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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
17/02/2012
Australia's overseas representation

MAEL-AININ, His Excellency Mr Mohamed, Moroccan Ambassador

JAMOUSSI, Mr Abedelkader, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco

[11:31]

CHAIR: On behalf of the committee I welcome Your Excellency. There is a document in front of you with some procedural advice. Obviously, some of it may apply to you but, being an ambassador, you do have some rights beyond the normal witness. Before proceeding, do you wish to make a short statement?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I would like to thank the Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for inviting me as Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to take part in this public hearing to expose the point of view of my country about an issue of focal importance to the Australian politicians as well as to the friendly countries of Australia all over the world.

Morocco is proud of its friendly relations with Australia. That is the reason why I responded positively to the committee’s invitation to participate in a constructive way to the debate pertaining to Australia’s overseas presentation.

The tyranny of distance is no more a handicap to building strong relations between nations, especially when there are common political, cultural and international interests and bonds between them. Morocco believes that there are many common things to share with Australia and many further actions and objectives to realise together bilaterally or at the multilateral level for the sake of a peaceful, stable and development oriented world.

We would like Australia to rely on Morocco as a key partner in Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, and Morocco would like to rely on Australia and its leading role in the region of Asia and the Pacific.

Morocco, as a constitutional monarchy, is committed to the international values of human rights, freedom of speech and social justice. A new democratic and comprehensive constitutional reform was adopted in July 2011. The Moroccan population voted by an overwhelming majority for the new constitution. These reforms have been highly appreciated and welcomed all around the world and by the Australian government that hailed a ‘very successful referendum’ and ‘a commitment to human rights’.

With its African expertise and full engagement, Morocco can play with Australia an important role in triangular cooperation designed to channel international aid to finance infrastructure projects in Africa. Morocco is the first country in Africa and in the non-European Mediterranean region to be given an advanced status in its relations with the European Union.

Morocco and the United States of America reached a comprehensive and ground-breaking free trade agreement in 2006 and has also concluded an agreement with Turkey, a regional FTA with Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. For its political stability and economic performance Morocco has been invited by the Gulf Corporation Council to join this political and economic grouping of Arab states. Discussions are underway.

Morocco as well is a Mediterranean player that was elected by consensus to chair the secretariat general of the union for the Mediterranean. Any investment in Morocco will take advantage of the possibility to sell to a total of one billion citizens of the countries linked to Morocco by FTAs—the United States, the European Union, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan, Emirates and in the near future all the CCG.

Morocco has always been a staunch advocate of south-south cooperation as well as a steady promoter of solidarity with Africa. In a gesture of good faith Morocco cleared in 2000 its debt owed by African countries as an aid to development. Morocco also granted African exports custom-free access to its market.

Morocco, who bid for Africa and Asia-Pacific Regions, was elected by a sweeping majority in the first round as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the period 2012 to 2013.

All these advantages make Morocco a sound partner for Australia at all levels: political, defence and economic. An Australian embassy in Rabat, like all other great powers, will give an impetus to our ascending bilateral cooperation as well as facilitate Australia’s interests in neighbouring countries, especially French-speaking countries, in Africa.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank all officials and parliamentarians from Australia who visited my country since the opening of the Embassy of Morocco in Canberra in 2005, and all the members of the Australian-Moroccan parliamentary group who show interest in my country and support its just causes and endeavours to reform, progress and develop.

The Moroccan model is an example of what a country can give to its partners with a vast span of natural potentials, economic opportunities, vibrant civil society and talented human rights.

I have already presented a submission to the committee which has been published on its website. I am at your disposal. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: On page five of your submission, it says that around 33,000 Australian tourists visit Morocco every year, that many Australian citizens have a second residence in Morocco and that there is a corresponding demand for consular services. Could you give us some idea of the sorts of consular services you are talking about?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : The statistics from our Ministry for Tourism that are produced each year show the statistics of all the visitors to Morocco. It is a very authentic number.

CHAIR: A popular destination.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, thank you very much. I think that this number is a little bit less than the real number, because many Australians and New Zealanders come to Morocco with passports other than Australian passports. Many of them think that to go to Africa they need their other passport—an English one, German or any other European country. So they come to Morocco with a passport other than Australian. So I think the number is more than the one mentioned in the submission. I think this number of Australians needs really to have a consular service or an embassy in Morocco, because if we think about such a number, it is important. It can be more than I think 500 or 800 people per week in Morocco.

CHAIR: So there is quite a demand.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, there is quite a demand.

Mr DANBY: I congratulate you on making a submission. It is unusual sometimes for an embassy to make a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry, but it shows your enthusiasm and it also shows what I think is quite a good case for Australia to have representation in Arab Maghreb and for Morocco’s bid to be the place where it is to be strongly heard.

