Kolkata, Jan 25 : In an in exclusive interview with IANS, Mohamed Maliki, Morocco's Ambassador to India, shared the vision behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal, consolidating bilateral ties with India in the years to come. Edited excerpts: Q. What are the reasons behind opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal and how important is this for the bilateral relations? A. India is a vast territory, almost a continent, with a large colourful diversity in terms of culture, traditions and languages, resulting in providing huge economic capabilities and opportunities, among other things. The State of West Bengal remains one of the most dynamic states of India with a sound economy. It is to be recalled here that the capital city of this state, Kolkata, was also the Capital of India from 1772 until 1911. It was and still is one of the oldest and important centres for trade in the Indian sub-continent. With the steady and positive development, in recent years, the relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Republic of India had been undergoing, it was quite important to find new levers capable of enlarging the scope of cooperation between the two countries. In this perspective, reinforcing the cooperation between Morocco and other important states and regions of India presented serious advantages to take the bilateral relations to higher levels by creating new opportunities. Therefore, opening an Honorary Consulate in West Bengal became almost a natural step to focus on in this regard.
Once this idea ripened, it was not quite difficult to find the right person to occupy this post for the first time in West Bengal, in the person of Rashmi Chowdhary, who belongs to a well-established industrial family, which has developed close ties with Morocco. Known to be a dedicated woman in whatever she undertakes, combined to many other assets, the Moroccan competent authorities found it quite easy to approve her appointment as the first ever Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Morocco in Kolkata.
This new Office will certainly contribute in developing better understanding about Morocco to the people of West Bengal by projecting its rich cultural heritage, its civilisation of not least than 12 centuries and by enhancing more economic cooperation and encouraging more bilateral investments between the West Bengal and different regions of Morocco.
Q. What are your incentives on the positive evolution of the bilateral ties between India and Morocco, especially in the Covid-19 era? A. The relations between the Morocco and India go to centuries back and have always been excellent and based on mutual understanding and respect. The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1957, that is one year after the independence of Morocco, from French protectorate. The relations have deepened even more in recent years, especially after the historical visit of King of Morocco to India, in October 2015, and his memorable meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during which both the leaders decided to elevate Morocco-India relationship to a new level of a genuine Strategic Partnership.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the cooperation between Rabat and New Delhi has increased. In fact, Morocco was able to purchase six million Hydroxychloroquine tablets from India, in May 2020. This helped the country not only to fight against the pandemic, but also to extend its support to many African countries by offering medicines and medical equipments as a gesture of solidarity and good will. Also, Morocco was among the very first countries to avail of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, following the directly negotiated deal concluded on a commercial basis between the two parties.
Q. The bilateral trade witnessed a steady growth between India and Morocco to reach USD 2 billion in 2019. What needs to be done to increase the bilateral exchange to encourage more investments from both sides? A. If Morocco-India political relations are excellent and are constantly being reinforced, it has been noticed that the bilateral trade did not benefit from this considerable advantage and did not grow as it should have, given the potentials that exist in both countries. Despite the encouraging fact that the bilateral exchanges have registered an average of US $1.6 billion yearly for the last decade to hit a new record during the year 2019 by reaching US $2 billion, it doesn't reflect the ambitions the two countries have, especially that Morocco hopes to see India among its top 15 economic partners by 2025.
This ambition has been reiterated and underlined by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries, during the bilateral consultations they held on the October 23, 2020, and during which a special focus has been given to the development of the economic relations and the facilitation of business opportunities. That is why, the opening of this Consulate in West Bengal constitutes an important step towards achieving this objective.
I would like to recall, in this regard, that India remains the largest receiver of Moroccan public investment in Asia, especially in the fertilizer and pharmaceutical sectors. Likewise, in the last four years, the number of Indian companies in Morocco has doubled. They cover many sectors, which were, till recently, a kind of privileged areas for Moroccan companies and their partners mainly from Europe, such as construction, pharmaceuticals, automotive, water and soda bottling, chemicals, IT, health, tourism, hospitality and others.
It is also important to mention that in order to give a real impetus to their economic relations, the Indian and Moroccan Governments signed and MoU in February 2019 facilitating the visa process for their respective business communities. As a result, business people of both countries have been granted a longer validity for their entry visas to both countries.
Q. Have you had dialogue with Indian policymakers to enter the trade zone near Tanger-Med Port as the area is emerging as a promising business hub in Morocco? A. Everyone knows that business people look more for political stability, ease of doing business, economic reforms, cost of production, incentives provided by countries to foreign investors, including freedom of profit transfer and the availability of world class infrastructures such as new generation ports and airports and competitive logistic hubs.
The port of Tanger-Med has become, in few years, the first port in processing containers in the Mediterranean region. It has imposed itself as a global logistics hub, located on the Strait of Gibraltar and connected, so far, to 186 global ports in different corners of the world, including many ports in India.
Few Indian companies already have their industrial units in the free industrial zone of Tanger-Med in few sectors like the fibre-optics, textile and plastic industry. Others are considering seriously to have a presence there. The Indian users will also benefit from the strategic location of Morocco at the crossroad of Africa, Europe and the Arab world. This port could be a platform for India towards these regions and especially Africa, in which India is ambitious to have a more important presence both in terms of investments and bilateral trade. But Tanger-Med is only one among other logistic, industrial hubs and free zones in Morocco. Few others are also coming-up especially in the southern provinces of Morocco, such as the Atlantic Port of Dakhla.
Q. Are there any joint ventures in the health sector between Morocco and India, following the Covid-19 outbreak? A. Well, one of the pillars on which the Strategic Partnership between India and Morocco is built is the health sector. The specificity is that the cooperation in the health sector between the two countries was not dictated by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was discussed, decided and implemented a few years back.
During a Ministerial visit to India, an agreement was signed by the Governments of the two countries to enhance cooperation in several areas of health sector, namely in the non-communicable diseases, including child cardiovascular diseases and cancer, drug regulation and pharmaceutical quality control, communicable diseases and maternal, child and neonatal health. This agreement also includes other areas of cooperation such as hospital twinning for exchange of good practices and training in administration and management of health services. During the same occasion, a MoU related to the cooperation in the field of telemedicine was signed between the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in Puducherry in India and the Mohamed VI University Hospital in Marrakech in Morocco. One of the focus areas under this MoU is the technical support in controlling epidemics.
This is to say that the contact between the Indian and Moroccan health officials was persistent and uninterrupted even before the Covid-19 outbreak. This dynamic did not benefit only to the public sector but to the private sector too and looks for opportunities within these frameworks. A number of Indian leading companies in the pharmaceutical industry, like Sun Pharma and Cipla, have also chosen Morocco to expand their activities. It is worth mentioning that the Indian business community, particularly in the medicine sector, has become well-informed and conscious about the advantages of having a footprint in Morocco because of the easiness in doing business and in facilitating market access for all regions of Africa and Europe as well. I must add that big names in the global pharmaceutical industry are progressively looking at Morocco as one of the best industrial hubs in Africa and in the Arab world.