homepage_name! > Editions > Number 113 > Ambassador - Marocco

H.E. Mr. Mohammed Amine Belhaj, Ambassador of Morocco to Serbia

Morocco

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country located in Northwest Africa. In the west, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. It is also bordered by Algeria and Mauritania. It has an area of 710,850km². Its capital is Rabat, and its currency is the Moroccan dirham.

The full Arabic name translates to Kingdom of the West. Al-Maghrib means “west”. The name Morocco originates from the name of the former capital Marrakesh (Berber for “Land of God”).

The relatively wide lowlands along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean are surrounded by the Rif Mountains in the north, parallel to the Mediterranean coast, as well as the Atlas Mountains in the east and south. The highest peak, Jebel Toubkal (4,167m), is located in the Atlas Mountains.

The main languages are Arabic and Amazigh, as mentioned in the new Constitution of 2011. The population of Morocco is a mixture of many groups, ranging from native Berbers, settlers from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, to refugees from the Iberian peninsula who settled there after the Reconquista.

The official religion is Islam, and it is practiced by most of the people. Most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims, including Arabs and Berbers.

Morocco is the fourth most populous Arabian country, following Egypt, Sudan and Algeria. The Arabs came to Morocco in the 7th century and have since established their culture. The Jewish community in Morocco has significantly reduced, and it currently includes around 7,000 people.

Most of the 100,000 foreign citizens living in Morocco are French and Spanish, and many of them are teachers or highly qualified workers. There has also been an increase in the number of retirees, especially in Marrakesh.

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco. It is considered the economic capital of the Kingdom.

Tourism is well developed, and it focuses primarily on beaches, culture, and history of the country.It is considered one of the country's main sources of income. Morocco was named the top touristic destination in Africa for 2017.

Morocco is one of the most politically stable countries in North Africa. It gained its independence from France in 1956 and progressively from Spain in the North and in the South of the Kingdom. In 859, the al-Qarawiyin University was founded in the city of Fez (the oldest existing university in the world according to Guinness World Records).

Moroccan cuisine is a fusion of Mediterranean, Arab, Berber, and African cuisines, due to its location between two continents.

We had the honor to talk to His ExcellencyMr.Mohammed Amine Belhaj, Ambassador of Morocco to Serbia.

1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

I arrived in Belgrade in November 2016. My first impression was very positive and as I have got to spend time in the country, this positive view has only been confirmed. Serbia and Serbs are very welcoming people and I am glad that I am representing the Kingdom in such a beautiful country for which Moroccans have a lot of respect and esteem. We also share the same sense of Mediterranean hospitality and generosity.

2. How long have you held the position of ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your career in diplomacy before you came to Serbia?

As Ambassador of His Majesty the King of Morocco, I presented my credential to H.E. the President Tomislav Nikolic, on December 8th, 2016, almost two years ago.

I started my diplomatic career in 1998 as a member of the cabinet of the Secretary of State and then counsellor in charge of the French Desk in the Directorate of European Affairs. It was the beginning of my diplomatic career, and I had been previously working on economic and European issues. After, I served as counsellor in the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom to the European Communities (EU) in Brussels, and Deputy Head of the Mission in Rome.

And from 2009 to 2016, I was the Director of Financial Affairs, and later on Director of Global Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order to improve that cooperation?

I would like to emphasize that the diplomatic relations between Morocco and Serbia are very close, and based on respect, solidarity and mutual support. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was here in Belgrade on September 11th for an official working visit, and he met the President, H.E Mr. Aleksandar Vucic and, the Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E Mr. Dacic, and they convened to strengthen bilateral cooperation in several fields.

Economic ties are still below our aspirations and both sides are working to raise them to the level of our political relations. We identified some sectors of mutual interest such as agriculture, aeronautics, automobile industry, new technologies and renewable energies.

We have already started setting up a legal framework for this cooperation. This year, we signed five MoUs and one program of cooperation in the field of culture, education, scientific research, and youth and sports for the period 2018-2020, and we are moving forward and following up the implementation of this cooperational framework, which does not solely concern the economic sphere, but also the political, judicial, cultural and scientific fields.

The 2nd Joint Commission will be held in Rabat next December to strengthen our bilateral cooperation, and will be preceded by a business forum to make contacts between our business communities more effective.

