where he remained until 1787. The visit of H.E. Mohamed Ben Abdelmalik to Vienna was crowned by the conclusion of a Friendship Treaty on April 17, 1783, which stipulated the reciprocal freedom of navigation and commerce, the liberalization of imports and exports, and the reduction of customs duties. This commitment between our respective countries was further enhanced by H.M. Moulay Slimane, Sultan of Morocco and H.M. Franz I, Emperor of Austria, when they both renewed the agreement in 1805, followed by the establishment of honorary consuls of the Austrian Empire in Morocco. During the Second World War, many Moroccan soldiers fought in units of the French army and participated in the liberation of Austria from Nazi Germany. A large number of Moroccan soldiers were among the liberation troops in Vorarlberg and Tyrol.
During a trip to Europe in 1945, His Majesty, the late King Mohammed V, went to Bregenz, where he paid a visit to his troops. After the resumption of Austrian diplomatic relationships in 1960, a legation was instituted in Rabat, followed by the appointment of resident ambassadors in Rabat. Eventually, Morocco established an embassy in Vienna in 1981. The following year, the first Moroccan envoy established in Vienna was accredited as Ambassador of the kingdom of Morocco to Austria. This marked the start of prosperous relations between both countries, in terms of signed bilateral agreements. Today, both countries continue to cooperate closely, within international fora and multilateral organizations, as well as on the bilateral level, through the conclusion of numerous agreements and also within the cooperation frameworks established between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco.
How would you define the current business relations between the two countries?
Over the last years, the economic and trade exchange has been growing steadily and rapidly, even though the total amount of trade remains modest and does not reflect the friendly relations and potential of our two countries.
Among the main goods exported from Austria to Morocco are machinery, vehicles, synthetic products and so on. Morocco, on the other hand, mainly exports textiles and clothing products, leather goods, automobiles and parts, as well as agricultural commodities, fertilizers and seafood. In recent years, the Moroccan market is increasingly attracting many Austrian businessmen. As a result, the trade volume between Austria and Morocco has quadrupled since 2005 and doubled from 2010 to 2018, reaching roughly 280 Million USD in imports and 206 Million USD worth of exports in that same year. A number of Austrian companies are active on the Moroccan market, with many represented by their subsidiaries. In addition, Austrian investments are gaining ground as investors make use of Morocco’s geographical proximity with Europe, its convenient connectivity with influent European capitals, its efficient logistic infrastructure and transportation system, as well as its highly qualified and low-cost labor. I would like to seize this opportunity to inform the readers of Society Magazine that Morocco is now ranked 3rd best country for doing business in MENA region, according to the latest Doing Business Report published by the World Bank (for 2020), and kept its leading rank amongst African countries. Furthermore, this report emphasizes the many reforms that have been undertaken in order to facilitate funding and development of companies in the Kingdom, especially SMEs and startups, thereby increasing the attractiveness of foreign business ventures and investors/entrepreneurs.
Can you describe the “position” Morocco is taking in Africa?
