This year has seen the most serious global health emergency in living memory. COVID-19 has claimed almost 500,000 victims, and enormous pressure has been put on the world’s healthcare systems. The global economy appears to be facing its worst contraction in three hundred years. Tackling this global pandemic, and re-invigorating our economies, demands cooperation on an international level. The UK and Morocco are well placed – if we work together, if we are bold enough, imaginative enough – to reinvigorate our economies and create tremendous opportunities for our countries, our businesses, and our citizens.
It is especially important for countries like ours to work together now. Morocco and the UK are both great trading nations which have grasped the opportunities brought about by access to international markets to sell our goods and services, and to provide us with those that we lack, or that can be produced much more efficiently elsewhere. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a risk that countries are tempted to engage in protectionism and mercantilism. In the medium to long term, this has the potential to harm both our nations.
Many businesses and interest groups will consider government protection from foreigners or the creation of special privileges for some industries (always at the expense of other domestic industries) as vital in reducing competition and helping them to survive the crisis. But while there may be a role for exceptional COVID-related trade measures, or to apply trade remedies in the face of unfair competition, these need to be proportionate, time-limited, targeted and transparent. If not, a country can be assured that its trade and investment partners will do the same. The result of that will be a long-term global reduction in international trade and investment, and a prolonged economic downturn, harming the economic prospects of everyone.
Instead, we need to re-invigorate a robust economic recovery. Reducing barriers to international trade and investment is an essential element of this. The UK is fully committed to this idea, both in word (for example, through advocacy in the G7, the G20 and WTO for countries to avoid a protectionist response, stressing the importance of keeping trade flowing) and in deed (as I write these words, the UK is negotiating – by video conference – new, fair and mutually beneficial trade deals with the US, the EU, Japan and several other countries).
The UK and Morocco concluded, last year, a bilateral trade deal, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Professional pride and competition with my Ambassadorial colleagues requires me to affirm that this deal was the first to be concluded, and remains the largest, between the UK and any other North African country. We are determined that this will just be the start of an ever stronger relationship. Already working groups made up of representatives of both countries are operating together to identify opportunities to enhance our mutual trade and investment and the British Government has allocated more that £3bn to support the expansion of UK business and trade with Morocco.
I think this also demonstrates the seriousness with which the UK regards Morocco’s ambition to become the “gateway to Africa”. Morocco is positioning itself as a vital hub for business and trade – as well as for culture and security – in Africa as a whole, but particularly in the Western and Francophone parts of the continent. The UK, with its traditionally strong presence in other parts of Africa, is determined to become Africa’s business partner of choice and is committed to seeing business growth on the continent. The UK-Africa Investment Summit in January this year laid the foundations for even deeper relationships between the UK and African countries, resulting in billions of dollars of investment deals. Key to this will be effective partnerships with African countries so that the recovery from the economic damage created by Covid19 is a green recovery. So that we can all ‘build back better’. This is a particular priority as the UK looks forward to COP26 and we see the damage that climate change is wreaking across the globe, but particularly in water-stressed countries in Africa. As Africa grows over the next 20 years, it is essential that its economic growth and the response to its 60% energy demand increase is powered by green technologies. Morocco, working with the UK, has the knowledge, expertise and experience to help unleash that clean energy potential.
The COVID-19 epidemic has been a global human tragedy, and has caused enormous economic damage. Now though, we must look to rebuild. As I look towards the end of my time as the British Ambassador to Morocco, I am struck by how closely the UK’s and Morocco’s interests and ambitions are now aligned. We both have a vital interest in fully developing the exciting possibilities now opening to us through our Association Agreement, and a mutual obligation in ensuring international trade flows are not interrupted by a short sighted swing to protectionism, isolationism or populism. And we share a mutual ambition to help unleash the enormous potential of the African continent. If we work together, if we are bold enough, imaginative enough – then we can do it.
His Excellency M.Thomas Reilly is the British Ambassador to Morocco.
Thomas took up his position as British Ambassador to Morocco on 12 June 2017. He was also Her Majesty’s non-resident Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania from June 2017 until May 2018, when the first ever resident Ambassador to Mauritania was appointed. Prior to his posting in Rabat, Thomas was Special Advisor in charge of International Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs at Royal Dutch Shell.
Thomas joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1998. He worked at the FCO as Deputy Head of Climate Change & Energy Department and Deputy Head of Counter Terrorism Department. He was also Deputy Head of Mission in Cairo and worked in political affairs in Argentina, Yemen and Kuwait.