On page three you say that Morocco is the second major investor in Africa, after South Africa, and it has major investments in West Africa. Australia is starting to really develop its business in mining and exploration in West Africa. Could you tell us about some of the kinds of things that Morocco does in West Africa? Are there any joint ventures with Australian companies? Are there any restrictions on Australian companies investing in Morocco?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : That is a very important question. Morocco has more than 400 agreements with African countries in many areas. We give about 9,000 scholarships each year to students from Africa in Morocco. We have many companies acting in Africa. Many of them—some banks of Morocco—have their offices and sections in many countries of Africa. We have some mining companies acting in Mali, Niger, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and in Gabon. Our Moroccan companies cover the majority of African countries, also; they go to all the Francophone African countries.

We have other agreements between Morocco and Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea in fishing, so there is a fishing company involved, also. I think there is very great potential. We have some Australian companies who are acting in mining now in Morocco. Some of them are mining tin, zinc and gold, and recently, just one month ago I think, one Australian company discovered gas in the area of Zag in the south of Morocco. I think we are developing our cooperation more and more and we need the help of the government and the parliament for that.

Mr DANBY: Are there any restrictions on Australian companies investing in Morocco?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Not at all. Au contraire! The opposite. We have facilities for that. You know that any company in Morocco can exercise capital owned 100 per cent by the company; it does not need any participation by Morocco and it is guaranteed for them to take back all their investment if they need to, and all their profit.

Mr DANBY: That is extraordinarily more liberal than Australia. I have got some other questions but I will let Dr Stone ask them.

Dr STONE: It is lovely to see you again, Your Excellency. We do appreciate your representation here today. As you know, Australia does not have at the moment any diplomatic presence in any of the Francophile countries in Africa. As you have just described, you clearly have very strong relationships with numbers of countries in your region. Have you got any advice for us about how we might serve other countries currently not with a representation directly of Australia from a base in Morocco? What are the natural synergies or regions that you serve that would make sense for us to—

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I think that is the basis of the submission we made to the committee. Morocco is linked with many countries in Africa by our airlines and many of the people of these countries can also come to Morocco with no visas, so they can just get in contact with the Australian embassy service or the consular services in Morocco. We are linked also to these countries by the agreement we have with them, so any triangular cooperation can be made from Morocco to all of these countries.

A lot of the people of high responsibility of these countries also visit Morocco many times each year; they are at the level of heads of states, ministers and others. Each visit can be an occasion for a representative of Australia to get in touch with them directly.

Dr STONE: You would have heard some of the information we have been given from a Mr Hanson in New York. That was the telephone information we were receiving.

Mr DANBY: It was just before you came.

Dr STONE: Yes, when you came in we were having a conversation via the airwaves. Mr Hanson is particularly specialising looking at e-diplomacy, the use of social networks from Facebook and Twitter right through the whole gamut. Do you have a well developed system of e-diplomacy yourself in Morocco and how have you found it has worked for you, especially in the context of the recent Arab spring developments?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : It is very, very well developed. I think Morocco is now number one for the use of the internet and electronic contact between all the population of Morocco and foreign countries. Just here in our embassy I think more than 90 per cent of our contact with people is made by electronic systems, by email and by internet contact. It is the same inside Morocco. If you are in Morocco now and you want to reach Australia you can use the internet to contact your embassy in Cairo. If they could contact an embassy in Morocco it would be better for everybody.

Mr Jamoussi : One more idea for this is that Morocco has 85 embassies all over the world and 65 consulates. All correspondence and contacts are made through internet connections. The diplomatic bag is now reduced to a minimum in case of emergency.

Dr STONE: So the penetration of internet access for your citizenry in Morocco, mobile phones and so on, is very substantial.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : It is very developed.

Senator McEWEN: Can you tell us what countries that are comparable to Australia have already got embassies in Morocco?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : What is the question?

Senator McEWEN: Which other countries have already established embassies in Morocco?

Mr DANBY: Similar sized?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I think we have more than 100 international representations in Morocco between embassies and their international organisations. Rabat is one of the African capitals with the biggest number of embassies. I think all the members of the G20 have an embassy in Morocco.

Mr DANBY: Except Australia.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Except Australia. All European countries, even small countries and new countries that just got their independence after what happened in Russian, have representation. Rabat is a capital very well recommended for countries to open an embassy.

Mr DANBY: Can I just interrupt to ask is Canada and New Zealand represented?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : New Zealand has representation there. Canada at present can place some consular services for the New Zealanders when they come to Morocco.

Dr STONE: Canada acts—

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Canada acts for them.

Senator McEWEN: Who does Australia now?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Australia is represented through your embassy in Paris, but some consular services are given by Canada. Canada has a very big embassy in Morocco, and it covers many others.

