Finance / Morocco

Betting big on Africa

On what grounds can Casablanca aspire to the highly coveted position of regional financial hub?
Africa represents strong growth opportunities for the global economy over the coming decades. Africa needs infrastructures to support its development, but it is virtually devoid of financial centers. There is Johannesbourg, a financial center that appears on the international radar screens, and Mauritius, primarily devoted to funds domiciliation. In Central, West and North Africa there are none. And yet these regions put together represent 28 countries, with 530 million inhabitants and a combined GDP almost equal to Indonesia’s in 2011.

Successful positioning as a financial centre requires meeting four main criteria:

• Political and macroeconomic stability: The monarchy, which has been present for twelve centuries, is undoubtedly the basic unifying element in our country. On the macro front, the debt to GDP ratio stands below 60%, while inflation has been contained at under 2 % over a long period of time.

• The regulatory framework of the banking and financial sectors is acknowledged as the benchmark for the region, as attested by international bodies such as the World Bank.

• Infrastructure: Morocco is a pioneer as regards motorways, roads, ports, airports, health facilities and international schools.

• Connectivity: Casablanca is currently a communication hub for West, Central and North Africa, providing direct air links to 30 cities in Africa.

What are the specific advantages offered by Casablanca Finance City to investors?
The aim of Casablanca Finance City is to create a comprehensive ecosystem revolving around three types of institutions: financial institutions; regional headquarters of multinationals; and providers of professional services including major law, auditing and consultancy firms.
There are also tax incentives; however they are not the primary focus of Casablanca Finance City as it is not an offshore centre. The companies establishing themselves in Casablanca Finance City must have a regional focus but they can also access the Moroccan Market.

What role can Casablanca Finance City play for international investors in this region?
We seek to position ourselves as intermediaries between investors and African decision-makers. If everyone goes about it individually, we do not necessarily appear on the radar screens. What we provide is a framework to operate as efficiently as possible, in line with international standards. Some Moroccan banks have a strong presence in African countries, are familiar with these countries’ economies and can therefore offer on-site support. Moreover, the leading lender in West and Central Africa is Moroccan.

You have already established partnerships with London, Luxembourg, Singapore and recently with Paris Europlace. How would you rate Dubai today as a potential partner?
Dubai is a beautiful illustration of how an emerging financial centre has succeeded in positioning itself on the world scene in the space of a decade.
A partnership with Dubai would allow investment flows to Africa to be channelled through Casablanca.

What message do you wish to address to Khaleej Times readers and WEF MENA participants worried about the regional context?
It is widely acknowledged that Africa is a key growth driver for the global economy. Together we must channel our efforts towards shaping Africa’s future and realising its potential, for Africans and with Africans. Morocco belongs to MENA because it is an Arab country and it is also African through its historical roots and its geographic positioning. Thanks to its unique political stability, Morocco establishes itself as a logical and natural junction between the Middle East and Africa.