MOROCCO: U.S.-Morocco FTA will greatly boost bilateral trade
Morocco is close to signing a free trade agreement with the United States, becoming the seventh country to do so. Ambassador Aziz Mekouar says that with negotiations due to be completed in December, the FTA will mark a dramatic change in bilateral relations.
The current level of bilateral trade is around $1 billion, but judging by the impact an FTA agreement had on U.S.-Jordan trade, which has grown some 10 times, Ambassador Mekouar expects a similar leap of five hundred to a thousand percent increase for U.S.-Morocco trade over the coming few years.
He says the increased trade will affect all areas of the economy, from agriculture to manufactured goods and services.
One of the more ambitious Moroccan targets is to dramatically increase tourism to the country, from a current level of 2.5 million visitors a year, to 10 million by 2010.
To achieve this, Morocco has designated five locations on its Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines to be developed as major resort areas.
With the flight from Paris a mere two and a half hours, it is expected that many Europeans will head to these warm resorts for even brief holidays, much as Americans take breaks on Caribbean islands.
But Morocco would very much like to see more American tourists visit as well.
Casablanca is only five hours by air from New York, and Morocco offers a wealth of cultural delights, from its beautiful old cities, such as Fez and Marrakesh, to its famous cuisine.
The ambassador points out that Morocco has long been on the path of political reform and democratization, with a lively mix of mass media and political parties (25 of them) functioning successfully within the structure of a constitutional monarchy.
And by the end of this year, a new Family Law will be enacted that puts men and women "on a completely equal footing," Mekouar says. The law was crafted to please all constituencies, with every section introduced by a quote from the Koran or sunna (tradition), such that even the Islamist parties have given it their nod of approval.
The parties also have agreed that 30 of parliament's 310 seats be reserved for women. The need to do this derives from the problem of getting women voted into office, even if they are included on party lists.
On security matters Morocco works closely with the United States. When, on May 16 this year, members of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization set off a series of lethal bombs in Casablanca, Moroccans were stunned that they would be a target of Islamist violence.
There was no sympathy for the perpetrators. On the contrary, just one week after the attack a number of non-governmental organizations banded together to mount a huge rally, at which 1.5 million Moroccans demonstrated their solidarity against the attack and its perpetrators.
The ambassador says that this experience galvanized the Moroccan authorities in their crackdown on terrorism, and that "now the situation is fully under control."
The experience further cemented the already close working relationship between Washington and Rabat on security matters, which has been part of a wider cooperation on peacemaking in Africa and the Middle East. Morocco has long been an Arab country that was able to mediate between contentious parties in the wider region.
The ambassador says that Washington is increasingly seeing the benefits of strengthening ties with north Africa in general, given the many trenchant problems in the heartland of the Arab world.
One of the main national issues to be resolved is the status of Western Sahara, a region in the south that has been disputed by Algerian-backed Polisario forces for decades.
Ambassador Mekouar says that Morocco accepted the first solution proposed by special U.N. representative James Baker III last year, but rejects the revised proposal this year. (Algeria rejected the previous one, but accepts the latest one.)
For Moroccans, the Western Sahara is a "sacred province," he says. "But we hope to find a solution." He believes a final solution may emerge within a wider economic and political integration of the region.
Having served as his country's ambassador to Portugal and Italy, Mekouar says he "likes being an ambassador in Washington, because you are at the center of the world."
He also has high praise for the Americans he deals with, saying they "are efficient and we work well together."
Biography of Aziz Mekouar
Born November 13, 1950, in Fez, Morocco
Married, one child
1974 Graduated from HEC Paris, Graduate Business School, France
1986 Baccalaureate in Sciences, French High School Charles Lepierre in Lisbon, Portugal
2002 Ambassador of His Majesty to the United States of America
1999 - 2002 Ambassador of His Majesty to Italy
1993 - 1999 Ambassador of His Majesty to Portugal
1986 - 1993 Ambassador of His Majesty to Angola
1985 - 1986 Minister Plenipotentiary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Rabat
1978 - 1985 Permanent Representative of Morocco to the International Bureau for Information Technology - BII
1977 - 1985 First Counselor, DCM, Embassy of Morocco in Pome
1977 Counselor of Foreign Affairs, Rabat
1974 Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Rabat
2001 Elected Independent President f the FAO Council
2000 President of the African Group of the UN Organizations in Rome
1999 - 2001 Elected President of the Financial Committee of the FAO Member and Head of Moroccan Delegations to several international conferences
1983 30 years of Italian Domestic Policy
1983 30 years of Italian Foreign Policy
1974 Studies on "Asia-Dollar" and its future impact on the development of Southeast Asia
1973 Thesis on Fisheries and their contribution to the development of Argentina
Studies and Analysis of the situation in Angola
Conferences and seminars:
Moderator of several Seminars and Conferences on investment opportunities and development prospects in Morocco
Lectures on Morocco's Political, Economic and Foreign Policies in several Portuguese and Italian Institutions
Lectures on Euro-African and Euro-Mediterranean Relations
Grand Croix de l'Ordre du Mérite of Portugal
Grand Croix de l'Ordre Militaire du Christ (Portugal)
Grand Croix de l'Ordre du Mérite of Italy
Fluent in Arabic, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese