By Latifa Bousalham
By Latifa Bousalham
Morocco World News
Casablanca, May 20, 2012
Free trade agreements have been promoted at an unprecedented rate during the last decades. Many countries have chosen to engage in preferential trade agreements for economic considerations. Morocco’s interest in expanding a preferential access to the American market met with a similar interest on the part of the American administration in furthering regional economic cooperation. However, various considerations account for such deals. The promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East, the war against terrorism, together with the issue of the Sahara were emerging issues high on both countries’ agenda.
The Former Moroccan secretary and then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Taeb El Fassi Lfihri has successfully negotiated a free trade agreement with his USA counterpart Trade Representative, Bob Zoellick. After eight rounds of negotiations, the proposal received congressional approval and an agreement was reached on March 2, 2004. On June 15, 2004 the US / Moroccan Free trade Agreement was signed in Washington DC. And it was not until January 1, 2006 that the agreement entered into force offering new opportunities to deepen existing relations. The agreement had as an objective to reduce and eliminate barriers and boost trade and investment flows. It also comprised a set of arrangements favoring partners by extending tariff and non-tariff preferences.
To reaffirm its open door policy, the US granted Morocco a special position among few countries. The policy built upon the existing framework of political cooperation, which dates back to 1777 when the Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ben Abdullah announced his desire for friendship with America. This overture manifested in recognition of US’s independence and culminated in the concluding of The Treaty of Friendship in 1786, which was the longest unbroken treaty in US history.
Recently, the US engaged in an ambitious project to negotiate preferential free trade agreements with Middle East countries to boost economic cooperation, a project going hand in hand with political and military intervention in the region’s affairs. However, the US restricted eligibility to such markets to countries that meet specific requirements with regard to economic liberalization, peace prospects and the war against terrorism. The US’s policy headed towards establishing peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa. This message of economic integration aimed at achieving eventual normalization of relations between Arabs and Israel and attempted to stop Arab economic boycott of Israel and accept it as a partner.
In recognition of its pivotal role in promoting peace and security in so a turbulent area well-known for its chronic instability, Morocco was deemed eligible and gained US confidence as a prospective peace partner who spared no effort to ensure a favorable climate to negotiate peace agreements between Israel and the Arab World. Morocco’s centrality as a long-standing and geo-strategic ally to US made it well-positioned for this role as a veteran mediator in the Middle East peace process.
Economically speaking, the Moroccan government advanced an ambitious privatization program, encouraged investment in all sectors and brought about a series of important reforms. The US responded positively and offered political and economic support for Morocco. Such a position presented this moderate state as a role model for other developing countries that still hesitate in taking bold steps to implement economic reforms and trade liberalization, key ingredients of modernization and crucial determinants for enhancing development.
On the one hand, and as a fervent opponent of terrorism, Morocco has played a pivotal role in the war on terrorism. For the US, the engagement of third world countries in economic deals with the West is the new weapon in the war on terrorism. Eventually, when countries are involved in economic partnerships, there is more likeliness for peace and tolerance and partners tend to shun away from any conflict that would shake stability or affect business and investments negatively. Again, Morocco has been one of the more open partners with regard to human rights and democratization. Throughout the last decades, Morocco has engaged in an ambitious democratic modern project based on strong commitments to shared values and political, economic and institutional reforms. The Bush Administration described the FTA with Morocco “as an effort to build strategic, economic, and political ties with a moderate, friendly regime in the region that will serve, in turn, as a model for other countries”, (White, 597-616).
In return, the Sahara issue was high on the list of Moroccan priorities. Morocco counts on these advanced relations with the US to garner stronger support from American policy-makers for the Autonomy Plan presented by the kingdom in April 2007. US’ support can help achieve a negotiated compromise to settle the Sahara dispute and the future of the region. The USA can make a big difference with regard to its hegemony and leadership.
Eventually, the rapid spread of preferential trade agreements is one of the most pressing issues which pose a big challenge to the multilateral trade system. The US / Moroccan FTA sets a policy of ambitious objectives of partnerships that addresses trade issues from different perspectives where three main fields of activity overlap, namely the economic, the political and the social. However, in a global world characterized by high competitiveness, the pressing question is whether this historic deal will integrate Moroccan economy with the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, whether Morocco – as a third world country modestly forcing its way in a highly competitive world – is qualified to cope with the changing rules of the game.
Aspiring to achieve real partnerships which have the capacity to address vital sectors within a comprehensive approach, state and non-state actors – who are involved in policy-making process – are required to play their part to influence choices about whether to emphasize preferential trade agreements or disregard them. In this context, they need to ensure that such deals seek lasting benefits for all partners through a non-discriminatory trading and financial system. Again, such agreements should consider the local specifications of different partners without jeopardizing one’s own traditions and values. All these concerns and others may account for why many practitioners continue to view free trade agreements skeptically.
Latifa Bousalham is a master student majoring in Moroccan-American Studies at Hassan II University in Mohammedia, Faculty of Humanities/Ben M’sik/Casablanca. She obtained her BA in English Literature at the same university in 1998. She is a secondary school teacher since 1998.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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