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Envoy points to gateway between civilizations

Morocco has served as an important link to the West down the ages, yet most Chinese know very little about the country, and many even consider it backward, says China's Ambassador to Morocco, Sun Shuzhong.

But many of the earlier achievements of ancient China, such as making paper and gunpowder, were introduced to Europe via Morocco. Chinese tea and porcelain reached Europe through the country and also left an indelible mark on the country's culture, he says.

"Chinese business people do not understand the Moroccan market or its investment environment. In most cases, they are unaware of what Morocco can offer compared with other African countries."

Morocco was also at the forefront in establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1958, being the second African country to do so.

However, despite the long-standing diplomatic, cultural and economic ties between China and Morocco, distance and linguistic factors - Morocco's main languages are Arabic, Berber and French - have stood in the way of people-to-people dealings, Sun says. "This is something that we need to deal in our bilateral ties."

Better mutual awareness will automatically take bilateral ties "to the next level", he says, and will reinforce efforts to improve Sino-Moroccan trade and business collaboration.

Trade between China and Morocco was worth $3.8 billion last year, 6 percent higher than the year before, the embassy says.

Embassy officials say they are confident trade will continue to flourish. At present, China is Morocco's third-largest trading partner. Morocco is China's ninth-largest trading partner and the largest export market for Chinese tea in Africa. Cumulative investment in Morocco by China stands at about $170 million.

Sun Shuzhong, China's ambassador to Morocco, says the potential of China's investment in Morocco is huge.

"Although China's investment in Morocco is small compared with many other African countries, the potential is huge," Sun says. "China, having served as the world's factory for the past 30 years, has built up an impressive manufacturing capability. Morocco hopes to attract more investment from China to further improve and complement the local industrial chain."

Because more Chinese businesses learn about the investment opportunities in Morocco and of incentives that local governments offer, investment will increase, he says.

Morocco has a stable political and social environment, sound legal system and a relatively high level of education. All of these are attractive factors for channeling foreign investment into Morocco, Sun says.

However, the main attraction for Chinese investors is the guarantee that comes with the friendly bilateral political relations between the two countries, he says.

"The two have a solid foundation for collaboration and complement one another strongly economically."

Morocco's location is also paramount for Chinese businesses.

"The country is a window to Africa and Europe, which gives it an unparalleled advantage."

From it, the entire African market can be reached, particularly West Africa. It is also very close to Europe, the port city of Tangiers being about 25 kilometers from Spain.

Sea passages and ferry services also link Morocco and Europe and there are convenient air connections. From Rabat, the capital, Paris and Madrid are just two-and-a-half hours away by air.

Free trade agreements that Morocco has signed are another attraction for Chinese investors, Sun says.

Morocco has signed such agreements with the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and West Africa that eliminate tariffs, import quotas and preferences on most goods and services traded between the signatories.

"In recent years, many Chinese businesses have aspired to go global. If they are targeting consumer markets in Europe, the US or Africa, Morocco would be a good choice for setting up production bases. They can make good use of the free trade agreements to export goods to target buyers, which will help them cut production and transport costs."

As a middle-income country with a population of 32 million and annual GDP of $4,000 per capita, production costs in Morocco may not be very competitive in terms of investment costs, Sun says. But that should not affect Morocco's appeal as an investment destination.

"I have worked in Europe and Africa for a long time. There is something about Morocco that has really impressed me, and that is the high quality of the local human resources. The local workforce can generate output of relatively higher value, and as such negates the disadvantages of higher costs."

More than 30 Chinese companies operate in Morocco, he says. These can be divided into three groups. The first is led by the Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp, which have become important partners of local companies and gained a dominant share of the local market. The second group is involved in infrastructure and large engineering construction projects, including roads, bridges, highways, tunnels and dams. The third group consists of retailers, mainly individual Chinese traders in Casablanca.

In addition to strengthening collaboration in fisheries, infrastructure construction, communications and other traditional fields, Sun says China and Morocco must work together in other areas. "The Moroccan government has launched ambitious plans in agriculture, renewable energy, textiles and the automotive industry in recent years. China has rich experience in these fields and has a lot to share."

China will continue to support and encourage big domestic companies to invest in and set up factories in Morocco, and Morocco should step up efforts to publicize its investment environment, policies and projects, he says.

"We are confident that more opportunities for collaboration will open up through frequent person-to-person dealings."

In addition to further strengthening economic ties, Sun says cultural exchanges are vital for improving bilateral understanding. "Exchanges and cooperation between the two sides in the cultural field are becoming increasingly closer."

There are two Confucius institutes in Morocco, and there is a high-degree of enthusiasm among local people to learn Chinese, he says.

"We are short of Chinese teachers who have a good command of Arabic or French. To improve this, we hope to provide more opportunities for local people to learn Chinese through online courses. We will also try to encourage more Chinese language-major students to teach Chinese in Morocco as volunteers."

Other activities such as Chinese movie weeks or spring festival galas have been held every year to provide local people with a better picture of the life of modern China and its art forms and culture.

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