Israel and Morocco get down to business with first trade agreements

Countries aim to increase bilateral annual trade more to $500 million a year

Israel and Morocco on Monday signed the first economic and trade agreements since formalising ties in October 2020 as they pursue stronger co-operation after the US-brokered peace initiative.

A delegation of senior Israeli officials was in the Moroccan capital Rabat for a four-day visit to sign the agreements, the start of a new era between both countries.

The goal is to nearly quadruple their annual trade to more than $500 million.

"The annual level of economic and commercial exchange between the two countries, which today amounts to $130m, must very quickly reach $500m and go beyond that," said Israel's Economy Minister Orna Barbivai.

The agreements are also aimed at creating special industrial zones in Morocco to boost trade with Israel with a sharp focus on sectors like agribusiness, aerospace and renewable energy, said Morocco’s Trade Minister Ryad Mezzour.

“The deal will also boost co-operation between the two countries' private sectors and allow for the exchange of expertise in the field of innovation,” Mr Mezzour said at the press conference with Ms Barbivai.

The Israeli minister is planning to visit the kingdom’s economic capital Casablanca and tourist centre Marrakesh. He will tour Israeli textile and agricultural companies.

The trip took place fewer than three months after Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited in November to sign a security pact with Morocco.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 and the subsequent normalisation deals with Morocco and Sudan, Israel and Bahrain, Israel has been seeking to boost its ties with several Arab countries.

The Accords, signed with the UAE and Bahrain, were described by officials in both countries as the “most significant strategic developments” in the Middle East for many years, and observers said they helped to reshape the geopolitics of the region.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Bahrain for the first time and met King Hamad Al Khalifa.

Cultural economy

Morocco agreed to formalise ties with Israel under America's Trump administration, when liaison offices were opened by both sides.

Under terms of the deal, in July direct commercial flights to Moroccan airports from Tel Aviv were allowed.

Besides the unprecedented trade deals, the normalisation of ties could boost "cultural economy" links ― the economic output of the arts, says Simon Skira, the head of the Israel Morocco Friendship Association, which dates back to 1996.

“This is an essential step to achieve the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel and above all to make this normalisation fruitful and beneficial,” he told The National.

Mr Skira, who moves between Israel and France where he has established the Federation of Moroccan Judaism, says there is a nexus between creativity and globalisation, which would ultimately benefit industries and economies in both countries.

This is an essential step to achieve the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel and make this fruitful and beneficial
Simon Skira, head of the Israel Morocco Friendship Association

"We are interested in bridging the gap between Jewish Moroccans and their motherland Morocco and instilling in the younger generations the Moroccan Hebrew tradition,” he said.

Morocco was home to one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East for centuries until Israel's founding in 1948.

An estimated 250,000 Jews left Morocco for Israel from 1948 to 1964. Today only about 3,000 remain in the north African state, which has a population of 37 million.

While the economic aspect is important, more important is that both countries move from government-to-government agreements to cement public ties, says Mr Skira.

“Morocco has always had a large place among the Jews of the world and of Israel, in addition there are a large number of Israelis of Moroccan origin. It is normal to see this enthusiasm and these beautiful reactions for the normalisation,” he said.

For Saad Charkioui, a Moroccan civil engineer and entrepreneur, living in Casablanca, the bilateral rapprochement is simply a correction to the course of things.

“I prefer to name it a regathering with our more than one million Jews of Moroccan descent. These people are part of the Moroccan identity and culture,” Mr Charkioui, 47, told The National.

"Better late than never, as the saying goes. And for a country 1,200 years old, with deep Jewish heritage, some decades [of no formal ties] are a drop in the sea,” he said.

Updated: February 22, 2022, 1:05 PM