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Boosting trade with Morocco is a big Brexit benefit

Nearly a quarter of tomatoes consumed in the UK are from Morocco (Alamy)

4 min read

When it comes to post-Brexit trade opportunities, the government is right to prioritise building on the UK's unique 800-year-old relationship with Morocco.

School is out, with the UK scoring top marks this term for signing historic trade deals.

Entering into a £12trn trade block, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, illustrates what Brexit can provide – the key, as always, remains focusing on the next deal. There is always improvement needed next term.

My two former roles, that of Minister for Trade and Minister for Africa, make me uniquely passionate about the future the UK and Africa must share.

As a continent, it will become a pre-eminent economic power before the end of this century. We have close connections with many nations across Africa, now is the time to solidify these. Grasp the opportunities and benefit us all.

No opportunity looms as large as with Morocco. It wants a closer relationship, a relationship which would provide UK PLC with tremendous upsides.

Morocco and the UK already enjoy a long-standing association and friendship dating back over more than 800 years.

From the first vessels trading sugar, dates, or cloth, to the famous Manchester teapots which travelled across Morocco in the 19th century, trade has been a key component of this warm relationship.

The two kingdoms have enjoyed formal trade relations since the first commercial treaty was signed in 1721 in Fez: three centuries later, when the UK left the European Union in 2021, the signing of a Morocco-UK Association Agreement saw bilateral trade increase double in just 12 months.

Last week, I was pleased to hear Nigel Huddleston, the Business and Trade Minister stating that the UK is absolutely committed to enhancing trade with Morocco.

He further pledged this when he visited Morocco, and met his counterparts, discussing how the UK can maximise trade, including by tackling barriers in priority areas such as education, renewable energy, and infrastructure.

Morocco is well positioned not only by its proximity to the UK but as the “Gateway to Africa” to support and help catalyse UK-Africa trade, business, and commercial ties, offering both proximity and privileged access to the African market.

Importantly Morocco is a unique trading partner. In fresh food alone it produces ‘green/climate friendly agriculture’, utilises sustainable farming and produces an array of fresh products. It has a wonderful array of trade infrastructure.

Since the association agreement was signed in 2021, total trade in goods and services between the two countries has increased by 50 per cent. In 2022, the UK and Morocco did about £3.1 billion-worth of bilateral trade and the UK is using the association agreement with Morocco to boost that even further.

The UK Government is also supporting British businesses to take advantage of the significant opportunities in Morocco, including through £4.5 billion of available finance through UK Export Finance who help UK companies to win export contracts by providing attractive financing terms to their buyers. This offers wonderful opportunities for investment in Morocco.

The agreement brings tangible benefits to British consumers, allowing Morocco to offer a wide range of high-quality and affordable products that meet the needs of the UK market. Fruits and vegetable are the number one good being imported to the UK from Morocco - 25% of tomatoes consumed in the UK, 20% of soft foods and 60% of canned sardines are from Morocco - while demand for Moroccan strawberries also saw a five-fold increase from 2020 to 2021. Morocco’s imports from the UK grew by 49% from 2021 to 2022.

Improving and updating the association agreement paves the way for new perspectives of cooperation, by fostering a larger, more diverse and multidimensional strategic partnership, both at bilateral and regional levels. Morocco’s strategic position is key to potential triangular trade partnerships and the door/gateway to African markets, with TangerMed, the largest transhipment hub in Africa and the Mediterranean, being linked to 40 ports in Africa.

The agreement can and should be updated and expanded to encompass service industries, including education and healthcare. Negotiations should start towards a comprehensive free trade agreement, promoting increased trade in goods and services, much greater FDI and securing broad liberalisation of tariffs on a mutually beneficial basis.

Such a progressive partnership offers huge benefit to reducing the cost of living in the UK which is such a sensitive issue at the current time.

Enhancing this trading partnership will see two historic kingdoms partnering together for huge mutual gain.

James Duddridge is the Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East.

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