Morocco is one of the steadiest and fastest developing countries of the Northern African region. It is frequently referred to as the gate of Africa from where a significant part of the continent can be covered. But what kind of opportunities does Morocco have to offer to Hungarian firms and investors? Globoport.hu asked Dr. József Steier, the commissioned director of the Hungarian Trade and Cultural Centre (HTCC).
Globoport: What were your aims before travelling and accepting to direct HTCC’s Moroccan centre?
Dr. József Steier: I was asked by Sándor Balogh, the director of the African-Hungarian Union (AHU) to make a plan about how we could improve Moroccan-Hungarian relations. Africa has been close to my heart since my childhood and I’ve known Morocco for a long time so I didn’t hesitate to accept the request. The HTCC Centre is in Marrakesh, one of the most bustling cities of Morocco. It offers the most perspectives after Casablanca. The aim of my delegacy is to start a kind of constructive work which’s roots have been settled by AHU 4-5 years ago. Also, I want to get in touch with as many Moroccan and Hungarian firms as possible to explore business opportunities and achieve them successfully.
Globoport: Morocco is an unknown area for many people. What is there to be known about it? What kind of opportunities can this exotic country offer?
Dr. József Steier: We have to know that Morocco is the gate of Africa. A Southern opening would be difficult without involving Morocco. It is a very open country with huge, unexploited economic and business opportunities. The population of the country is 35 million but only utilizes a small part of its lands. This is a great possibility to carry our projects together. The agricultural production of the country is also significant but we only capitalise this partially. Concerning fruits, they have pomegranates which mostly go to France and Spain. They also have argan oil which is basically gold in a liquid form. It could be used in many ways, for instance to make cosmetic, hygienic or culinary products. Additionally, Morocco is special because you can go on summer or winter vacations at the same time. While we are swimming in the sea in Agadir, we can go skiing in the Atlas Mountains. And there is Marrakesh, the cultural and touristic centre of the country, fancied by celebrities as well. Morocco is visited by 12 million tourists a year, out of which 8-9 million go to Marrakesh. So it is not a surprise that hotels, restaurants and clubs are always full.
Globoport: Morocco is in the region which was swept by the Arab Spring a few years ago. How did it manage to stay steady, avoid a wave of demonstrations and stay on the path of development? What kind of role did the king play in this?
Dr. József Steier: The nation loves and respects King Mohammed VI who is a very liberal ruler. When he took the throne is 1999 after the death of his father, Hassan II, one of his first thoughts was to collect jurists who can help in the modification and correction of the constitution. He listens to his dependents and what is rare in Africa and Muslim countries is that he ensured basic rights for women. The government has a female minister and many mayors of different cities are female. It was pleasant to see that the president of the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises is a woman since it is a very responsible position. I think this shows that emancipation is in process. Naturally, the king stays on the ground of reality and this is why he was able to avoid what the neighbouring countries weren’t able to. I see an organised state which functions well and this is very important for HTCC. Morocco’s economy is developing and is quite strong. Morocco has good quality highways so different cities can be reached easily. I drove 1000 kilometres without any problems not long ago, when the Salon du Cheval horse-show was held.
Globoport: In which area do you see the biggest opportunities? Where could Hungarian firms and investors predominate?
Dr. József Steier: There are incredible opportunities in the agricultural and industrial relations. Morocco is a remarkable car manufacturer while Hungary’s car component manufacture is great and these two should be connected. We shouldn’t forget that Morocco has one of the greatest phosphate productions in the world and phosphate is an important component of fertilisers. This can be good for us because the Hungarian agriculture plays an important role in the national economy and its average production could be higher by importing the key component of fertilisers from Morocco. Another thing is the improvement of touristic relations. Morocco has seducing sights and its touristic sector is quite significant. We should make Morocco an objective for Hungarians and vice versa. This is why one of my main goals is to negotiate with Royal Air Maroc, Wizzair and Ryanair about direct and cheap flights. Currently there are no direct flights but we have a great chance with Royal Air Maroc because they already have flights crossing Hungary and it is a reliable airline. Energetics also offers great opportunities with Morocco’s unconventional and renewable energy sources. The world’s most modern solar power plant heated by oil is currently under construction. It will be able to produce electricity six hours after sunset. I think that Hungarian IT technologies could play a role in this. If we look at Morocco and the Atlas Mountains through Google Earth, we see many hydroelectric power plants in the valleys. The problem is that they are not building more of these but damming instead, and then a large body of water is let into the sea. If we don’t do anything else just create a hydraulic system connected with solar and wind power and a fish-breeding system, then such a chain would be created that could supply Africa or half of the world. Physical and organisational opportunities are given for this. In the human sphere there are many Moroccan young adults fit for work who speak four languages. This is such an advantage in world economy that Morocco rightly asks to hold the 22nd Climate Change Conference. I truly hope that Marrakesh will be the host of this illustrious event.
Globoport: What is there to be known about the Hungarian Trade and Cultural Centre? How does it work and how could it help its Hungarian partners in the Moroccan market?
Dr. Jószef Steier: The way HTCC works in Morocco is defined in Hungary. HTCC has a director responsible for business development who is Szabolcs Kutasi in the case of Morocco. He is the one who gets in touch with Hungarian firms who want to sell their products in the Moroccan market. Then, the HTCC puts together their needs and gets in touch with me or my colleagues and we research all possibilities to help them. We look around the market, observe the situation and look for beneficial opportunities. Many people make the mistake of trying to establish business relations alone, unsuccessfully. HTCC can help in effectiveness because we first ask economic chambers, industrialists and the confederation of entrepreneurs and agricultural producers. They have thousands of members and we can mediate business opportunities through them. Of course, we also select and only choose ideas with real potential. We have already started this work and have ten areas as starting points. I will try to establish as many relations as possible during my stay.
Globoport: If I’m right, there is a Hungarian Business House operating in Rabat with the support of the state. How much does it interfere with your work? Can you work together?
Dr. József Steier: We find cooperation and helping the other important for the sake of efficiency. It is not a surprise that the state and private sphere is up against each other. But this isn’t really a competition because both organisations represent Hungarian interests. We have our own programme and I don’t think that it will interfere with another one. It is just like ships crashing into each other on the big seas; it is rare. And as I have mentioned, the Moroccan market is very big with plenty of opportunities. I think it is good that there are two trade organisations but we need much more to be everywhere. I have to say that out of the 300 trade relations we have today, none were established by these two organisations. So we both have goals to live up to!
Globoport: What kind of positions do we have in Morocco currently?
Dr. József Steier: Hungarian foreign trade flourished in the 1980s and we had great positions in Morocco. These constantly decreased in the 90s, and then came a break when Hungarian diplomacy left Africa. The space we left was filled in by the French, Spanish, Italian and Americans. Lately, the Germans started spreading in Morocco dynamically. Compared to them, we are in a disadvantage and we cannot lean onto a successful past. So we are now looking for new areas, which is hard, but it is in process.
Globoport: HTCC is also active culturally. What kind of events are you planning in the future?
Dr. József Steier: According to our plans, there would be two cultural events annually in Hungary and Morocco. Moroccan HTCC has completed this goal not long ago when we greeted a group of painters and graphic artists and they had the chance to create beautiful works of art in our workshop. We want to continue this in 2016 accompanied by an exhibition of the masterpieces. The other event we contributed to was the Salon du Cheval horse-show where the Hungarians amazed the audience. We want to make sure that Hungary will participate at this event every year. It would be a huge acknowledgement if Hungary was invited to next year’s show as the guest of honour. This would be a special status, meaning even more opportunities in the future.
Translated by Alexandra Béni