CLUB TANGER-MED

From Tanger-Med to high-speed rail, Morocco is overhauling its transport infrastructure. But are these changes enough to transform the economy?

French President Emmanuel Macron and Moroccan King Mohammed VI arrive to attend the launch of the first High Speed Train to operate in Africa, in Tangier, Morocco November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal


Close to the southern Spanish coast, not far from the city of Tangier, you will find one of the flagship creations of King Mohammed VI's ambitious Infrastructural Development Plans: The Tanger Med Port, which has drastically transformed its surrounding business landscape and the Moroccan economy as a whole.

The project was announced by the King in 2003, and by now this port has become the most important platform for trade in the entire country.

It is a massive project, launched in 2007, which required USD8 billion of public and private investment and now has enough capacity for more than 9 million containers per year; the number one port of Africa in terms of traffic.

This is already quite an achievement by itself, but what really brings value to the equation are the five industrial hubs that surround the port itself.

With more than 900 companies in the area and more than 75,000 jobs created in sectors ranging from car manufacturing, to aeronautics, textiles, and logistics, the whole region has become a magnet for foreign capital.

Last June, Tanger Med II (an extension of Tanger Med) was finally inaugurated.

According to Tanger Med Special Agency (TMSA), With a total nominal capacity of around 6 million TEUs, the Tanger Med 2 port, which corresponds to a public infrastructure investment of around 14 billion DHS, brings the total capacity of Tanger Med container terminals to 9 million TEUs, making Tanger Med the first port capacity in the Mediterranean.

The latest container movement technologies, remotely operated cranes and 13 km of shore constitute the essence of what already is a stunning high-tech facility. In addition, Tanger Med connects the city with a hub of 186 ports around the world. As with the port, modern infrastructure development is at the core of the government's strategic plan.

Between 2010 and 2015 alone the government invested USD15 billion in upgrading its basic infrastructure. It is estimated that since the beginning of the 2000s, an average of USD4.1 billion per year in public investment has been spent on upgrading the country's infrastructure (compared to an average of USD1.03 billion a year between 1980 and 1990).

Railway systems, ports, airports, business parks, and motorways remain essential to the country's economy. For this reason, the government keeps relying on infrastructural development as a path toward a sustainable future.

When King Mohammed VI acceded to the throne in 1999, there were about 400km of highways in Morocco; today there are 1,800km.

Morocco has, if not the best, then one of the most modern road networks in the whole continent, with highways connecting all its major cities.

By 2030, the Moroccan Ministry of Transport expects to have built 3,300km of additional roads and 2,000km of highways, with a total expenditure of more than USD9.3 billion.

Just last year, the King Mohammed VI, together with President Emmanuel Macron of France, inaugurated the LGV Casablanca-Tanger, a high-speed bullet train which is among the top 10 fastest trains on Earth.

It has considerably reduced the travel time between Tangier and Casablanca, from 4:45h to only 2h. The project cost USD2.3 billion and was financed in collaboration with the French Government, which covered 51% of the total budget. The high-speed line covers 360km and an expansion project to extend the line to Marrakech (another 225km) is already in the works.

All in all, evaluating the economic and societal impact of infrastructure on any economy remains a difficult task. But the fact that Morocco is making major moves cannot be denied. In 2015, the World Economic Forum placed Morocco as first in North Africa and sixth in the Arab world for quality of its transport network and infrastructure.

With the Tanger Med Port now a leading port in the Mediterranean, the LGV Tanger-Casablanca the fastest train line in Africa, and Morocco's highway network unrivaled on the continent, the country is well on its way to becoming one of Africa's benchmarks for business.