As the first country to recognize the United States, Morocco traces its friendship to America’s earliest days. In recent years, this longstanding relationship has entered into a new phase, flourishing in the area of commerce as a result of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but also as increased travel and communication have drawn the two countries closer.
Moroccan businesses are waking up to these new possibilities. But while the trade agreement paves the way to stronger economic ties, opportunities to develop person-to-person relationships and meet “peer-to-peer” are also key. Even a short program can accomplish a lot, as a group of Moroccan business executives discovered during a study tour to Washington, DC, in October.
Organized by AMIDEAST, their weeklong visit featured activities designed to advance their familiarity with the U.S. business environment and broaden their understanding of the U.S.-Moroccan relationship. They were briefed by representatives of USAID, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Moroccan American Center, the Aspen Institute, and DC Chamber of Commerce, among others. Also important were daily language classes aimed at increasing their level of comfort with business English and the particulars of American business etiquette.
AMIDEAST developed the program as part of its outreach to provide professional, IT, and language skills training that help Moroccan companies build the capacity they need to grow and contribute to their country’s economic development. AMIDEAST will soon launch a Cisco Entrepreneur Institute that will further support the development of entrepreneurship in the country.
“A program like this embodies what AMIDEAST does best. It is able to bring Moroccans and Americans together in ways that allow both sides to understand the mutual benefits to be gained, not just from trade, but from the person-to-person connections that really matter at the end of the day,” said Joseph Phillips, AMIDEAST country director for Morocco. “Moreover, by bringing them to the United States, we were able to advance their English language capabilities. Real language acquisition is fostered and occurs most effectively in a real-world environment.”
The 11 men and eight women in the group work in a variety of areas, including finance, management, sales, communications, and human resources. They included senior officials of the National Center for Foreign Trade and representatives of businesses operating in a variety of sectors including industrial chemicals, mineral extraction, food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, IT services, and education.
“For years, Moroccan businesses looked to Europe to develop trade and seek technology, education, and training,” said Nabil Hilal, project manager at Ben Hadj Frères, a manufacturer of paint and other coatings. “Moroccans hadn’t looked to the U.S. because of distance and language, but these factors no longer pose barriers as in the past. The world has become a small village.”
Morocco’s businesses have a critically important role to play in the country’s social and economic development. Morocco, like other countries in the region, has a very large youth population. It will be up to the private sector to generate most of the new jobs that they will need, yet Moroccans are unable to fill many of the new jobs because they lack the required skills.
“Morocco needs quick, pragmatic answers to the challenges facing us of educating and creating jobs for youth. We need greater capacity and policy change in order to be more dynamic, and we’re looking to the U.S. for help in concrete ways,” noted Abdulhaq El Hayani, director of strategy, statistics, and planning at Particular, an affiliate of Morocco’s Ministry of National Education.