India and Morocco must forge a strategic partnership now

In what should be treated as another wake up call for India, a report by Chinese press agency Xinhua has stated that for China the North African nation of Morocco is not only “a natural bridge and an appropriate platform for the intensification of investment and trade relations between China and Africa, but also a preferential access to the markets of 55 countries (1.2 billion consumers), with which Morocco has concluded free trade agreements (including the EU, the US and Arab countries)”.

The report clearly highlights the fact that China views Morocco as a major strategic asset for its plans to expand trade and investment in Africa and boost economic ties with Arab nations in the Middle East. In fact, it is likely that Beijing views Rabat as an important fulcrum of the western segment of its evolving Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century projects of transnational connectivity. The Belt and Road projects are massive initiatives that seek to inject new vigour into the global economy by creating infrastructure, developing transnational markets, and boosting trade and commerce all around. In that sense, the Belt and Road initiatives are akin to the US Marshall Plan to rebuilt western European economies after World War II. After all, China is one of the few nations today with pockets deep enough and adequate political will to bolster free trade and the benefits accruing from this.

But the more pertinent issue here is the selection of Morocco as an important partner for China. There’s no denying that Morocco today has not only emerged as an island of stability in North Africa, but is also at the forefront of finding solutions to the most pressing issues affecting the global community. From fighting Islamist radicalism to countering climate change to fostering sub-regional connectivity and economic cooperation, Morocco has emerged as a shining light among its African peers. Add to this its strategic location close to Europe with an Atlantic coastline, and it’s easy to see why China sees Morocco as a land of opportunities.

This is precisely what explains developments such as the Central Bank of China recently concluding a dirham-yuan exchange agreement of MAD 15 billion, the Chinese group Haite, Morocco-China International and BMCE Bank of Africa launching an investment fund of $1 billion, and Huawei setting up its new headquarters for the Francophone African region in Casablanca. Plus, Morocco’s return to the African Union earlier this year and ongoing application for membership of the Economic Community of West African States show that Morocco’s economy is slated to become even more integrated with that of other African states in future. Hence, investing in Morocco today will result in huge African dividends tomorrow.

Against this backdrop, India must speed up its relations with Morocco. True, ties between the two countries have been steadily rising. But the pace is less than satisfactory. It will be recalled that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI had attended the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in 2015. At the time King Mohammed had held fruitful discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a decision was taken to work towards elevating bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. Such an outcome will be hugely beneficial for India which can then use Morocco as a springboard for its investments in Francophone West Africa and as a hub for new commercial engagements with Europe. Given the interest that China is showing towards Morocco, India can’t afford to lag behind.

Agreed, China and India have very different approaches in Africa. But a Morocco looking for multiple foreign partners can add teeth to India’s Africa policy and amplify India’s engagements with Gulf Arab nations with whom too Rabat shares a special relationship. Hence, New Delhi would do well to seize the opportunity that the upcoming India-Morocco Joint Commission (to be held on May 25-26 in Rabat) affords and push for upgrading ties to a strategic partnership. Since the two countries are celebration the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties this year, such a status would be a welcome gift.

Source: Strike while the iron is hot: India and Morocco must forge a strategic partnership now


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