Senator McEWEN: Some of the consular services and trade services could be provided by an Austrade office instead of a full embassy. Do you think that would be adequate?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Austrade was doing this through its representation from Libya. They transferred this office to Dubai, and after that they transferred it to I think a European country. I just saw that yesterday somewhere. I hope and I think that it would really be better to give all these services to an embassy, because inside an embassy you can find at the same time consular service, plus the political service, plus the economic service. It is not bad to open a consular service for Australia, but it would be best to have this through an embassy.

Senator McEWEN: Mr Danby asked questions about investment in Morocco and were there any barriers to that for Australian companies. What about Australians who may wish to locate to Morocco for business opportunities?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : This is very, very easy for them. I just made a presentation last week in Melbourne at the invitation of His Excellency Ambassador William Fisher, who is the special envoy of the Prime Minister for Francophone countries. I think Morocco is giving much more facility than is needed. If a company wants to make a big amount of investment they can pursue the help of the government, which can give them 20 per cent of the price of the land. It is guaranteed 100 per cent of the training of their own personnel. If you do not find the needed personnel, 100 per cent of training is given by law. Of course they can get back whenever they want the whole amount of their investment and all the benefits. If a company works in Morocco and its production is dedicated to export—you see that Morocco is linked with many countries by free trade agreements—if this is dedicated to export they have five years free of taxes. The first five years are free of taxes and for 15 more years only 50 per cent is taxed. So any company from Australia is welcome in Morocco and will benefit greatly.

Mr ADAMS: Thank you very much for the submission. The proactive process you have just talked about encouraging investment in Morocco should sound good. Is Australian tourism expected to grow in Morocco? I see the figure of 33,000 in 2010, and the trade seems to be on an increase. You were saying that there are no restrictions to Australian companies investing in Morocco and there incentives to get people there. But do you expect your tourist sector to grow into the future?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Absolutely. You know that Morocco had organised itself to reach 12 million tourists for 2010, and we did reach that.

Dr STONE: Twelve million?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Ten million. And now we target 20 million for 2012. Tourism in general in Morocco is growing by 12 people, 14 people each year. Now with the opening of the embassy here in Australia we are in contact with many travel agencies and with many airline companies and we are prepared to encourage Australian tourists to go to Morocco. So we are expecting growth in this tourism.

Mr ADAMS: The Australian dollar is letting Australians travel—

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : That makes it much more possible for them to go to Morocco.

Mr ADAMS: Young people I talk to are all very keen to use the Australian dollar to stretch their travel opportunities. Morocco is a member of the WTO.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, of course. It was created in Marrakesh in Morocco.

Mr ADAMS: I am sorry; I did not know that.

Dr STONE: In terms of your location—you have already described to us—and your reach into other parts of the African continent, you mention in your submission that you could be some sort of facilitator or gateway for our trade efforts into other parts of Africa? How would you see that actually working?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : You know that the majority of the trade is by sea or by road. We have a trans-African road which goes from Tangier in the north. You know that the distance between Tangier and Europe is half the distance between the two islands of New Zealand. The distance between Gibraltar in Spain and Tangier is only 13 kilometres. There are many ferries all day to Europe. We have very big free zones in Tangier and Casablanca where any company can have its location. Once a company has its location in Tangier or in Casablanca it can reach any market in Europe in 24 hours because of this connection by ferries; and it can also reach into Africa. So we have very good connection by ferries with Dakar, Guinea, Gabon and of course with all the African coast. For use by trucks, we have the trans-Saharan road which goes from Tangier, from all Morocco, into any other countries in Africa. It is a very good road.

Dr STONE: Are there other countries who have responded to the terrible droughts and situations who have used Morocco, Casablanca or nearby warehousing of their aid product, their supplies and so on?

Mr Jamoussi : Can you repeat the question, please?

Dr STONE: You made it clear how trade could be facilitated into Europe from your very convenient location. In terms of foreign aid, whether it be wheat or food aid or other plastic shelters, medicines and that all that sort of thing—

Mr Jamoussi : Humanitarian aid.

Mr DANBY: Disaster aid.

Dr STONE: I think you were implying in your submission that Morocco could also be a depot or hub for distribution of that aid?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Absolutely.

Dr STONE: I want to hear what countries are doing that now?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Of course. Not only that, but you can see if you have all these disasters, Morocco was a member of the countries who sent much aid to all the countries that suffered disasters. We sent our own military forces to take a good quantity of aid to many countries that had disasters. It can be a place where many people can be—

Dr STONE: A depot?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : A depot. With the facility of access from Morocco we can reach the country as soon as possible.

Dr STONE: Are any other countries doing that at the moment?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I am not aware, but I think it is something very feasible.

Mr ADAMS: It is a hub?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, it is a hub for the area.

Mr ADAMS: You are selling yourself as the hub to Africa?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, to cover Africa.

Mr ADAMS: Especially West Africa.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : West Africa.

Mr ADAMS: I got wet on that ferry going from Spain across to Morocco many years ago.