4. When it comes to investments, how do investors from Morocco regard the Serbian market? How many companies from Morocco are operating in Serbia at the moment and which are the most important companies investing in Serbia?

Considering the Serbian economic growth that has been recorded during the last years, Moroccan companies are more interested in the Serbian market which is promising for investment and doing business, and we are optimistic about the future.

Recently, on September 14th, a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Business Council was signed between the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (PKS), and, as convened, they will develop an action plan, work on the fields of activities that can act as catalysts for bilateral cooperation, and organise sector-based B2B meetings.

5. How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government and business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurial development?

The two countries have a mutual desire to consolidate bilateral economic and trade ties, and Serbian authorities have always been receptive and welcoming of any idea of common economic interest.

Last September, the PKS organized with the CGEM and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Belgrade, a seminar entitled “Doing Business with Morocco”. Many institutions took part in this event, the Moroccan Agency for the Development of Investments and Exports (AMDIE), the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN), the Agricultural Development Agency (ADA), the Development Agency of Serbia (RAS), as well as the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture.

This was a good opportunity for the participants to have a better understanding of the business climate in both countries, and to realize the importance of investment incentives and efforts made in order to improve investment and partnerships.

As you said, entrepreneurship, in any country, is at the heart of economic and commercial development. A good business climate and an appropriate framework are needed for existing businesses and new ones and states have to support them in their actions.

6. What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to Morocco, and what does it import from Morocco?

In 2017, the overall value of trade between Morocco and Serbia was about 18.400.000 USD. Serbia imports cars, fish, medication, and other iron items, and exports tobacco, paper, pneumatic tires, corn, electric cables and other machines and equipment.

It is to be noted that bilateral trade has increased threefold and is continuing to evolve positively.

7. Negotiations about the Belgrade-Casablanca route have been underway for some time. Which stage of the negotiation process has been reached up to now and what will be the benefits of the new route?

As you know, last year in September, the Minister of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy visited Serbia to sign with his Serbian counterpart an agreement on the establishment of a direct air line from Morocco to Serbia. This is an important step forward in the strengthening of bilateral relations. Such a direct route would indeed help boost the trade between our two countries and help promote tourism flow in both directions.

Negotiations are being carried out with all involved parties to find the most appropriate formula for such a direct route. All I can say now is that this project has been given the utmost importance by the Moroccan government and that the options on the table include a Moroccan low cost company and a partnership with a foreign national carrier. We hope that we can achieve this goal in 2019.

8. Today, Serbia is a candidate country – negotiations started in January, 2014.In your opinion, how far along is Serbia on the path towards the EU, and what will be crucial for Serbia to become a member state?

My point of view is that Serbia's accession to the EU is profitable to both parties. Serbia is a key of stability in the Balkan region and plays an important role in this part of Europe faced by many challenges. It’s important for the EU to have a secure neighbourhood. A stable Balkan region is important for a stable Europe.

The last report of the European commission was positive and shows that Serbia has made progress, especially in the economic field and needs to maintain the same pace in complying with membership criteria.

Serbia has achieved good economic results and has an ambitious reform agenda in this area. I think it’s important to consolidate these achievements and intensify the efforts to reach a functional market economy able to cope with international competitiveness.

The accession process is long and uneasy. Serbia is achieving political, economic and social reforms for the benefit of their citizens first, and is committed to this process.

9. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Morocco in the fields of science, culture and education?

Culture and science are some of the key priorities of Moroccan diplomacy, the cooperation with Serbia in those fields are quite good. As you may know, Morocco participated this year as the Guest of Honor of the 63rd Belgrade International Book Fair, with participation by world famous Moroccan authors and poets. Last Februarya delegation from Serbia was invited by Morocco to attend the Casablanca International Book and Editing Salon to share experiences and explore cooperation opportunities in this field. Also, every year Morocco grants 15 scholarships to Serbian students who wish to pursue their academic learning in one of the Moroccan universities. There is also a cultural program agreement signed between the two countries to promote cooperation in a variety of sectors such as education, science, technology, youth and sports.

10. How many visa applications are filed with the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Belgrade annually? Is the procedure complicated and what are the requirements for obtaining a visa?

