Northern Africa finds itself in a precarious state of affairs, marked by a series of challenges and conflicts over the last decade. In Egypt, a return to a military regime has given rise to concerns over the country’s political future, while the country simultaneously grapples with an economic and financial crisis. While the recent loan from the International Monetary Fund may offer temporary relief, the devaluation of the currency is further worsening the situation. Egypt’s military regime, responsible for business confiscations, extensive asset freezing, and gross human rights violations, has significantly undermined investor confidence in the country. Libya, still reeling from a prolonged civil war, faces a deepening security crisis as foreign powers engage in proxy wars, impeding any prospects for democracy. Despite some signs of economic growth, investor confidence remains tethered to the persistent political instability. Meanwhile, Tunisia grapples with the aftermath of a coup that has threatened its democratic foundations. Amidst the challenges of inflation and unemployment, Tunisia finds itself on the verge of economic collapse. Finally, Sudan remains engulfed in a state of protracted armed conflict.
Amidst the turbulent landscape of Northern Africa, Morocco stands out as an oasis of stability. While its neighbouring countries grapple with political upheaval and economic crises, Morocco has directed its efforts towards cultivating a positive image on the international stage. With a commitment to economic growth, the country has showcased its thriving industries, attracting investments and fostering a business-friendly environment. Morocco has also demonstrated its resilience in recovering from economic setbacks. Despite the significant global economic impact of COVID-19 in 2020, the country experienced an annual GDP growth rate of 7.9%, positioning it as the second highest-performing country in North Africa. The World Bank anticipates Morocco’s economic growth to increase to 3.1% in 2023, in spite of the economic impacts of severe drought and inflation experienced in 2022. Additionally, Morocco has been ranked as the leading African country in the quality of life index for 2023, with high scores in job market quality, political and economic stability.
The economic growth of Morocco is driven by multiple industries, with tourism playing a pivotal role in its recovery. In 2022, a rise in global interest in the country contributed to a surge in tourism that reached 10.9 million, up from 3.7 million in the previous year. Travellers to the country are captivated by Morocco’s cultural heritage, diverse traditions, vibrant arts scene, renowned cuisine and breathtaking natural landscapes. Particularly with the rise of sport tourism, Morocco has gained heightened global recognition as the first Arab and African team to advance to the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Building upon this achievement, Morocco aims to further cultivate its diplomatic relations by actively pursuing a bid to co-host the 2030 World Cup.
To Morocco, Canada stands as a country that offers considerable economic advantages as a bilateral partner. The history of Canada-Morocco bilateral ties date back to 1956, with both nations sharing fundamental values of democracy, human rights, and gender equality, laying a robust groundwork for collaboration.
To Canada, Morocco holds a vital role in advancing Canada’s foreign policy objectives across Africa as a country positioned as a gateway to both the Maghreb and Sahel regions. Indeed, the country’s pro-business policies and strategic geographical location make it an enticing prospect for Canadian investors.
Merchandise is an established sector in Canada-Morocco trade relations, with Morocco being Canada’s fourth-largest bilateral trade partner in Africa in 2021. The bilateral value of merchandise trade between Canada and Morocco was $1.14 billion in 2021, an increase of 14.1% compared to the previous year. As well, the Trade Commissioner Service points to Morocco’s aerospace, mining, education, clean technologies, and agriculture and processed foods as sectors with potential for Canadian companies.
Recently, the World Bank approved a third Development Policy Financing to advance financial inclusion, digital entrepreneurship, and access to digital infrastructure in Morocco. These areas of focus align closely with Canada’s expertise, presenting new and promising opportunities for Canada to contribute and collaborate with Morocco.
As economic trade between the two nations continues to surge, Morocco is emerging as a favourable trade ally for Canada due to factors of cultural compatibility. First, both nations share a significant diaspora connection, with an estimated 104,000- 300,000 Moroccans living in Canada. This shared cultural bond and the presence of a vibrant Moroccan community within Canada creates a strong foundation for building bilateral relations. Second, Canada and Morocco both embrace French as an official language, which opens doors for collaboration within international organizations such as the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).
With abundant opportunities on the horizon for Canada and Morocco, the realization of their full potential hinges upon a crucial step: the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Despite engaging in negotiations since 2011, an FTA has not been agreed upon. An FTA would serve as a catalyst for deepening economic ties, eliminating trade barriers, and fostering an environment conducive to increased commerce and investment. Canada and Morocco could then unlock new avenues of growth, expand market access for businesses, and foster innovation and collaboration across sectors.
As both countries navigate a rapidly evolving global economic landscape, the signing of an FTA holds the promise of propelling Canada-Morocco relations to new heights and ensuring a prosperous future built on shared prosperity, mutual benefits, and sustained economic growth.
With Morocco serving as a gateway to the vast opportunities of Africa, Canada must make the region a top priority. As a stable and strategic entry point, Morocco offers important access to a continent with untapped potential.
Yasser M. Dhouib is a fellow of the Mackenzie-Papineau Think Tank. He is a consultant for Canadian foreign trade in the Gulf region and North Africa, and serves as the executive director of The Canadian-Qatari Business Forum (CQBF).