Morocco has a rich food history, with its exceptional climate making it perfect for agriculture.
This has made the country a successful exporter of everything from fruit and vegetables to sardines.
Public body Morocco FoodEx is running a campaign to publicise Moroccan food and boost the country’s trade with the UK.
El Mehdi El Alami, Executive Vice President of export promotion and development of Morocco FoodEx, tells Grocery Trader what are the benefits of Moroccan food for UK business and what efforts are being made to maintain a sustainable food and drink offering.
Can you give us some background on the Morocco-UK trading relationship; how has this trading relationship developed over the years? Are there any particular milestones that stand out? Why is this relationship so special?
Morocco and the UK are two of the oldest monarchies in the world with 300 years of diplomatic ties. It’s a friendship that dates back to the 13th century and in August 2021, we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the first trade treaty. In 2018, there was £2.5bn of trade between the two countries (before Brexit). Post-Brexit, on October 29, 2019, Morocco and the UK signed agreements allowing trade between the two countries to be framed, against the backdrop of the effective entry of Brexit, with an objective to ensure trade between Morocco and the UK. Highlights of the agreements include trade benefits, duty-free trade in industrial products, free trade in agricultural, agri-food and fisheries products. The agreements outline the remaining trade and non-trade arrangements between Morocco and the European Union. It means that British and Moroccan consumers will continue to benefit from a preferential tariff on imported products.
Morocco FoodEx is running a campaign to promote Moroccan food products and Morocco as a viable trading partner here in the UK. Why now and why the focus on the UK specifically?
Morocco and the UK have always had trade links, either directly or indirectly. The British have always consumed Moroccan products, sometimes without even knowing it. Since Brexit, the UK has become a direct partner of Morocco with all the advantages that this implies in terms of communication, traceability, logistics, transport and, above all, transparency. It is in this context that Morocco FoodEx wanted to set up an awareness operation to highlight the Moroccan offer, its products and its assets (the volume of production and exports).
What are the biggest benefits you want to promote to UK businesses?
The majority of Moroccan exporters already work with British companies. As a result, they already know their requirements and expectations. Above anything else, it is this experience that we wish to emphasize. This includes: control of the distribution circuit thanks to a modern logistics chain; respect for deadlines; the abundance of products ensuring a constant flow of customers from October to March; diversity of supply (agricultural, fishery, processed and local products; seasonality of products; and the quality and traceability of products coming from Morocco.
We want to present the Moroccan offer as credible and reliable, which respects the sanitary and environmental standards that UK businesses expect. Not only are we in an advantageous and optimal geographical position, but there are also existing and frequent maritime lines and a resilient agriculture which has shown its adaptation and competitiveness in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Can you tell us a bit about Morocco’s rich food history; what are the biggest exports; and what is it about Moroccan produce that makes it such an attractive choice for businesses and consumers?
Morocco has long been considered as an agricultural country whose natural assets give its products a natural competitiveness on the international market. Thanks to an innovative and dynamic agricultural policy, and to a set of geographical and human factors, Morocco has become in a few years a major player in agri-food and fisheries exports.
This competitiveness has multiple origins including a great freshness and gustatory quality of products, exceptional climatic conditions ensuring a high availability of premium products and an excellent geographical position which makes Morocco a major African hub facing both Europe and Africa. Morocco’s unique climate allows for a large agricultural area with 8.7 million hectares of land used for the following agricultural productions: legumes, sugar crops, fruits, vegetables, rosaceous plants, oil crops, oilseeds and vineyards.
Agriculture is one of the pillars of the Moroccan economy. Indeed, the culture of the land is anchored in the history, the habits and customs of the country – and the quality of our products is the result of a unique know-how that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Morocco is defined by the quality of its climate, its land, its producers, its products and its institutions. At a time when consumer trends are oriented towards responsible, healthy and eco-conscious eating, Morocco can pride itself on offering a whole range of products that meet these criteria. Within the framework of the Green Morocco Plan, Morocco has put in place a strategy aimed at developing agricultural products through the entry into force of a law relating to distinctive signs of quality which covers three main areas: the agricultural label; the geographical indication; and the controlled designation of origin (e.g. Berkane clementine, argan oil, aziza dates from Figuig).
The number one products sold worldwide include capers, green beans, argan oil, canned sardines and frozen sardines. Number two is frozen squid, number three olives, number four tomatoes and raspberries, and number eight worldwide for citrus fruits and olive oil. Beyond that, it’s everything from strawberries to avocados, oranges, lemons, watermelon, cucumber.
One of the key areas you are promoting is the sustainability of Morocco’s food and drink offering; what efforts are being made to maintain this?
In today’s world, there are many challenges. Ecological, climatic, food and energy challenges, to name a few. Morocco adopted a real policy very early on to preserve its resources and adjust its energy mix as best it could so that all its products could reach the level of excellence they have today. At the agricultural level, this policy translates into actions to irrigate large areas of cultivation, the development of organic farming, the upgrading of production to enable the final products to meet international standards, and the development of the terroir to ensure that the local populations have a decent income that enables them to live off their work. In addition, certain agricultural areas have been upgraded with crops that are more resistant to climate change (olive trees, almond trees, carob trees, cacti, etc.).
Morocco has also embarked on a vast effort to preserve the genetic resources of seeds, crops and livestock. The number of plant genetic resources conserved in gene banks has increased from 22,000 to 67,970 between 2008 and 2019.
Key initiatives include: The agricultural strategy “GENERATION GREEN 2020-2030; The comprehensive and integrated National Nutrition Programme; and The Strategy to Combat Childhood Obesity (2018-2025). For more information on these projects, please visit our website, www.frommoroccotouk.co.uk.
The new direct shipping route between Tangier and Poole has now made it much easier and quicker to transport goods from Morocco to the UK; what are the biggest benefits of this for businesses from a logistical point of view?
It should be noted that even before the establishment of this new maritime link, they already existed. Tangier Med, a global logistics hub, located in Tangier, northern Morocco, on the Strait of Gibraltar, is connected to more than 180 ports worldwide, including five in the UK (Felixstowe, London Gateway, Portsmouth, Southampton and Tilbury).
This new sea route, linking Tangier to Poole, is the 6th between our two Kingdoms. This new line will allow the reduction of the routing of the products to only three days thanks to the freeing of the too constraining and expensive road ways. This time saving is also advantageous for British consumers as it guarantees the freshness of the products and their availability on the shelves of British markets and supermarkets.
What is the long term goal for Morocco FoodEx, beyond this campaign?
In the long term, we have two objectives. For B2B, it’s to perpetuate the trade that has existed between our two countries for 300 years now, position Morocco as a credible and reliable partner for British operators and show that Morocco is not a substitute offer but a first choice. From a B2C perspective, we want the British public to discover Moroccan gastronomy and make them want to consume quality products of Moroccan origin.
If you could promote one key message to food importers, businesses and retailers in the UK about why it’s better to do business with Morocco, what would it be?
Morocco’s offer is “a reliable origin that cares”. That comes through quality, logistics, traceability and the experience of operators, at the same time taking care of consumers’ health, not just with healthy products but respect for values and respect for the earth.