For the moment, visas are required for the citizens of Morocco and Serbia who wish to visit one another’s country. Obtaining a visa for Morocco is quite easy and the processing time is relatively short. The applicant first needs to make an appointment, and on the day of the interview, needs to bring a few documents that are requested by the Consular Section of the Embassy, such as an original passport, an application form, photos, tickets and accommodation reservation… etc.

11. July 30 marked the celebration of the most important national holiday in your kingdom, Throne Day. In what way was the day celebrated in Belgrade?

The Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco to Belgrade organized an official reception on the 30th of July 2018, at the Metropol Palace Hotel to celebrate Throne Day. It marked the 19th anniversary of the accession of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI to the Alaouite throne.

This celebration represents an important event with a strong symbolic meaning for the whole Moroccan nation, in the sense that it reflects the renewal of the act of allegiance between the throne and the people, the attachment of the Moroccan people to the national constants and the peculiar place that the monarchy occupies in the collective memory and in the heart of Moroccans. It is also an annual occasion to highlight the considerable achievements reached by the kingdom under the enlightened leadership of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI, as well as the challenges ahead.

It was also an occasion to test one of the finest and richest cuisines in the world “Moroccan gastronomy” with countless flavors and colors, to listen our traditional music and to discover our touristic potentialities.

This reception was attended by high officials from the Serbian government and parliament, their Highnesses the Prince and Princess Aleksandar KARADJORDJEVIC, representatives of the business, academic and cultural community, the Serbian civil society, as well as the Moroccan community residing in Serbia.

12. According to the latest report of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Kingdom of Morocco holds the 65th place among 136 countries ranked according to tourist attractiveness. What is the importance of the tourist sector in Morocco’s economy and how many people are employed in tourism?

Contributing with 8.1% to GDP and accounting for 7.1% of total employment in 2016, tourism holds an important place in Morocco’s economy. The outlook for tourism in Morocco is positive, with 2017 garnering strong results. The country has a number of favorable factors to build upon such as political stability, and new infrastructural development and air connections, and tries to achieve its target of 20 million arrivals by 2020. The latest figures signal an uptick of activity, demonstrated by growing inflows, an increasing number of overnight stays in classified accommodation establishments and the construction of new infrastructure.

13. How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight?

Morocco, a thousand-year-old country, offers an incredible diversity of natural landscapes, traditions and ethnicities.

Being one of the most competitive African destinations, the Kingdom made it to the top three, standing only behind South Africa and the Republic of Mauritius, and ahead of other countries in the region.

With a rich history, Morocco has several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Medinas of Fez (1981) and Marrakech (1985), the ksar of Aït-Benhaddou (1987), the historic city of Meknes (1996) and the medina of Tetouan (1997), the site of Volubilis (1997), the medina of Essaouira (2001), the Portuguese city of El-Jadida (2004), and Rabat, the modern capital (2012), among others...

Morocco caters to all types of tourists. Lovers of cultural tours will find their happiness by walking in the medinas of the imperial cities of the Kingdom with their fragrant souks and rich museums. Morocco also offers a wide selection of sporting activities such as quad biking in the desert, climbing the highest peak in North Africa, Mount Toubkal which rises to 4,167 m, water sports in the bays of Dakhla or Agadir, or by perfectioning their swing at one of the 40 golf courses scattered around the country.

Seaside enthusiasts will also be delighted with a coastline that stretches for over 3,500 km along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, offering their visitors an astonishing variety of beaches and activities, all of which are accompanied by a world class touristic infrastructure.

Could it be the kindness of the people, their generosity, a breathtaking landscape up in the mountains, on the Sahara dunes or by the sea, or a tasty meal that transports you in time and space, one thing is guaranteed; wherever you go and whatever you do in Morocco, you will surely be dazzled, because Morocco is truly a feast for the senses.

14. What are the things you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

Serbia is a beautiful country with magnificent and highly preserved nature. I have been fascinated by the beauty and impressive landscapes, its pure air and its spectacular canyons, lakes and rivers. I was also impressed by the valuable cultural and historical sites, monasteries and fortresses and enchanted by the hospitality of Serbian people, their joy, kindness and warmth.

Serbia is also known as a sports nation and it offers a wide range of sports activities and attractions. I really enjoy that and I try every time to discover these activities. Last weekend, for example, I was impressed with the beauty of the site during my visit to Stara Planina. It offers a good opportunity to discover the enormous potential of eco tourism in Serbia.


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