Improving the UK-Morocco Relationship - Unlocking Untapped Potential

Most people know that England’s oldest ally is Portugal. Fewer know that its second-oldest is Morocco. Elizabeth I contracted a treaty of friendship with Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, scandalising European opinion. While their treaty was primarily military, it also provided for generous terms of trade. England sent manufactured goods, notably textiles and muskets, to the North African kingdom, and received sugar, saltpetre and ostrich plumes in return.

Since Brexit came into effect in 2020, we have had a unique opportunity to renew and deepen our ties. Over the past two decades, Morocco has opened its economy and developed advanced manufacturing industries, notably in car-making and aeronautics. It has created, outside Tangier, a state-of-the art port – the largest, not just in Africa, but in the Mediterranean. It is seeking to diversity beyond the Francophone world, and in particular to use its geographical position as a gateway to West Africa, including the Commonwealth countries there. It has been hammering at Britain’s door since Brexit, puzzled by our reluctance to move beyond the relatively limited trade arrangements we inherited from Brussels.

This paper proposes immediate, practical enhancements in the economic ties between our two kingdoms. It shows why Morocco is not just a potential logistics superhub, but an obvious investment destination, notably for the electro-voltaic, hydrogen, and automotive sectors.

In an ideal world, we would already have signed a full-fat free-trade agreement (FTA). But, given constraints of time and resources, this paper focuses on quick wins such as:

  • Accessing existing value-intensive supply chains and development hubs in the construction, aerospace and automotive sectors
  • Lowering technical barriers to trade, especially sanitary and phytosanitary rules (SPS)
  • Removing market distortions and enhancing regulatory coherence
  • Allowing British exporters to take full advantage of UK Export Finance by treating the Western Sahara like the rest of Morocco’s customs territory
  • Taking advantage of special economic zones reserved for British investors
  • Creating a UK-Morocco business club and easing visa rules for business travellers
  • Removing restrictions on Moroccan food exports that are not produced in Britain

This last is symbolic of our wider failure to take advantage of the commercial freedoms provided by Brexit. During February and March 2023, Western Europe suffered a tomato shortage, caused by a combination of cold weather and high energy costs. Yet, even as our supermarket shelves lay empty, we continued to apply tariffs and quotas to tomatoes from Morocco, our chief supplier. Given that Britain’s tomato season runs roughly from June to September, and Morocco’s from October to April, there is not even a protectionist case for these barriers, which were designed to benefit Spanish growers, and which we have kept in place fully four years after leaving the EU.

Tomatoes may not be the most significant part of a modern economy, but they perfectly illustrate our failure to make even the most uncontroversial improvements in our post-EU terms of trade. Never has the phrase “low-hanging fruit” applied so aptly.

The proposals in this paper could be enacted in days They do not require FTA talks, and they do not require parliamentary legislation. We show how to do it in the annexes.

It is appropriate to start with our oldest non-European ally. But this paper is a model for how to improve all our rollover deals. We have, in short, an opportunity to ameliorate our terms of trade with dozens of countries immediately and uncomplicatedly. Let’s not waste any more time.

The Lord Hannan of Kingsclere

President of IFT

Improving the UK-Morocco Relationship - Unlocking Untapped Potential