Modern Morrocco working hard on investment image

As emerging markets go, Morocco is an especially interesting case. It's either an open goal waiting to be scored, or a potential investment nightmare.

The government is certainly doing its bit, as visitors to the grand new Menara airport in Marrakech cannot fail to notice.

The new facility manages to offer an elegant reflection of the Berber culture, while being sparklingly modern and 21st century. Later this month, the Marrakech Open Poker Tournament will take place, with prize money pushing $1 million (Dh3.67m) up for grabs. All very metropolitan and modern.

But what about the follow-through from these very Western opening statements made by airport and card table? Investors are confronted with a mixed bag, frankly.

The government is at pains to point out that some key statistical indicators point to a growing economy. New company incorporations for the month of April were up nine per cent, for example. With a trilingual culture, it's possible to do business in Arabic, French and, lastly, but importantly, English.

The market environment has been revamped and remodelled to reflect a determination to embrace Western consumers [there is far less difficulty in avoiding street-hawkers and beggars].

Domestic money rates are favourably low – a treasure in a world where it's impossible to raise a smile in most credit markets, and all seems set on a compromise between the best of the West and the finest that North African business and culture can provide.

But there are buts. There is still a strict demarcation between resident and non-resident – always a factor that makes the international investor look very carefully before investing. In such jurisdictions, political stability and risk really do come to the fore of the investment decision-making process.

Tellingly, there is a campaign afoot to promote the concept of intellectual property. Khalid Naciri, Morocco's minister of communications, announced recently that respecting intellectual property rights had become a useful tool in the country's economic and social development.

You don't need to be a financial Sherlock Holmes to work out that in a country where labour is relatively inexpensive and – the trilingual culture notwithstanding – the skill set of the workforce is not the highest in the world, making cheap imitations of all kinds of products, and in particular the pirate copying of music, films and computer games, is an obvious source of income. Morocco has just announced closer co-operation with Turkey, another country that sits on the edge of Europe. The agreement concerns water, environment and forestry, but you suspect that much of the conversation will have turned on how to get those choosy Europeans to invest in their economies.

Morocco has more work to do before the Europeans will buy into it in a big way, I suspect.

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