Mr DANBY: To Tangier? Is it Tangier?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Tangier. Now the ferry comes to many ports, Tangier, Ceuta, Nador and Casablanca, of course. Many ferries come from Europe to these ports.

Dr STONE: How long is the ferry ride or the ferry distance between Tangier and Spain?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : There are two kinds of ferry boats. There is the quick one, which is half an hour, and there is the biggest one that goes to Algeciras, which is two hours and two and-a-half hours, and from Ceuta only one hour and-a-half.

Mr ADAMS: Do the bigger ones take cars?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Yes, 400 cars. Now because we built a new port it is receiving 3½ million containers for international trade. It is expected that in 2015 it can receive eight million containers each year, two million cars and seven million passengers, only from the port of Tangier.

Mr ADAMS: Do they still have that spot where the line ends which shows you where the Mediterranean starts and where the Atlantic finishes; is the right?

CHAIR: Stop reliving your travels.

Dr STONE: I am planning some travels. Of the 33,000 Australians that travel to Morocco, what do they mainly do when they are there and is there an increasing amount of adventure tourism in Morocco?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I would like to advise you to read a very nice book I bought here in Australia. It is called A House in Fez. A journalist from Brisbane went to visit Morocco—

Mr DANBY: Suzanna Clarke.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Her name is Suzanna Clarke and she spoke about the fascination of Morocco and how she and her husband left Brisbane to stay in Fez. Fez is a very old city. It is now celebrating its 1,200 year anniversary and it is a special and specific city. This lady and her husband and many other Australians she spoke about lived in a small suite very, very deeply into that city, with its small streets. This is an example of what she spoke about: all Australians who came to Morocco came generally for a period of one or two weeks and they go through all the mountains, desert, Sahara, every far area in Morocco and, as they report to us in the embassy, they are always safe in Morocco. All of Morocco, from the north to the south; there is no restriction.

Dr STONE: Including hiking in the mountains?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Absolutely.

Dr STONE: I went walking in the Atlas Mountains years back with a mule and one other person but you required us to have a government guide, which was an excellent idea. And the guide went from village to village and I thought it was very well managed by the government. It was not just a case of tourists wandering around and going to places that were not appropriate. The food was good. The mule carried the food.

Mr DANBY: The mule carried the food. I am glad you did not have to do that.

Dr STONE: And the camping equipment.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : We are competing now with France and China for which one is the best food: Moroccan, French or Chinese.

Mr DANBY: I am sorry to ask you a difficult political question. I know you are a diplomat and you have to be very careful about the answer. Australia has to have an embassy say in Arab Maghreb. There are four countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Libya is still settling down. There is still a military situation a bit there. Why would we choose Morocco rather than Tunisia or Algeria? I am not asking you to say anything against them, but what is better in Morocco than in those countries?

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Your question is very, very objective. It is an objective question and I will try to respond objectively, even if I have to speak subjectively. I think Morocco is known as a very stable country in all of these countries. Politically it is a very stable country. This is very important for any country that wants to have an embassy in another country. The Moroccan monarchy—not the same family—but the monarchy of Morocco is now the oldest monarchy in the world. Since the establishment of an independent Morocco in 788, Morocco still has a monarchy until today. This is a sign of stability, which is very important.

Morocco is a country where there are multiparties and a country where there are elections and where there are alternatives between political parties who wish to rule. For a very long time Morocco has been open in its contact with every country, whatever its political system. Many of these countries were aligned with a system against another system, which is not that case for Morocco. I think objectively Morocco is the country that should be chosen for the establishment of an embassy.

Mr DANBY: Thank you. That is a good answer.

CHAIR: Thank you, Excellency. We greatly appreciate you giving your submission and appearing before us today. It has been most useful. It is obvious from the questions that we all want to either return to Morocco or visit there.

Mr DANBY: Three out of five people have been to Morocco: Mr Adams, Dr Stone and myself.

CHAIR: I did have an ex-girlfriend there. The secretary will write to you if we need any additional information and will also provide a transcript of your evidence. Hansard may or may not wish to raise some minor issues with you afterwards.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I wish to tell the committee that the speaker of the parliament of Morocco has sent an invitation to the Australian parliament to make an official visit to Morocco. I would like to reiterate this invitation here and ask the committee to do its best to organise a visit to Morocco.

Mr DANBY: May I make a specific suggestion to you? Because this parliamentary visit of Australia is authorised to North Africa it would be very useful for you to speak to the speaker. He and the President of the Senate, the presiding officers, can sometimes massage these things so that North Africa means Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt maybe.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : I will pay a visit to him. He himself visited Morocco last May when he was deputy speaker. I will ask him to accelerate this.

Mr DANBY: You should remind him of that letter and get him to look at it.

Ambassador Mael-Ainin : Of course. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 12 : 11 to 1 3 : 12