|Spain, Morocco set to boost economic links|
|Spanish king's visit heralds thaw
A state visit by Spain's King Juan Carlos to Morocco Monday through Wednesday is a sign both of warming diplomatic relations between the two neighbors and Madrid's intention to boost its economic presence in the north African country.
It will be the monarch's first trip to Rabat since he attended the funeral of King Hassan II in July 1999, and marks the end of a period of poor relations under Madrid's former conservative government. Differences centered on a number of political and economic issues.
Despite this, economic relations flourished almost unhindered, with Spain establishing its position as Morocco's leading trading partner behind former colonial power France. These ties are expected to improve still further with the warming atmosphere since the election of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in March. Zapatero, a socialist, made Morocco his first foreign port of call after coming to office, and both Madrid and Rabat are committed to creating a close working relationship given the common problems in the region. Spanish business already has a solid base of trade and investment to build on. According to official Moroccan figures, trade in the first half of 2004 rose 12 percent over the previous year to $2 billion, largely in Spain's favor.
Spain buys from Morocco fish, textiles and phosphates, and sells chemical products, semi-finished goods and heavy equipment. Some 600 Spanish firms are operating in Morocco, and in 2003 invested more than France in the country, following the purchase by Altavis of the Moroccan state tobacco company. Spain is also interested in developing Moroccan tourism, with Fadesa's plan to spend more than $393 million on the planned Mediterranean resort of Saidia. Despite continuing differences over offshore limits, Morocco has awarded three oil exploration contracts to Spain's Repsol off Tangiers, covering an area of 6,000 square kilometers. The northeastern region of Catalonia heads Spain's economic drive, accounting for 40 percent of the Spanish firms operating in Morocco and 30 percent of the trade.
Economic relations will be a feature of the king's visit, when he will chair a meeting in Marrakesh of representatives of some 100 Spanish and 250 Moroccan companies with the aim of increasing both trade and investment.
Beirut,01 24 2005
The Daily Star