Rabat – Morocco’s bid to join ECOWAS is facing “serious obstacles” and may take years to materialize, according to Fitch Solutions.
The analysis, which was published on August 2 by Fitch Solutions, argued that despite Morocco’s newfound diplomatic assertiveness on the African continent, Morocco’s attempt to join one of the continent’s foremost economic unions, is being held back by “significant hurdles.”
While it is no secret that Morocco’s readmission to the African Union (AU) in early 2017 indicated a strong geopolitical shift in the kingdom’s diplomatic ambitions and economic aspirations, regional rivalry is likely to get in the kingdom’s way, the report said.
“Morocco’s bid to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is another clear indicator of the country’s ambition to broaden its economic relations and become a trade hub between Europe and Africa.”
The report underlined Morocco’s recent Africa-oriented foreign policy, explaining that since its readmission to the AU in early 2017, Morocco has shown signs of “increasingly turning its gaze away from Europe” to focus more on the vast trade and investment opportunities on its home continent.
When it comes to the kingdom’s ECOWAS ambition, however, Fitch Solutions warned: “We note that signi?cant obstacles to accession remain, due to both political and economic concerns, particularly from Nigeria. This implies that membership is likely years rather than months away, and may ultimately be blocked entirely.”
Bold African presence
Morocco’s presence in sub-Saharan Africa’s trade and investments landscape reached a record high in 2017 as a result of King Mohammed VI’s numerous working and official visits to a number of sub-Saharan countries.
Morocco’s “Africa-bound exports hit 8.8 percent of its total exports in 2017, up from 5 percent a decade previously,” and Moroccan investments in Africa also rose impressively during the same period.
According to the report, the upward trend has been maintained by Morocco’s readmission to the AU and its boldness to sustain regional and continental influence.
Africa alone accounted for 77.5 percent of Morocco’s foreign investments, with the banking and telecommunications sectors leading the dance. Attijariwafa Bank, for example, “had 476 branches in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, up from 322 in 2011.”
In terms of agriculture, Morocco has been using its rich phosphates and fertilizers industry to boost and accompany agricultural productivity in a number of ECOWAS countries, including, among others, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Nigerian factor
For all of Morocco’s efforts to showcase itself to ECOWAS member states as a growth driver and an indispensable investor and commercial partner, accession to the regional organization is “far from certain.”
And while many ECOWAS member states fear that Morocco’s membership would create enormous and sudden economic shocks—rapid inflows of EU goods, for instance—which many members’ economies are not yet ready to deal with, Nigeria’s hostility towards the Moroccan bid is expected to play an important role in delaying or altogether refusing Morocco’s application.
Nigeria’s disapproval has both political and economic dimensions, the report argued. The West African federation is by far the leading economy in the regional body, and many in Nigeria allegedly fear that admitting Morocco would pose serious challenges to Nigeria’s regional influence.
On economic grounds, Nigerian manufacturers and business leaders are also said to be lobbying the Nigerian government to oppose Morocco’s bid. They argue that, in addition to upsetting the regional power balance in terms of political influence, Morocco, given its rising manufacturing sector, would greatly undermine Nigerian interests.
But it is no secret that President Buhari of Nigeria and King Mohammed VI are on fist-bumping terms, and Fitch Solutions’ report comes at a time when Rabat and Abuja have taken remarkable steps to cement their warming bilateral ties.
During President Buhari’s most recent visit to Morocco in June, Nigeria and Morocco signed a cooperation agreement on agricultural and vocational training, and—most importantly—President Buhari and Mohammed VI signed the final text of an offshore/onshore gas pipeline project agreed in December 2016.
The 6,500-kilometer pipeline is set to cross many ECOWAS member states and may play a crucial role in pushing for further political and economic integration and softening the stance of a number of hardliners inside the regional body.