Morocco World News sat down with outgoing British Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Reilly, to talk about the “special relationship” between Morocco and the UK.
Morocco’s Parliament approved the Morocco-UK post-Brexit Association Agreement in June. Morocco World News sat down with outgoing British Ambassador to Morocco Thomas Reilly for a frank conversation about what the agreement really means for the future of Morocco-UK relations.
MWN host Madeleine Handaji kicked off the interview with an overview of the Morocco-UK relationship in terms of trade and tourism, and the projects Ambassador Reilly has undertaken during his posting in Rabat.
During the interview, Reilly spoke about the Association Agreement, COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on business and tourism, clean energy, Gibraltar, and education. The ambassador took questions from viewers at the end of the interview.
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What does the post-Brexit Association Agreement mean for future Morocco-UK relations?
The British ambassador explained that the UK’s exit from the EU will mean that Britain is in a position to manage and negotiate its own trade relationships for the first time since the 1970s. He said Morocco and the UK already have a significant trade relationship, with Morocco-UK trade value having increased by £7 million in the past five years alone.
“It is quite a dynamic trading relationship,” Reilly emphasized. He explained that the agreement now in place is a continuity agreement and will protect the relationship Morocco and the UK currently share.
He noted that, though the UK has pursued a number of Association Agreements with international trade partners, the UK-Morocco partnership was the first to be ratified.
The ambassador shared a number of statistics to highlight the strength of the UK-Morocco relationship in terms of exports. In the UK, 25% of tomatoes and 20% of soft fruit sold in supermarkets are from Morocco and 19% of olive oil sold in the UK also comes from Morocco. Sardines, however, are the biggest Morocco-UK export, with 60% of sardines coming from Morocco.
Reilly said the Morocco-UK economic relationship is already strong and encompasses automobile parts, phosphates, oil and gas, renewable energies, financial services, and tourism. He stressed that the relationship has significant potential which the Association Agreement aims to develop.
The ambassador clarified that agricultural and fisheries products from Western Sahara are included in the agreement.
Reilly commented that King Mohammed VI’s pan-African economic and political vision has enhanced Morocco’s potential and given the UK-Morocco relationship new impetus. Morocco, he said, is well-placed as a gateway to Africa.
MWN shone the spotlight on the visa climate for Moroccans wanting to travel to the UK. Ambassador Reilly explained that a new visa application process will come into effect after Brexit, following a points system similar to that of Australia.
How will the COVID-19 travel restrictions impact UK-Morocco travel and trade in the short term?
The British ambassador said border closures and flight cancellations will definitely affect UK-Morocco travel and tourism in the short term and, unless a vaccine for the virus is found, possibly in the medium term.
Reilly did, however, encourage British holidaymakers to consider Morocco as a destination accessible by car and emphasized that, by driving rather than flying, the risk of contamination may be lower.
The ambassador explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected export and import as yet, and urged decision-makers in the UK and Morocco to remain open to international trade relationships, warning against protectionist politics and economic strategy.
How will the UK and Morocco collaborate on Climate Change issues?
MWN recalled that the ambassador highlighted climate change as a shared priority for Morocco and the UK in a recent speech and asked the ambassador to elaborate on how the two countries intend to collaborate on clean energy and other environmental issues.
“This is another example of a marriage made in heaven,” Ambassador Reilly said, praising Morocco’s engagement in promoting renewable energy sources. He said UK-Morocco financing partnerships could promote Morocco’s clean energy sector and further develop the “incredible progress that has been made” in Morocco.
Reilly said, however, that recycling is an issue that still needs to be tackled in Morocco. He drew attention to the natural beauty of the Moroccan countryside and the detrimental effects of poor waste disposal.
When asked about the number of British gas extraction companies operating in Morocco and how this fits in with the clean energy vision, the ambassador explained that natural gas is a more environmentally friendly alternative to coal. Gas burning power stations are “50% cleaner than coal-burning stations,” and, though zero-carbon sources are preferable, it will take decades for Morocco to transfer to 100% clean energy sources.
The ambassador outlined the initiatives the British embassy in Rabat has taken to become more environmentally friendly, noting that it is the first British embassy in the world to install and use solar panels.
How could UK-EU negotiations over Gibraltar affect Morocco?
The MWN moderator turned the conversation to the question of Gibraltar, outlining how the Brexit negotiations over Gibraltar could affect Morocco.
He said there is a lot of potential for economic collaboration between Gibraltar and Morocco. “I would love to see a renewable energy line, an electrical cable, which is providing Gibraltar with its energy, so that Gibraltar can benefit from Morocco’s development in renewable energy.”
Gibraltar, the ambassador noted, has a lot of expertise in the financial sector and could share this experience with Morocco.
Ambassador Reilly was clear that the question of Gibraltar is a matter for the Spanish and British negotiators, but that there is already significant collaboration between Morocco and Gibraltar in a number of areas.
Morocco and Gibraltar already conduct joint military exercises with the British regiment based in Gibraltar and the ambassador “would like to see more” Morocco-Gibraltar collaboration in this field.
The ambassador emphasized that the Moroccan, Spanish, and Gibraltar governments have the potential to make a real impact in the ongoing fight against smuggling, drug trafficking, and human trafficking through collaboration.
How do you see the future of UK-Morocco cooperation in education?
Ambassador Reilly is a keen advocate of girls’ education and has worked closely with the Education for All project in Imlil during his time in Morocco. He spoke passionately about universal education and the vital importance of facilitating post-primary level education for girls in rural areas.
The ambassador outlined a number of programs and initiatives the UK and Morocco have set up to develop tertiary education links and emphasized that there is a promising future for Morocco-UK collaboration in this field.
“There is no question that English is the language of international commerce,” the ambassador said when asked about the language debate raging on in the Moroccan education sector. “It [English] is possibly the most useful language in the world,” he added.
Ambassador Reilly believes that Darjia and Tamazight (Berber language) should be the languages of education in Morocco. In terms of foreign language teaching, for him, the English language would be an important addition for young Moroccan students.
The ambassador responded to a number of pertinent questions from viewers, mainly focused on education and tourism. He displayed a genuine love and enthusiasm for Morocco and Moroccan people, emphasizing his sadness at leaving the posting.
He thanked the Moroccan ministers with whom he worked very closely during his time in Morocco, commenting on their productivity and helpful cooperation. He highlighted the importance of continuing UK-Morocco cultural exchange to preserve and develop relationships between the two governments and two peoples.
Ambassador Reilly sees enormous potential in the future of Morocco-UK relations and hopes that the significant development in trade cooperation will continue in the coming years.