Morocco needs to abolish language barriers, update its legal framework, and market itself better in order to attract English-speaking investors, said Samir Bennis, the editor-in-chief of Morocco World News and a foreign policy expert.
Bennis shared his vision of how Morocco could better attract foreign investments during the sixth Morocco Day event hosted by the Moroccan American Network. The meeting, held virtually this year, is taking place from January 17-19 and includes several panel discussions on Morocco-US relations.
Shifting from his usual political discourse, Bennis highlighted some of the challenges that face English-speaking businesspeople and investors, namely those from the US, who wish to launch projects in Morocco.
The foreign policy expert began his presentation by underlining the privileged nature of Morocco-US relations.
“We know that Morocco is one of only three major non-NATO allies in North Africa and that Morocco is the only country in Africa to have [a Free Trade Agreement] with the US. We also know that Morocco has strong security and military ties with the US and that it has enjoyed bipartisan US support regarding the Sahara issue,” he explained.
However, Bennis considers that these special ties have not translated well into the business and economy sector. He gave the example of the Free Trade Agreement which is “yet to fulfill its potential,” despite being over 14 years old.
According to the UN Comtrade Database, the value of bilateral trade between Morocco and the US was approximately $5 billion in 2019, including around $3.5 billion of American exports to Morocco and $1.5 billion of Moroccan exports.
The figures are significantly low compared to trade between Morocco and other trade partners such as Spain and France. In 2019, Morocco-France trade exceeded $12 billion in value, while trade between Morocco and Spain reached more than $15 billion.
“There is a lot of potential that we can tap into,” said Bennis, commenting on the Morocco-US Free Trade Agreement.
In addition to trade, US investments in Morocco can also increase if Moroccan officials show a willingness to detach the country’s business sector from the French language influence and orient it towards global, English-speaking markets, the political analyst argued.
“In Morocco, we are still unable to detach ourselves from French as the main business language. We tend to forget that when we speak English, when we market ourselves in English, we are not only speaking to the US market but to a worldwide one,” he explained.
Bennis gave the example of several English-speaking acquaintances who actively sought to invest in Morocco but gave up because of the language barrier.
Another major challenge for English-speaking investors, according to Bennis, is the incompatibility of the Moroccan legal framework with international standards, especially in the fields of business and accounting.
“We need to make great efforts at the state level to align our legal framework with international standards,” he said.
The third considerable obstacle that faces international investors in Morocco is the lack of workers who are fluent in English, Bennis added, arguing that the vast majority of vocational training and university courses in the country are only available in French.
“We need to train our workforce in English,” he suggested. “The workforce should be able to interact with English-speaking investors and explain to them what are the opportunities that Morocco can offer.”
Finally, Bennis mentioned the lack of marketing as a problem that significantly reduces Morocco’s potential of attracting foreign investments.
“I think the missing link for Morocco, besides the language barrier and the legal framework that is unadapted for English-speaking investors, is marketing,” he said.
For the foreign policy expert, Morocco’s rich history and culture, as well as its strong infrastructures, can allow the country to become a magnet for investments from global powers.
However, he argued, because of the lack of marketing, Morocco’s strength does not translate well in terms of tourist arrivals and foreign investments.
Media as a marketing tool
One solution that could help market Morocco as a tourism and investment destination, Bennis suggested, is for Moroccan officials to support local media that have global audiences.
“We should not let others speak on our behalf. We can tell our narrative on our own,” he said.
The expert gave the example of Morocco World News, which he co-founded in 2011, as an important actor in terms of promoting the image of Morocco at an international level.
“Morocco World News, over the past 10 years, was the main vehicle of communication between Morocco and the world. It has become a go-to source for business people, analysts, scholars, and tourists,” he said.
For Bennis, such initiatives prove that the media have a great potential to help Morocco market itself globally, leading the country to translate its rich history and culture into business opportunities, which would in turn translate into job creation for Moroccans.
He urged Moroccan officials to grow more mindful of the importance of the English language and to support initiatives seeking to promote Morocco at the international level.
The political analyst made the presentation during a panel discussion on Sunday, January 17, that tackled the prospects of repositioning the Moroccan economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several Moroccan and American speakers participated in the discussion, including Democratic politician LaRuby May, business expert Ron Busby, Arab America president Warren David, and The Washington Diplomat publisher Victor Shiblie.