Morocco-Azerbaijan Relations: “Potential of growth in all aspects is limitless”

251

Mr. Mohamed Adil Embarch     

Moroccan Ambassador to Azerbaijan

Q.: Mr. Ambassador, please present yourself to our readers. Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

A.: I arrived to Baku on November 2016. I am a career diplomat and I had the opportunity to serve my country in various places around the world in Asia, in America and in Europe. I had never visited Azerbaijan before moving here, and although I had read a lot about it, I didn’t expect it to be this beautiful. I’m impressed by the diversity of its culture and the hospitality, openness and tolerance of its people. Baku is an amazing and vibrant city and I’m pleased to be here.

Q.: How would you describe the state of relations between Azerbaijan and Morocco? How are Baku and Azerbaijan viewed in Morocco?

A.: In 2017, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Azerbaijan. Since the first day, our relations have been very good. The late leader Heydar Aliyev paid an important visit to Morocco in 1994. On the political level, we share the same views with regard to many issues of common interest. This situation has been highlighted on many occasions, especially when both countries were Non-Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council during the period of 2012–2013. Morocco and Azerbaijan are also members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

We value the support of Azerbaijan to the Moroccan position on the Sahara issue and likewise, we support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan based on the four United Nations Security Council resolutions.

When the unfortunate war over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out, the Moroccan people started hearing about Azerbaijan. More recently, your country has made important efforts to promote its image around the world, and it is resonating very well in Morocco, especially because we have a lot in common: a rich history, cultural diversity and natural beauty as well as promotion of multi-faith dialogue, tolerance and moderation. World class events such as the Formula 1, the European Games, the Islamic Solidarity Games, and other international forums, as well as  iconic structures like the Flame Towers or the National Flag Square certainly contribute to promoting the image of Azerbaijan, not only in Morocco, but also worldwide. 

Q.: In what fields do you see potential for further development of relations between the two countries?

A.: Although we enjoy very good relations, the potential of growth in all aspects is limitless. The business communities will gain so much if they make an effort to go off the beaten track and get to know each other. Very few people in Azerbaijan know that Morocco has the largest free-trade network in the world. Therefore, anything that is partially or totally produced in Morocco can be exported duty free to a 1 billion customer market, thanks to the Free Trade Agreements that Morocco has signed with 55 countries (European Union, United States, Arab countries, Turkey, EFTA, etc).
Today, as Azerbaijan tries to diversify its economy and reduce its dependency on hydrocarbons, Morocco can be a very good partner down the road for two main reasons: Morocco has important experience in all the economic sectors that Azerbaijan authorities intend to develop and Morocco is committed to South-South cooperation. 
Since we are not an oil producer, it has been essential for us to diversify our economy. Today, we have developed state-of-the-art infrastructure such as the Tangier Med Port (top 20 in the world) and international prize-winning airports (Marrakech airport ranked 4th in the world by Italian website TGCOM24 for the beauty of its architecture). In 2018, Morocco will be the first country in Africa and the Arab world to operate the TGV (high-speed train).

While tourism, agriculture, handicrafts and mining are traditional sectors in the country, Morocco is becoming a hotspot for aerospace, electronics and automotive industries. For example, some 115 aerospace companies, including the major players (Boeing, Eads, Safran, Bombardier, Thales, Daher, etc.) are operating in Morocco. The largest Moroccan export to the US is semiconductors and the largest Moroccan export overseas is cars.

Q.: A wave of liberal reforms has swept over the Kingdom of Morocco in recent years under the impetus of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. Could you please tell our readers about these reforms in more detail? How do you personally assess the results of these reforms? How have these reforms, which encompass nearly all lines of business, affected the financial and regulatory environment for foreign investment?

A.: Since ascending the throne in 1999, His Majesty King Mohammed VI has strengthened and broadened the reforms initiated under his late Father, Hassan II. 

These reforms were political, economic and social. They were intended to empower the citizens, improve their well-being and strengthen the accountability of the officials and people in charge.

Some of the main reforms include the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2004, unique in the region, largely commended by the international community. A series of public hearings shed light on past human right violations and sought compensation for victims and their families, turning the page on such violations once and for all. The creation of the National Council of Human Rights and the reform of the Family Law to enforce gender equality were also key measures. The National Initiative for Human Development was created in order to fight poverty and create sustainable development projects.

The 2011 reform of the Constitution was also a major change in the Moroccan landscape, enforcing democracy and the rule of law. 

On the economic level, Morocco has made great efforts to further liberalize the economy and unleash the potential of entrepreneurship. Let me remind readers that the World Trade Organization was created in Marrakech, Morocco in 1994. In the World Bank publication Doing Business 2017, Morocco ranked 68th (1st in North Africa and 4th in Africa and the Middle East). All these reforms and many more have offered the population a sense of empowerment and commitment to the development of the nation. For that reason, the so-called Arab Spring spared Morocco.

Q.: At the African Union (AU) Summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on January 31st, the AU decided to readmit Morocco into the fold after a 33-year absence. Thirty-nine of the 54 states approved Morocco’s return to the AU. Why has Morocco decided, after a three-decade absence, that it should rejoin the AU?

A.: For historic reasons that date back centuries ago, Morocco has always been engaged in Africa. As a matter of fact, Morocco was a driving force behind the creation of the Organization of African Unity in the early 60’s. However, in 1984 a number of African countries, under the influence of the Cold War context, made an ideological vote to accept the membership of a separatist entity in a blatant violation of international legality. Let me underline that this entity is not recognized in any other regional or international organizations.

Today, the context has changed dramatically and so has the African continent. The former irresponsible ideology has given way to pragmatism and realism. Today, African leaders are concerned with the well-being of their populations and act accordingly. A majority of member states, 28 countries, sent a letter to the acting President of the African Union where they “welcomed the decision of the Kingdom of Morocco… to integrate the African Union and decided to take action with a view to the forthcoming suspension of the ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’ from the activities of the African Union and all its organs…”

The long awaited return of Morocco to the African Union is, after all, a natural step. Morocco is African by its geography and its history, but also by its involvement and commitment in the continent under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. This return will boost the African actions of Morocco and take it from a bilateral level to a continental and institutional level. His Majesty paid over 45 visits to different African countries, and 900 agreements and conventions were signed to create projects in strategic sectors such as sustainable development and food security, hence stimulating growth and job creation and directly impacting the lives of citizens.

Morocco is also highly committed to peace and stability in Africa through its participation in multiple United Nations peacekeeping missions, deploying thousands of men in various theatres of operation in the continent.

Q.: Morocco hosted the COP22 Climate Change Conference, the first follow up to the Paris Agreement, in Marrakech in November of 2016. Why was it important for Morocco to host these talks? How do you view the future of global climate change initiatives?

A.: Morocco’s commitment to environment related issues is not something new. In 2001, the COP7 took place in Marrakesh.  The organization of COP22 is a recognition by the international community of Moroccan leadership in the field of renewable energy and sustainable development. The Kingdom has set an objective to increase the contribution of clean energy sources to 52% of its national energy consumption by 2030.

By organizing the COP22, Morocco succeeded in raising awareness that the issue of global warming and its dangerous impact on the lives of people is not the exclusive concern of wealthy nations. In fact, although they pollute less, developing countries are the ones exposed the most.

Morocco called for coordinated involvement of all actors to preserve life on earth for future generations through the strengthening of North-South solidarity, especially in assisting developing countries that do not have the means to protect themselves from climate risks, particularly those in Africa, Asia and Latin America and small islands.

The Marrakesh Conference was a decisive turning point in the implementation of the process of the Paris Agreement.