By Saad Boulahnane
By Saad Boulahnane
Morocco World News
Meknes, Morocco November 8, 2012
The signing of the Morocco-U.S. free trade agreement publicly set an agenda of several objectives that are to be achieved in future transactions between the two countries. In formal documents, the agreement promised substantial success at the economic level that in turn would flow into other areas so that all are positively affected. Indeed, part of the claim has been realized; there have been a considerable number of changes–such as the removal of quotas and tariffs from Morocco-US trade. However, there are suspicions of the trade pact actually being an innocent pretext behind FTA. There are signs that implicate the agreement in a dubious situation where trade is only one straightforward objective declared publicly by the United States.
It is important to point out that the United States has been a great ally to Morocco which has received one fifth of aid targeted for the whole African continent since Morocco’s independence in 1956 (Zoubir 234). The axis of the substantial amount of the aid–the nature of which is either economic or military–was at a time of Moroccan conflicts and turmoil over the Sahara against the Polisario. Though indirectly, the United States was able to change the course of action in Morocco’s favor through military, economic and logistical assistance.
Although the United States did not plainly take sides with Morocco in the Sahara conflict, maintaining the kingdom’s stability was considered as a necessity for the USA. Indeed, the United States was privately inclined to have Morocco reverse the scales in its favor. This small spur was due to a long-standing friendship between the two countries since 1786, the longest treaty of friendship the United States has ever had with a foreign country. Economically, the relations with the U.S. have eliminated all types of tariffs and quotas and thus all commodities have been duty free. Certainly, a positive impact on both countries is expected to be significant as many doors will open in the future for a “new economy.”
There is no arbitrariness in this prediction; there have already been indices that demonstrate the success of the US-Morocco FTA at the economic level. The U.S. exports have revolved around $600 million which makes up a considerable percentage of Moroccan imports, some of which are agricultural such as cereals. In order to prove competition and considerable improvement, Morocco exports to the USA $250 million which is estimated at 4 percent. In fact, both countries have made use of the agreement. For Morocco, its GDP has increased by a considerable value (Ait El Mekki 7).
In light of globalization and its requirements, the United States signed the FTA with Morocco in order to seek markets for different products. According to Merrett (53), the FTA is notoriously known for the messianic quality it has since it helps promulgate ideologies. Indeed, such programs go beyond trade and are meant to be ideological and political containers by which western hegemonic power prevails upon the developing countries.
A Free Trade Agreement is one of the political pretexts that precede exploitations. In this context, Manuel Perez-Rocha argues that free trade dealers have a tendency to use quite appealing words like “investment” and “growth” as an economic pretext for ruthless exploitation (colorlines, e-magazine). The game is about seeking markets for their ideologies. FTAs are doors through which countries endeavor to have access into the sphere of the new allies. The Bush administration propagated the necessity of FTAs under the pretext that they would pave the way for exports and imports, reduce trade barriers and yield a substantial success that ramifies into other fields.
Nonetheless, this was a merely formal, public announcement which is so different to that of Robert Zoellick. The latter declared that the Bush administration only used such attractive words to find a way to the benefits that can be gained in the long term. What is more, the choice of future partners is not arbitrary under any circumstances and it is based on a full, purposive study. Certainly, the final decision comes after an investigation into the advantages that can be taken from a country with particular criteria making this exploitation feasible. The criteria of FTAs are not as related to trade as the agreement formally suggests; they are rather infused with political concerns.
Though it is not stated plainly, since Morocco signed the agreement, it has been supposed and expected to stand by the United States even at a time of war. The contract may not include this non-economic bond; it still is an expectation from the hegemonic partner. As an example, New Zealand was requested to allow American ships containing nuclear materials to dock off its coast. It was expected to follow the orders, but an unexpected refusal took place.
The same disobedience recurred when Chile refused to provide assistance to the United States when the country invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. As a payback, the United States implemented a strange, ham-handed punishment: it did not pass the US-Chile FTA to Congress for approval (Mastel 16). Morocco makes no exception in this regard and is to predict probable troubles America may ask for help with. But generally, Morocco is supposed to stand by ‘in sickness and in health.’
