Clothing is one of Moroccos main exports to the EU

Clothing is one of Morocco's main exports to the EU

A planned deepening of trade relations between the European Union (EU) and Morocco should streamline customs procedures for the EU clothing and textile industry, whether importing or exporting products from this key north African trading partner.

Luisa Santos, head official for international trade at the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), has told the move would also ease rules restricting EU investment in Morocco.

"For our sector the benefits of this enhanced and more comprehensive agreement may come from improved customs procedures, improved access to public procurement markets or improved provisions in what concerns investment - access and protection," Santos explained.

Negotiations for an EU-Morocco Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) started on 22 April in Rabat, and are aimed at taking trade relations between the two parties to the next level.

They are already good, with many products being traded with zero tariffs since 2000, when the EU concluded a free trade agreement with the North African country. Textile and clothing products for instance are traded duty-free.

Main exports
Clothing is one of Morocco's main exports to the EU, alongside agricultural products and machinery and transport equipment.

According to data provided by the European Commission's trade directorate general (DG Trade), in 2012 Morocco exported apparel and clothing accessories worth EUR621m to the EU, a slight decrease from the previous year, when the value of Moroccan clothes entering the EU market was EUR676.8m. The EU's clothing and textile exports were worth EUR51m in 2011 and saw an increase to almost EUR53m in 2012.

Speaking to just-style, Said Belkhayat, the vice president of AMITH - the Moroccan Clothing and Textile Industry Association (Association Marocaine des Industries du Textiles et de l'Habillement) said the talks were a key part of the sector's Strategy 2025 development plan.

This involves improving the industry's ability to serve the demands of European markets. The association is currently finishing the final details of the plan and is about to submit it to the Moroccan government, whose help it will be seeking, notably through the trade talks.

Belkhayat said initial priority European markets were Spain, France and the UK, which would be targeted along with the US.

He claimed Morocco textile and clothing production had increased 9% during the last year. But growth was not constant across the sector, with some factory closures because of foreign competition for domestic and export markets.

"Strategy 2025 will help us increase our production, create new factories and reach new markets," Belkhayat told just-style.

The push for deepening trade relations between the EU and Morocco has been partly inspired by the Arab Spring uprising, which has increased pressures for democratisation in Morocco. The elected government now has more independence from the country's traditionally powerful monarchy.

Aligning Morocco with the EU
The current negotiations are designed to anchor Morocco even more closely to the trading sphere of the 27-nation EU, with the European Commission wanting the north African country to adopt more EU industrial standards and technical regulations.

"This DCFTA will extend significantly beyond the scope of the existing Association Agreement to include trade in services, government procurement, competition, intellectual property rights, investment protection and the gradual integration of the Moroccan economy into the EU single market," a European Commission memorandum explained.

The EU is already Morocco's biggest trading partner, accounting for up to 50% of the country's total trade, according to data provided by Brussels. EU-Morocco trade in goods was slightly more than EUR26bn last year, with trade in services worth EUR7bn. The total bilateral direct investment stocks approached EUR29bn.

European and Moroccan negotiators will meet in Brussels in June to continue negotiations.

"I hope the negotiations with Morocco will progress quickly and encourage other partners in the Southern Mediterranean region to start similar talks very soon," said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht upon announcing the negotiations.

Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia are the other Mediterranean countries with whom the EU is currently seeking deeper trade ties.

With additional reporting by Jalal Bounouar.