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French Version

Morocco welcomes Chinese president

Hu jintao is on a mission to feed his country's growing appetite

Chinese President Hu Jintao touched down in Morocco Monday at the start of a short African tour, the last leg of a worldwide swing to smooth trade ties and secure oil supplies for his country's unprecedented economic transformation.

Soaring oil prices and China's sustained double-digit growth have made energy supply both an economic and a national security priority for Beijing, analysts say.

Moroccan leaders are hoping Hu's visit will make their country a "commercial platform" for Chinese trade with the rest of Africa and even Europe, a government official in Rabat said.

One of the issues to be discussed is "the creation of a joint-venture mechanism for the manufacture of Chinese products with Moroccan materials and labor for export from Morocco to Europe and Africa," the source said.

In September last year Beijing and Rabat signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint-venture project in Morocco for the production of phosphoric acid.

At the most northern tip of the African continent, Morocco is only a dozen kilometers from Spain and is poised to benefit from relaxed customs barriers with Europe starting in 2010.

Morocco's King Mohammad VI greeted the Chinese president upon his arrival on Monday afternoon.

After visiting the United States and Saudi Arabia last week, Hu will spend the next five days courting Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya in the quest to secure fresh oil supplies and pry open new export markets for Chinese manufacturers.

For decades Beijing has played on its solidarity with developing African nations for influence. But in recent years it has looked to the continent as a source of energy and natural resources as well as a growing market for its goods.

Trade between China and Africa is small but rising fast, up to $39.7 billion last year, an increase of some 34.91 percent from 2004, according to government statistics.

Morocco, unlike neighboring Algeria, has no proven oil resources of its own but is carrying out offshore exploration.

Its sizeable textile sector, however, has suffered from an influx of Chinese exports after a global quota system regulating Chinese products was scrapped at the start of last year.

"China will seek to adjust the trade imbalance between the two countries," the Chinese ambassador to Morocco, Cheng Tao, told the local Map news agency on the eve of Hu's visit.

Cheng also assured Rabat that Beijing understood "Morocco's concern" regarding its textile sector.

Moroccan imports from China increased by more than 40 percent in 2005, and Rabat's trade deficit with Beijing stood at $900 million.

Bilateral accords in trade, science, technical development, culture and medicine are set to be signed during Hu's visit, the Moroccan official said.

Analysts point to China's interest in African oil, saying the country - the world's second-largest oil consumer after the United States - is hungrily looking to top up imports from traditional supplier Indonesia, which has been struggling to maintain production levels.

Hu signed energy deals with the world's top producer, Saudi Arabia, and discussed a plan with Riyadh to set up a strategic oil reserve in China.

"Hu Jintao must consolidate the supply of oil for China's developing economy - he has to do that, it's an obligation on his part," said Garth Shelton, a China relations specialist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Chinese efforts in the region paid off Thursday, when China National Offshore Oil Corp. completed a deal to buy a 45-percent stake in a Nigerian oil block for more than $2 billion.

Casablanca,04 24 2006
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The Daily Star
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