Another objective aims at protecting America from terrorism rather than offering opportunities for the Moroccan economic sector to thrive. The Free Trade Agreement was negotiated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The ostensible rationale of the agreement was a quick spur to the economic and political ties between the two countries. Although it was formally initiated by Morocco, the agreement was a shelter of sorts for America. Certainly, The United States was consumed with the fear that Morocco would be a prospective exporter of terrorists, thus an impending threat for America’s national security.
There are signs that allude to the incertitude of the FTA being a matter of trade and economy; it was held in quite strange secrecy, an act that violated the conventions of agreements. Besides, the agreement had only been signed with four partners before: Israel, Jordan, Canada and Mexico. None of these countries have any slight common characteristic with Morocco, which raises doubts about the true aims of the agreement.
Obviously, the United States cannot have been beneficiary of the agreement at the economic level; Morocco was not able to provide more than merely raw materials which could be found elsewhere. According to Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique, this relation is characterized by interdependence of sorts. As he remarked: “Interdependence between North and South is like the interdependence between the cow and its owner. The owner needs the cow because of its milk. The cow needs the owner because he provides it with hay. But when the cow ceases to produce milk, the owner may well decide to slaughter it. The cow cannot do the same to the owner.” (Thompson 3)
Signing the FTA was a rather semiotic symbol of seeking shelter. In other words, the agreement was initiated as a new tool to pacify Muslim societies and encourage tolerance that would only keep the United States on safe grounds. The argument was raised by Zoellick, who declared the FTA actually being more about war on terror, since it leads to “the opening of Muslim societies.” In fact, the dolorous attack on America was an index of future risk at several levels. Therefore, this huge hegemonic country made use of an indirect way to eliminate any potential threat from the east: free trade agreement. The game, however, was soon disclosed and indices began to emerge.
In 2005, Bush declared:
“In the long-term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades.” (White 4)
Bush’s policies of foiling terrorist attempts did not always take the shape of threatening; as alluded several times by Zoellick, the measures taken in this regard are sometimes wrapped in a less severe disguise than usual. The policy is more about inviting and befriending rather than attacking back. The FTA by implication plays the role of a nicely euphemistic pretext that is used as a new tool in the War on Terror.
Though the idea of the FTA giving economy a spur and being productive of many benefits for partners is quite true, it only represents an optimistic plain objective in the agreement. The idea that is to be conveyed through the essay is the new concept of FTAs being double-edged. Certainly, naïve is whoever believes in free trade being about trade that is free. FTAs selfishly seek private political interests, which puts partners in a situation where political compliance is inevitable.
In fact, it has usually occurred that FTAs are synonymous of interests. Besides, the abrupt incident of September 11 made this quest for political interests even more intense. The fear that the United States was consumed pushed it into approaching danger in a different way, a pretentious way that keeps enemies friendly. However, the awareness of Moroccan government, in particular under the PJD, should shift the agreement objectives towards a merely economic nature. Moreover, the people’s passiveness witnessed during the Arab Spring was a positive indication for the United States, which may render FTA an agreement that only boosts the economy of the two countries, no more.
Manuel Pérez Rocha is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. where he directs an advocacy and research project on “the Security and Prosperity Partnership and the NAFTA Plus Agenda.”
Robert Bruce Zoellick, Bush administration’s chief trade negotiator and the eleventh president of the World Bank, a position he has held since July 1, 2007
Joaquim Alberto Chissano (born 22 October 1939) served as the second President of Mozambique for nineteen years from 6 November 1986 until 2 February 2005
Ait El Mekki, Akka ,Tyner. The Moroccan-American FTA Effects on the Agricultural and Food Sectors in Morocco1, Indiana: Purdue University.
Chen, Michelle. Labor Day Showdown: Can Advocates Stop ‘NAFTA of the Pacific’? Colorlines. September 2 201 <http://colorlines.com
Mastel, Greg . The Rise of the Free Trade Agreement Challenge, Vol. 47, No. 4 (2004), pp. 41-61
Merrett, Christopher D. Free Trade: Neither Free nor About Trade. Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1996. Print
White, Gregory. Free Trade as a Strategic Instrument in the War on Terror?The 2004 US-Moroccan FreeTrade Agreement. Middle East Journal, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 597-616
Zoubir, Yahia H. North Africa in Transition: State, Society, and Economic Transformation in the 1990s. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999. Internet resource.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy