The King of Morocco between
diversion and suspicion
By : Hocine Adryen
A year ago, in a speech to heads of state and government in Addis Ababa, the king of Morocco definitively buried this ideal, when he clearly indicated that the Arab Union of Maghreb (AMU) could be dissolved in the near future. What has led the king of Morocco to change his mind a year later, wipe the slate clean and call for a meeting with Algerian leaders?
He is re-thinking his decision and has today renewed his offer to revitalise the union. The various projects relating to the creation of a customs union and the establishment of a common market in the Maghreb have all failed due to the kingdom’s lack of commitment. If the Moroccan sovereign truly wanted to renew the AMU, he would not have obstructed these various initiatives. So can we really believe the king of Morocco’s soothing words today?
Relations between the two countries are tricky and extremely complicated. The problems that have so far paralysed the functioning of the AMU seem very difficult to solve. Nevertheless, all parties concerned remain aware that this organisation is needed for the economic growth of the various countries of North Africa. After more than a decade of deadlock, can the union be reactivated and with whom?
At a rate of less than 3%, trade between these five countries is slowing down, and this lack of economic vitality costs the countries of the region just over 2% of annual growth. Despite the geographical proximity, Algerian energy products account for a mere 5% of Moroccan imports and only 0.5% of total Algerian exports. Moreover, for Moroccan agricultural exports to reach Algeria, they have to be imported via France!
The volume of regional trade and investment in the AMU is among the lowest in the world. But it could become a regional market of more than 90 million consumers and would generate great benefits, making the region more attractive to foreign investors. Is the controversial Sahrawi issue the only major obstacle to the formation of this union? Algeria, however, has always affirmed that this matter remains the sole responsibility of the international community and that it cannot, therefore, be subject to any form of blackmail.
Although the AMU was created in the midst of the Western Sahara dispute, it seems that its future is still tied to the resolution of this problem. There has been no summit since the one held in Tunis in 1994. North Africa's influence in the political and media spheres is not due to economic cooperation between its neighbouring countries. Algeria and Tunisia have good relations and could, as a tandem, form a driving force. But Algeria's trade with its partners in the AMU represents only a few billion dollars, three times less than its trade with Spain or Italy.
This absence of a union in the Maghreb means we dream of a day when this region will awaken economically. The birth of the AMU, following the Treaty of Marrakesh adopted by the Maghreb Summit on 17 February 1989, eight months after the Zeralda Summit in Algeria (June 1988), had nevertheless represented the collective hopes of a group of different populations with virtually the same culture and lifestyle. The surface area of this group is a 25% greater than that of the European Union. In 2012, its population stood at just over 90 million. The UN forecasts a 50% increase to 150 million people by 2050.
In a speech made before the UN’s 4th Committee, held on 9th October 2013 in New York, the expert Christophe Boutin stated that such a union would have the following advantages: a very large surface area; cultural homogeneity (notably linguistic and religious uniformity); a long-established cultural and political elite; a dynamic, fast-growing and generally well-educated young population; financial means thanks to natural resources; abundant potential in energy, industry and agriculture; the proximity of European and African markets; and finally, support from the international community.
THE DIASPORA AND THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF A YOUTH IN SEARCH OF AN ELDORADO
The neglected assets of the Maghreb
Contrary to popular belief, Algeria's most important non-hydrocarbon trade partner is Tunisia, followed by Morocco and then Egypt.
By: Kamel Aït Bessaï
On this basis, it is reasonable to hope that one day the fog of misunderstandings, which dogs the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), will clear and allow this vast space in North Africa to become a haven of peace and prosperity for its different populations. The King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, recently invited Algeria to join it in the creation of a "common system for political dialogue and consultation" in order to improve relations between Rabat and Algiers, damaged by the Western Saharan dispute. It should be recalled that the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994, and the last meeting between the heads of state was held in 2005.
The union was once perceived as a geostrategic imperative, a means to prosperity and regional stability. Some 30 agreements have been signed over the past 29 years and a lot of time and money has been spent. Despite this, trade between member countries does not exceed 2% of their respective total foreign trade balances, some countries have not opened
their borders, visas are still required, and no credible outline of economic policy coordination and stability mechanisms has been made. Often, products imported from Europe are manufactured by a neighbouring member of the AMU. The well-known anecdote of Moroccan tomatoes, imported into Algeria from Marseille, is indeed a reality.
Very costly rivalries
In fact, for fifty years, rivalries between the two countries have stifled any form of regional integration. This is very costly for all AMU members. Today, the AMU only exists on paper. But none of the members want to be the first to admit this publicly. There hasn’t been a summit meeting for the heads of state of the member countries for ten years. We have to admit that the Maghreb has failed to emerge from its economic isolation in the face of the surrounding free trade zones (European Union, Golf Cooperation Council, West African Economic and Monetary Union...) and has undermined its chances of any shared prosperity.
Counter- productive measures
By forming a free trade area, Algeria and Tunisia further weaken the AMU, turning their backs on a vast regional market and a conflict-free future for the Maghreb. In the end, the stubbornness of the Maghreb ruling class defeated the wonderful dreams of a union, turning them into mirages. By way of example, Algeria imposes a 36% withholding tax on Tunisian companies wishing to export to this country, while French companies pay only 10%, due to the absence of a double taxation agreement. The establishment of the AMU will make it possible to create opportunities for our diaspora abroad, for example, and also to absorb the flow of immigrants from North Africa attempting to reach Europe. Young people will hope to immigrate not to the north but rather within the confines of the AMU.
Furthermore, the world has changed. The West, especially since Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, has tamed and accepted its extremism and racism, meaning that nationalist and community interests now prevail. The Moroccans and Algerians – together with, to a certain extent, Tunisians - have every interest to have a common outlook. It is important to stress that the Western Sahara issue should be a matter for the UN negotiating table. Indeed, the realistic solution is to let the UN deal with the problem, in order to prevent it from becoming an obstacle to bilateral relations and the development of the AMU. In this respect, it should be recalled that, for many years, Rabat exploited the Western Saharan issue, which it considers to be a very important "national question", to achieve a variety of goals.
As a result of this policy, bilateral relations and the AMU have stagnated. Now, with the borders closed, we are far off track. Since the terrorist attack in Marrakesh in 1994 - which Moroccan intelligence attributed to Algeria - and the reciprocal diplomatic measures taken by both countries, Algeria has constantly pointed out that the normalisation of relations with Morocco requires, as a show of goodwill, the negotiation of all contentious issues. It has thus dismissed opportunistic Moroccan calls for the reopening of borders following Rabat’s unilateral decision to no longer grant entry visas to Algerians. Consequently, it is, to say the least, naive to believe that tomorrow the five freedoms - which allow the different populations within the union to move, reside, work, invest and vote in municipal elections – will become a reality.