Upon his accession to the throne, His Majesty King Mohammed VI has made Africa a priority for Moroccan foreign policy. Cherishing its African roots and the advantage of maintaining excellent relations and cooperation with other African countries, the royal impetus that resulted in a new vision has enabled Morocco to significantly enhance its position on the continent. This African ambition is driven by the leadership of His Majesty, who placed the continent as a strategic focus of his reign. The Monarch has undertaken more than 50 State visits to African countries. His Majesty’s diplomatic efforts resulted in the signing of more than 1,000 cooperation agreements on economic, political, security related and educational cooperation with African countries. Thanks to the King‘s vision, Morocco has become an important and dynamic player in Africa and a leader of the promotion and consolidation of South-South cooperation. This vision has paved the way for Moroccan companies to invest in various economic sectors in Africa. Within this dynamic, Morocco has rejoined the African Union in 2017, after thirty-three years of absence, and has ever since continued to strengthen its position on the continent through a renewed partnership and the reinforcement of its political relations with a large number of African countries. Morocco is now the second largest African investor in the continent. The Kingdom continues to enhance its status as a continental economic power, which is mainly reflected through the remarkable expansion of its private sector in Africa, especially in the finance and banking sector. Moroccan banks have been present in Africa since the 1990s, but during the last decade, they have expanded, especially to West Africa, and are currently operating in 25 Afri-can countries. They also train and hire local workforce, thereby contributing to local economies and developing the local financial markets. The Moroccan telecommunication sector is particularly achieving remarkable results in many African countries. “Maroc Telecom” is now operating in 10 African countries with a global subscriber count of more than 60 million users. Other Moroccan businesses are also active in the insurance and pharmaceutical manufacturing sectors, as well as in the production of fertilizers, customized and distributed to the African market. Morocco has also redrawn its national airline strategy, expanding Royal Air Maroc’s flight network into different African regions at competitive rates, and positioning Casablanca as a transit hub for African-bound businesses flying in from Europe and the USA. In this context, I would like to underline that Morocco also serves as an important catalyst for South-South cooperation, namely with African countries. Its decades-old renowned expertise in doing business with Europe, and the close cooperation ties its companies enjoy with the banking and transport sectors of West and Central Africa, set Morocco in a unique position as a trusted and reliable partner in the international tripartite cooperation framework towards Africa. This is mainly achieved through the expertise and knowledge of Moroccan entrepreneurs. In this spirit, Morocco has implemented a series of concrete programs and projects in the field of financial assistance and technical cooperation. The Kingdom provides management training programs to many Central and West African governments to help in the training of a viable civil service workforce, capable of promoting sustainable socio-eco-nomic development and democratic change. The visits of King Mohammed VI to several African countries highlights Morocco’s strategy to become a regional investment hub and an active actor of South-South investments and cooperation. The creation of Casablanca Finance City, a regional, commercial and financial hub for firms wishing to expand their presence in African countries, will also play a crucial role in helping top Moroccan companies share their expertise with their African counterparts.
The tourism sector is booming in Morocco. How does the country plan to further strengthen this development and how important is this sector for the overall economy?
Under the main guidelines set by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan Government has embraced a thorough procedure for building up Morocco’s tourism sector to make Morocco one of the world’s top travel destinations and support tourismas a driving force for financial, social, and cultural development in the Kingdom. The 2020 vision plan which looks forward to expanding incomes from tourism to MAD 140 billion by 2020, focuses on a genuine experience to turn Morocco into an even more alluring destination for travelers, while maintaining Morocco’s natural and cultural heritages to enrich the Kingdom’s cultural identity. This 2020 Vision plan supports also Morocco’s different sub-cultures, natural assets, and environmental framework, as well as openness to Africa and Europe. The objective of the Vision 2020 is to double the size of the touristic sector as well as the kingdom’s accommo-dation capacity, with the creation of 200.000 new beddings. This new capacity should enable a doubling in tourists‘ arrivals. A million new employments, by 2020, are also part of the objectives of this plan. It also encompasses the tripling of inner tourism, as well as generalizing tourism across the country. Furthermore, Morocco stands out from other countries in the region thanks to its geopolitical stability and its robust infrastructure, which meets internationally upheld standards. The country also enjoys skilled and highly qualified human capital, relatively low external debt and a favorable business environment. Morocco has numerous qualities that make it appealing to investors and visitors alike: an ideal climate all year long, a rich and diverse culture, and stunning landscapes. As such, the tourism sector has long been a crucial economic driver in the country. According to data platform Knoema. fr, 19% of Morocco‘s GDP in 2017 came from travel and tourism. This includes activities such as air and land trans-port, the food and beverage industry, and other tourism-related services such as cleaning and restauration. Tourism generates significant employment opportunities, particularly for young people, more than 600,000 direct jobs and more than three million indirect jobs have been created in Morocco through touristic activities, which are also a contributing factor in valuable foreign exchange impacting Morocco‘s trade balance, bringing in some $8bn (€7.02bn) in foreign capital each year. The Moroccan Government has long recognized and prioritized tourism as a key sector. As a result, the industry has benefitted from various government incentives, both in terms of financial contributions and administrative sup-port. The main aim of these policies is to help ensure that tourism growth delivers broad, socially equitable and economic as well as environmental benefits for Morocco.