US urged to invest in cash-strapped Morocco
RABAT - Morocco's finance minister on Monday urged US businesses to boost investment in the country and take advantage of "unprecedented" regional growth, as the cash-strapped government battles to fix its ailing finances.
Rabat is a key regional ally of Washington, particularly in the fight against Islamist militancy.
King Mohammed VI met President Barack Obama at the White House for the first time last November, although his visit came after diplomatic ties were strained over the sensitive question of human rights in the disputed Western Sahara.
Speaking at the opening of a bilateral business conference in Rabat, Mohamed Boussaid said trade between Morocco and the United States had risen four-fold between 2005 and 2012, to reach $4 billion (2.8 billion euros).
But the minister lamented the fact that US investment in the country, which amounted to just $195 million in 2012, represented less than 0.1 percent of US investments worldwide.
"We invite you... not just to be one our major trade partners, but to seize the opportunities available to us in the West Africa region, which is destined to experience unprecedented economic growth and development, in which Morocco plays a leading role," Boussaid said.
Morocco was badly affected by the financial crisis in Europe, its top trade partner, and has struggled to contain a ballooning public deficit.
The authorities have strenuously promoted the country as a bridge between Africa and the West, in a bid to encourage foreign investment and trade.
The Moroccan king is currently on an extended tour of West Africa to strengthen diplomatic and commercial ties with Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Gabon.
Moroccan officials frequently refer to the kingdom as an "exception" in the North Africa region, emphasising its stability in contrast with the Islamist unrest and political upheaval witnessed elsewhere.
After three years of decline, Morocco became the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in North Africa for the first time in 2012, according to the United Nations, with investments of $2.84 billion, which rose again in 2013 to $3.5 billion.
American companies with a significant presence in Morocco include Boeing, clothes manufacturer Fruit of the Loom and computer giant Dell.