Ambassador's Gabriel Speech

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Remarks by Ambassador Edward Gabriel

U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco

at the

"Massachusetts and Morocco:  Joined Though Technology - Roundtable Exchange"

 

Organized by The Moroccan-American Business Council and Massachusetts Trade Office

 

Great Hall, State House     Boston, Massachusetts

 

Friday, May 19

 

 

This is a wonderful time for me to be back in the United States.  The longest period of economic expansion in our history continues. We have the lowest unemployment and inflation rates in thirty years, and the lowest poverty rates in twenty. Since 1992, 20 million jobs have been created in the U.S., and income inequality is decreasing.


It is also an exciting time for me to represent the United States Government in Morocco, an old friend of America that is experiencing its own dramatic and positive changes. Morocco is more in the news these days because of its new dynamic and progressive King, its world-class athletes in track, soccer, and tennis, and because it has become one of the world's hottest tourist destinations. But what is most exciting to me is Morocco's political and economic renaissance.

 

In my view, American values and interests require us to remain close partners with Morocco as it embarks upon its promising course of reform. As President Clinton said recently in his speech before the World Economic forum in Davos, developed countries have the responsibility to help developing countries like Morocco succeed in the new global economy. In the President's words, "growth is at the center of [globalization]. .. It gives people hope every day, but the economics must be blended with other legitimate human concerns. We can do it - not by going back to the past, but by going together into the future."

 

Let me be more specific. I want, first of all, to describe the current political and economic reforms in Morocco, and then outline what the United States Government can do to assist our Moroccan friends.

 

Our friendship began in 1777 when Morocco recognized America's Independence. The treaty of friendship signed in 1787 is our longest continuous treaty in force in the world today. Morocco fought with allied troops in World War II, Desert Storm and Somalia, and now stands by our side in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. The late King Hassan II was a voice of moderation for peace in the Middle East and a strong ally of the West throughout the Cold War.

 

Since ascending the throne last July, the new King Mohamed VI has created new hope for his people. He has sustained and strengthened a series of bold political reforms initiated by his late father.  Since 1998, the country has been governed by an opposition government, which Moroccans call “an alternative government.”  This is an elegant phrase to describe the astonishing fact that Abderrahmane el-Youssoufi - a man who spent time in jail and in exile for his activities as an opposition politician - now serves as Prime Minister. The King and his government have embarked upon the most significant political liberalization experiment in the Arab world today. They are addressing outstanding human rights issues, and they have begun a process of decentralizing power and empowering civil society. Freedoms of speech, press, and assembly have been greatly expanded. Judicial reforms promise the creation a society governed by the rule of law.

 

King Mohamed has opened up the Moroccan economy with the same determination, focussing on transparency, anti-corruption, good governance, and proposals to reduce government bureaucracy. This new focus on transparency has paid off. Morocco obtained the highest license fee ever paid to a developing country for a mobile phone license. Having adapted IMF and World Bank reforms, the government has stabilized its macro-economic position so well that it has obtained the same strict budgetary standards imposed on members of the European Monetary Union. The King has also directed his government to identify and remove all remaining barriers to private investment to raise the GDP through the creation of private sector jobs. He has attacked old taboos, such as the inequality of women and the disparity between the rich and the poor.

 

As President Clinton remarked at Davos, we should reward countries that take the chances to build a better future for their people through democratic and open market initiatives. We do not wish to see this bold experiment fail.

 

Unfortunately for Morocco, there is no margin for error.  Fifty percent of its budget is dedicated to current expenditures. The public wage bill alone is 12 percent of GDP, or over a third of the state budget.  Another 35 percent of the budget is allocated to debt service, thus leaving little room to address social development or infrastructure needs. Such budgetary restrictions are devastating for a country with fifty percent illiteracy, over twenty percent unemployment in urban areas, and inadequate infrastructure. The Government of Morocco has correctly determined that the long-term solution to its economic and financial problems is increased private sector investment to create jobs and double the growth rate.

 

Debt relief can give the immediate boost Morocco needs by allowing the government to spend less on debt service and more on its people. The United States has joined other developing countries in advocating debt relief to those poorest countries undertaking significant political reform and economic liberalization. Morocco clearly qualifies by these standards, except that it is not in the ranks of the poorest nations. With a per capita income of $1300 it falls into the category of lower-middle income countries.

