Relations between India and Morocco go back a millennium with the first recorded links dating to the 14th century, when the famous traveller and writer from Tangier, Ibn Batuta, travelled to India. As the two countries celebrate 60 years of their bilateral diplomatic relations this year, in an exclusive interview, Mohamed Maliki, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to India, told Nilova Roy Chaudhury that the two countries plan to elevate their relations to a special strategic level.
Excerpts from the interview with INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS, the fortnightly journal of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS):
Q: How do you see the future of India-Morocco ties, especially in the light of the very successful visit of King Mohammed VI to New Delhi in October 2015 for the India Africa Forum Summit?
A: The visit of His Majesty to India in October 2015 significantly contributed to injecting fresh momentum into the bilateral relations, which are civilizational. His Majesty enjoys visiting India and has warm regard for this country. There is now a strong political will on both sides which facilitates all relations.
India occupies a key place in the Moroccan foreign policy. There is strong political will at the highest level in the Kingdom of Morocco, to further enhance ties with India in all fields. There is a decision to elevate our relations to a Strategic Partnership, which will go beyond the usual sense of the term.
It will include all elements like cooperation in space, defence, intelligence- sharing and food security.
Q: Are you looking to enhance defence cooperation between the two countries?
A: There is cooperation. I cannot go into details. To increase the defence cooperation, my idea is to propose that Defence attaches be stationed in the Embassies in both countries
Q: Morocco is known to be a major proponent of moderate Islam and has launched successful de-radicalisation programmes and modernisation of madrassa education. It even has women imams and conducting imam training for other countries, particularly in West Africa. Do you have any plans to talk to Indian authorities about sharing your country's expertise and experience in this regard since India has the world's second largest Muslim population as well?
A: Morocco has devised a preventive strategy, aiming at eradicating extremism and terrorism from their roots.
Morocco is tackling the issue of radicalisation effectively, through a three-pillar strategy;
The first is socio-economic development and alleviation of poverty. It has been seen that most radicalised youth are from poor, marginalised sections of society.
Second, we have introduced reforms in the religious field. We do not allow the Imams to run the society. We have institutes to teach the Ulemas and even women preachers.
Morocco has also restructured the religious field, in order to immunize people against extremist influences which are alien to the Islam practiced in Morocco, which advocates moderation and tolerance.
Third is improved intelligence gathering and security.
This comes from our culture. Morocco is an open society and we are at a trade crossroads.
Our approach is based on strengthening security governance by improving the institutional and legal framework, as well as on the development of capacities in terms of anticipation, prevention, investigation and border surveillance.
There is intense cooperation and engagement with India, but it could be better.
As with India, Morocco has set up many partnerships both bilaterally and at the multilateral level, focused on capacity building and intelligence sharing.
Q: Bilateral ties were often seen as a phosphate-centred relationship with India being the biggest buyer of Moroccan phosphate that plays a major role in India's fertiliser industry and food security. What are your plans to take bilateral trade and commerce beyond phosphate?
A: Phosphates and derivatives constitute the major area of bilateral cooperation between both countries, but we want to go beyond a traditional buyer seller relationship and be an important partner in ensuring India’s food security. Food security and investments to ensure food security are a vital part of this collaboration.
Morocco is investing USD 230 million in a fertiliser plant in India. India is the largest recipient of Moroccan investment.
Morocco wants its trade with India to expand beyond the supply of phosphates, by establishing innovative partnerships and paving the way for new investments in areas such as automobile industry, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, renewable energy, and IT, scientific research.
We are looking at automobiles and pharmaceuticals, particularly. There is also a centre of excellence in IT at Casablanca.
India is one of the key partners of Morocco both regionally and globally in terms investments in this sector. There is no competition but complementarity.
We are looking to increase cooperation in mining, pharma, maritime (best practices in fishing, blue economy), IT, education and e-government.
Renewable energy is an important field. Morocco is the only country in the region to not have oil, so we have invested a lot in renewable energy and are very advanced in solar power. We plan to have 40 per cent of our energy needs met from renewables by 2020. Morocco could be a hub for entry of Indian exports and investment into West Africa, Europe, as well as to the US. It has free trade agreements (FTA) with 55 countries, giving it access to a market of 1 billion people.
It is located just 14 kilometres away from the European coast and at the crossroads of the main trade routes linking America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Morocco has a market that is teeming with economic activities and business opportunities.
If not an FTA (Free Trade Agreement), I am working to see if a PTA (Preferential Trade Agreement) can be agreed upon to raise our relations.
Q: Morocco has much to offer for Indian tourists but absence of a direct flight has hampered tourist flow in both directions. Are there any moves to have direct flights between Indian and Moroccan cities in the near future?
A: We are talking with many partners about this. Of course it is much easier if there are direct flights. Air connectivity between our countries would surely play a crucial role in building bridges between our peoples and should definitely help in attracting an ever greater number of Indian visitors to our country.
But the opening of a direct air service requires feasibility and profitability studies. Airlines look at the numbers. Last year, 14 to 15,000 Indians travelled to Morocco and the number is growing.
Q: Morocco is the backdrop of a Bollywood hit "Jagga Jasoos". Marrakech film festival has always been a draw for Bollywood stars and 100 years of Indian cinema was celebrated at Marrakech even before official celebrations in India. Why isn’t Morocco Tourism capitalising on this cultural connection?
A: We are looking closely how this can be done. We have planned many events including a food festival, musical concerts and a lecture series later this year. Morocco was the partner country at the Jagran film festival. There are exclusive movie theatres for Hindi films in Morocco. We encourage shooting of films in Morocco and have very well established infrastructure in the “Hollywood of Morocco” in Marrakech.We are even considering to open a Tourism Bureau in India.