Looking to develop a trade foothold in Morocco

Looking to exploit our similarities to develop trade with Morocco


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Moroccan farmer Assou, who runs a small holding in the Khemisset region, near Rabat, is one of an increasing number of growers switching to smarter irrigation practices to improve efficiencies.

Moroccan farmer Assou, who runs a small holding in the Khemisset region, near Rabat, is one of an increasing number of growers switching to smarter irrigation practices to improve efficiencies.

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It's on the other side of the globe, but Australia is confident it can forge closer trade links with Morocco.

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THE TYRANNY of distance means Morocco is never likely to emerge as a major buyer of Australian agricultural produce.

However, with a climate nearly identical to parts of southern Australia, with Mediterranean, winter active rainfall weather patterns and hot summers, Australian agricultural expertise could play a role in boosting Morocco's productivity and foster trade links in areas such as ag-tech and irrigation.

In 2017 Australia opened an embassy in Morocco and sees the North African nation as an important regional hub for both North Africa and the Middle East.

Australian officials see a bright future in providing ag expertise to Morocco in areas such as broadacre cropping techniques suited to agriculture in semi-arid zones and in water management.

Morocco, located on the southern tip of Europe, has emerged as an important early season producer of horticultural products for Europe before the European season begins.

It has areas with lots of sunlight, suitable soils and adequate groundwater to produce these crops, such as the southern agricultural hub of Agadir, however improving water use efficiencies is a priority, and with Australia a leader on this front, there may be opportunities for ag-tech businesses to participate in this space.

The Aussie horticulture sector is already investing in Morocco, with Victorian-based fresh fruit giant Costa Group setting up a joint venture, African Blue, set up in Morocco's Rabat region, producing blueberries for the United Kingdom and continental European markets.

Ian Halliday, Austrade senior trade commissioner for the North Africa / Middle East region, based in Dubai, said he felt Australia would be able to export its ag-tech capabilities and general know-how in farming in dry areas to the region.

"There is a really natural fit there between what we do and what agriculture in this area is trying to do and there are some good opportunities there."

Australian ambassador to Morocco, Berenice Owen-Jones, front row, fourth from right, opened ICARDA's annual young scientist wheat breeding training in Rabat in April.

Australian ambassador to Morocco, Berenice Owen-Jones, front row, fourth from right, opened ICARDA's annual young scientist wheat breeding training in Rabat in April.

Australia is also keen to foster high level agricultural science links with Morocco, given the climatic similarities between the two nations.

Australian ambassador to Morocco Berenice Owen-Jones recently opened an International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dryland Areas (ICARDA) training session, where bright young agricultural scientists from across ICARDA's catchment zone come to Rabat to study.

Already, Australia's grain production sector has strong links with ICARDA, taking home promising germplasm through the CIMMYT Australia ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project, which is generating new materials for Australian wheat, pulse and barley breeders to work with.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation has acknowledged this commonality and is funding projects such as CAIGE and the Fast Identification Germplasm Strategy (FIGS) both which have strong links with ICARDA's Rabat facilities.

In terms of hard commodities, Morocco has bobbed up from time to time as a buyer of Australian wheat, especially durum.

While Morocco is happy purchasing bread wheat from a range of origins, it prefers the quality profile of Canadian and Turkish durum.

When it cannot source enough from these two nations Australian durum, which is suitable for use in Moroccan food production, is sought as an alternative in spite of the higher freight costs.

In 2016-17, after the big production year in Australia, over 60,000 tonnes of Australian durum, primarily from northern NSW, went to Morocco.

A fact sheet from the Australian government showed Australia exported $40 million worth of goods to Morocco and imported $57 million of products in 2017.

Morocco is making advances in its horticulture sector, moving from flood irrigation firstly to furrow irrigation to the situation today where many farms have drip irrigation accurately monitoring how much water each plant is getting.

Morocco is making advances in its horticulture sector, moving from flood irrigation firstly to furrow irrigation to the situation today where many farms have drip irrigation accurately monitoring how much water each plant is getting.

On the import side of the ledger, fertiliser made up an important part of the purchases.

Morocco holds 75 per cent of the world's phosphate reserves and is an important exporter of the product.

Geo-politically, Morocco is important.

It has good links with both the Arab and African world and is one of the largest banking centres in Africa.

With a stable government and good infrastructure and communications, it is regarded as a good starting point for companies looking to develop a foothold in Africa or build up ties with the Arab world.

With population in sub-Saharan Africa booming, many companies globally are looking at Africa for potential growth opportunities.

* Gregor Heard travelled to Morocco with assistance from the Crawford Fund and with financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Council on Australia Arab Relations.

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