By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 7/6/2005 | 2:52 pm
London -- The trade volume between Morocco and Britain reaches £ 880 mln a year, said HE Mohammed Belmahi, Moroccan Ambassador to Britain, in an interview with Morocco Times. He added that Morocco is Britain's first trading partner in North Africa and the UK is Morocco's third economic partner after France and Spain.
Could you give us an overview of the Moroccan community living in the UK?
According to our consulate statistics, there are currently 50,000 registered Moroccans living in the UK. Taking into consideration this number, we created, four years ago, the Moroccan General Consulate.
A total of 80% of Moroccans living in the UK come from one specific region in Morocco: Jbala region (between Larache and Tetouan, northern Morocco). For historical reasons, they started to come in the 60s. Beside the community which is concentrated mainly in London, other Moroccans live in Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Briton, and Manchester.
We have had a long term relationship with the UK since the 18th century. There were Moroccans – mostly traders – who came to Manchester nearly 250 years ago. These Moroccans were completely integrated in the British society. They are today British and we know little about them.
We have a third generation of Moroccans, mostly graduates from top universities in France or the US, who came to Britain 15 years ago. About 500 of them work in insurance companies and multinationals.
The Moroccan community has so many problems, how do you deal with them?
I think in the past the community was organized in 'Ouidadiyat'. The approach followed for the last six years is that the community should be self-organized. The people should run themselves within NGOs.
The organization that comes from within proves successful. So, we guide whoever would like to get organized and who ask for help, but we do not try to dictate or impose on them what they should do. We are here to respond to the need of the Moroccan community once they have established their needs, and priorities.
What's the trade volume between Morocco and Britain?
The trade volume between Morocco and Britain reaches £ 880 m a year. Morocco is Britain's first trading partner in North Africa and our third economic partner after France and Spain. A total of 60% of the trade is based on textiles and ready-made clothing. We export fertilizers, chemicals, phosphates; we import agricultural machinery, pharmaceuticals.
We can always do more in terms of investment. The volume of investment from Britain to Morocco does not meet our expectations. Since Britain has the largest stock market in Europe and has important financial services, we have to explore possibilities of attracting banks and insurance companies in Britain to invest in Morocco.
That's why the embassy favoured the creation of a Moroccan British Business Council (MBBC). The council is run by 24 members, 12 from Morocco and 12 from Britain.
With this encouraging business climate, don't you think it is high time to sign an FTA with Britain?
Signing an FTA is not always the right way to do business with Britain. Each country has its specificities. The British are by nature free traders. Until today, Britain sees Moroccans as also free traders. So, there is no need today to sign an FTA.
How do you see British policy towards Morocco, particularly the Sahara issue?
British-Moroccan relations are excellent. We have never had a major problem with Britain a historical ally for the last 400 years. Regarding the Sahara issue, Britain has always sought to find a peaceful solution throughout the United Nations. Britain does not recognize or openly support the so-called Polisario.
The civil society in Britain has supported the Polisario in the past, but mainly in humanitarian issues. So there is no massive political support to the Polisario in Britain.