16 Nisan 2011 Cumartesi

Turkish businessmen fear a spark to launch uprising in Morocco

Friday, February 25, 2011
Reported lootings during mass protests in Morocco, which are quite peaceful compared with recent Egyptian and Libyan turmoil, worry Turkish investors in the country. The Turkish Embassy in Rabat has already called Turkish firms to declare their amount of investments in Morocco, according to a businessman. Still, the Turkish-Moroccan Business Council says the situation is stable
A protester raises his fist during a protest in Casablanca on Feb. 20. AP photo

A protester raises his fist during a protest in Casablanca on Feb. 20. AP photo
As a domino effect theory seems justified with the constant sparks of protests and political turmoil across North African countries, Turkish businessmen say Morocco is far from a “safe heaven.”

Nihat Çiftçi, a Turkish investor living in Berrechid, a western Moroccan city located nearly 40 kilometers from tourist magnet Casablanca, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday that the situation in the country is getting worse day by day due to rising protests that end up vandalizing public buildings, police stations and banks.

“I am scared for my children and wife,” said the Turkish investor, who currently runs a mid-size factory producing chocolate and biscuits for the Moroccan market under the Marstar brand.

“Most of my regular customers have started to cancel their orders, as they know that sooner or later their shops will be looted,” said Çiftçi.

He said that nearly 50 percent of his orders have been canceled over fears of looting. Çiftçi said most Turkish businessmen in the country communicate with locals with the help of interpreters and many do not realize the rising tensions. Many shops are closed in the northern province of Tangier and western province of Srarhna, according to Çiftçi.

Çiftçi, who employs 60 Moroccans, said, “I am seriously considering taking my family and fleeing the country,” during a phone interview. “There have recently been three police stations set on fire in Marrakech recently.”

According to him, xenophobia in the country is gaining popularity among people in the streets. “I keep receiving treating phone calls telling me to get out the country,” he said. Noting that Morocco might seem safe at the moment, he said: “No one could guarantee us there will not be similar events to Egypt and Libya. Morocco can catch fire at any time.

The Turkish Embassy in Rabat has already called Turkish firms to declare their amount of investments in Morocco, Çiftçi said.

Turkish firms to discuss risks

Still, Banu Anıl, the chairperson of the Turkish-Moroccan Business Council at Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK, thinks the opposite. “I have talked with the officials of the Turkish embassy a few days ago; I was informed that the situation is rather stable within the country so far,” she told the Daily News.

“We have been informed of this way before the revolt started in Libya and that is why we remain prudent.”
She said a Turkish minister had canceled his trip to the country. DEİK will form a crisis center to discuss the Moroccan unrest Tuesday, with members from the DEİK board and executives of Tekfen Construction, Temsa Global Industry and Arkas Anadolu Transportation, three prominent Turkish companies.

Anıl remains hopeful of the potential for Morocco and Turkish business. Turkish firms have a total of $1.3 billion in the construction, refinery and textile sectors. Noting that there is no doubt that North African economies will be affected by the tension, she said, “I believe that the current situation will actually affect Morocco positively.”

In a written statement, Anıl said, “The reactions and protests of the Moroccans are not against the foreign investors in the country, especially not Turkish investors.”

Mustafa Nabi Başsaçık, owner of MT Plastiques Sarl, a plastic recycling firm in the western province of Kenitra said that Morocco is a promising market. “Some people have attacked banks and few textile firms have been looted,” he confirmed. “Still, there is not much damage to our business yet.”

More protests on the way 

Looting remains a crucial “side effect” of the protests demanding more freedom and a more transparent country with less fraud, according to recent reports. Michael Johnston from ETFdb, an online finance database, reported that last week’s looting broke out in the midst of protests calling for changes to the constitution. “The reports indicated that at least five people had died and more than 100 buildings had been damaged in the wake of looting,” Johnston noted earlier last week.

According to Agence France-Presse, several dozen people looted shops, lit cars on fire and threw stones at public buildings in several cities including tourist-hub Marrakech and the northern port of Larache last weekend. In Marrakech, 150-200 people attacked and looted shops including a branch of McDonalds, the agency reported, quoting an eyewitness. Young protestors attacked public buildings including a police post and a customs office in Larache. Some protestors lit five cars on fire in Al Hoceima. The Moroccan government promised to inject 1.4 billion euros in subsidies to soften price hikes for food, according to AFP.

A large group of people were preparing mass protests in Moroccan capital Rabat on Saturday and Sunday, according to sources. The Moroccan Human Right Association, or AMDH, has called for massive protests all over the country this weekend.

Tensions hit textiles

Turkish textile firms have been hit by the tension in Morocco, said Hikmet Tanrıverdi, chairman of Turkish Textile and Apparel Exporters’ Union, or İTKİB, in a phone interview Thursday. He said, “Bilateral trade will be hit by the unrest as there are many Moroccan firms importing raw materials for textile industry from Turkey.” Noting his concern about the intensifying protests, he said, “Raw materials and accessory manufacturer firms planning to invest in Morocco have canceled their investment plans due to the unrests.”

Turkey’s exports to Morocco increased from $721.5 million to $957.7 million in 2008. With the effect of the global economic crisis, Turkish export volume dropped sharply to $598.5 million in 2009. Giving signs of a recovery, Turkish exports increased to approximately $624.3 million last year according to figures of the Turkish Statistics Institution, or TurkStat. Turkey’s imports increased from $198.4 million to $360.5 million in 2008 compared with the previous year.

The volume of Moroccan products imported decreased to $234.7 million in 2009 and returned back to pre-crisis levels with $396.7 million by the end of last year according to official figures. Turkey has approximately $780 million in direct investment according to 2008 figures, and Turkish firms have signed contracts worth around $1.3 billion.

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