 

I am proud of U.S. support in the September 1999 meeting of the Paris Club for the proposal to raise the ceiling on Morocco's debt equity swaps from twenty to thirty percent of eligible debt.

 

Other developed countries have offered Morocco additional debt relief. France and Spain, in particular, are swapping Morocco's debt at a discount for their companies to use as investment capital. These policies not only significantly redirect resources in the Moroccan budget to productive use but they also provide European investors with competitive advantages.

 

Debt-equity, not only in Morocco but also in other developing countries, could provide a way to increase U.S. foreign trade and investment in developing countries while simultaneously helping them reduce their burdensome debt levels.

 

Assisting countries like Morocco in facing the challenges and reaping the benefits of globalization is in the enlightened self-interest of the United States and all industrialized nations. The more integrated the global economy, the more opportunity there is for everyone. The more integrated a country is in the global economy, the more prosperous and stable it is. These are goals which all nations share.

 

Morocco is beginning to see the benefits of political and economic reforms when a business climate is increasingly transparent.  Michigan’s CMS Energy, with its joint venture partner ABB, won the concession for the Jorf Lasfar Power Plant – a $1.2 billion investment – through a tender managed by the National Office of Electricity.  The operating company is providing more efficient output, has initiated higher environmental standards, and has made extensive contributions to the community of Jorf Lasfar and El Jadida – just south of Casablanca.

 

I feel strongly that there are many opportunities in Morocco for American expertise and know-how, that it’s necessary to get the word out. Many people think Morocco is half-a-world away. In fact, it is two hours closer by plane than Paris or Rome. The country’s strategic location makes it an ideal export platform to Europe, the Middle East and other points in Africa. Moreover, Morocco is blessed with beaches, deserts, mountains and palm oases, making it a year-round tourist paradise.

 

We have identified 20 projects in Morocco that should be of interest to American investors in the areas of agribusiness, manufacturing, tourism, infrastructure, industrial parks and financial services. The 20 projects will be marketed by the Morocco-U.S. Council on Trade and Investment in the U.S. this June. The project sponsors will participate in one-on-one meetings in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. I think that when U.S. investors see the wealth and variety of opportunities in Morocco, they will see that Morocco’s time has come.

 

America and its Western allies have a very unique chance to help an old friend, and demonstrate that we mean what we say when we promise to help countries with the courage to seek democracy, freedom, and free markets.


 

I am confident that Morocco’s future is very bright. My optimism is based on two fundamental realities.

 

First, Morocco can count on the full support of its friends.  As the late King Hassan told me just days before his death, U.S.-Moroccan relations are the best they’ve been since the days of John F. Kennedy. The truth of these remarks came to full light by the end of that same week when President Clinton headed a large delegation of present and former American officials who came to Rabat on a moment’s notice to pay their last respects to the monarch. When the President then took the extraordinary decision to march miles in an open funeral procession in front of more than a million bystanders, the response of the Moroccan public was ecstatic.

 

Such public displays of friendship are dramatic, but U.S.-Moroccan ties are in fact based on much more than pageantry. This friendship is based upon a new bilateral partnership, based on mutual respect and common interests. We share a vision of democratic, prosperous, and stable Morocco. We both want to strengthen our participation in world markets through open trade and investment flows. We both seek to improve social equity and equal opportunity as a necessary condition for the development and stability of the region. We are both concerned about terrorism and other global issues facing our two countries.

 

Morocco enjoys the support of its friends but other factors will also guide its destiny.

 

Let me say in conclusion that my second reason for optimism over Morocco’s future stems from the deliberate choice Morocco has made for democratic reform and good governance.  In the final analysis, these are the best tools available to correct social and economic imbalances.  A society that enjoys freedom of individual expression and nurtures the growth of voluntary civil associations, which are hallmarks of current-day Morocco, will not fail to find the best solutions to its problems.

 

For America, it would be a tragic chapter in our history if we missed this opportunity to be helpful to our oldest friend. George Washington promised such friendship more than two hundred years ago when he asked the Moroccan King Mohamed III for help in protecting American ships against the Barbary pirates.  Washington wrote:

 

"Within our territories there are no mines of either gold or silver, and this young Nation, just recovering from the waste and destruction of long war, has not, as yet, had time to acquire riches by agriculture and commerce. ... But we have reason to flatter ourselves that we shall gradually become useful to our friends."

 

Now, making a liar out of George Washington would indeed be tragic!

 

Thank you.