Tanger Med: Economic Bridge Between Europe and Africa

Since its initial inception, as announced by His Majesty King Mohammed VI in February 2003, the port of Tanger Med, in Northern Morocco, has transformed what was just a few years ago little more than a beach on the southern side of the strategically vital Strait of Gibraltar, into the busiest container port in Africa, ahead of Port Said and Durban. The Strait itself is a crossing point for around 20% of global trade, with 100,000 ships per year transiting the 14km wide waters that separate Africa from Europe.

In 2018 some 3.4 million containers passed through Tanger Med, with eventual capacity set to rise to 9 million, which will place the Port among the 20 busiest in the world. Already it is connected with 186 ports in 77 countries and on 5 continents. So far the project, which has cost to date $9.1 billion, has been bolstered by $5.5 billion of private investment, and has generated $8.3 billion of export turnover, and on course to become one of the top 20 container ports in the world.

It is already the largest Free-Zone in Africa, according to the Financial Times.

But this is more than just a port, this is the embodiment of a vision, first expressed by His Majesty just 16 years ago.

M Vi

In the early days of his rule - he ascended to the throne in July 1999 - the young King (pictured right) promised the Moroccan people that he would tackle the issues of poverty and corruption, creating jobs and empowering women. He also acknowledged the need to address human rights issues in his country. 

Tanger Med is a strategic project that is clearly bringing the promised and dramatic economic development to Northern Morocco, an area that was largely impoverished and which was traditionally reliant on agriculture. 

We are launching one of the largest economic projects in the history of our country. This is new Tanger Med port that we consider as the core of a large port, logistics, industrial, commercial and touristic complex…. Morocco is consolidating its anchor in the Euro-Mediterranean area and in the Maghreb and Arab environment. It values its its mission as a trade hub between Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and strengthens at the same time its major role as an active partner in trade.

His Majesty King Mohammed VI

The project has attracted more than 900 private companies to the area, and is now home to the largest car production plant in Arica, producing Renault cars, primarily for export. Fellow French manufacturer Peugeot is, at the time of writing, also about to commence production. The port will be able to ship a staggering one million cars each year. Other household names that have moved into the region include, Bosch, Huawei, 3M and Siemens.

This economic activity has created 75,000 new jobs to date: government estimates suggest around a quarter of a million direct beneficiaries - family members and other dependents - are enjoying increased prosperity and security as a result.  This number will rise as further development of the port and its surrounding infrastructure are completed. 

The companies involved, attracted by the availability of land in the free trade areas, modern and growing infrastructure relatively low labour costs, as well as generous tax advantages, are investing considerable time and money in training their workforces, bringing valuable new skills and outlooks which should bring long term benefits to the economy that will go far beyond Tanger Med.

Morocco, and particularly Tangier, has traditionally relied heavily on tourism to bring in foreign cash, and although Tanger Med is primarily seen as the key to the government’s policy to orienting the economy towards exports the port also will also serve another role. Its passenger terminal, which can berth up to eight ferries at a time when operating at full capacity will be able to handle 7,000,000 passengers per year, and is already connected to Belgium, France, Italy and Spain.

The EU has a clear vested interest in the project, and in the development of the national economy generally. Since the accession of Mohammed VI, economic and political cooperation has grown exponentially, and in March 2000 the EU_Morocco  Association Agreement was signed. This is the legal basis for relations between the two, and very importantly, it opened the door for the free movement of goods. It is worth noting that the King’s undertaking to address human rights issues at the very beginning of his reign was an essential factor in making the signing of the agreement possible. 

Tanger Med is the first African port to have received the “Eco Ports” label, which recognise port facilities that comply with the environmental standards of the European Sea Ports Organisation… Through its foundation, Tanger Med is actively engaged in human development, supporting projects such as schools rehabilitation, water distribution and clean beaches operations.

Mr. Fouad Brini, President of Tanger Med

In 2006 Morocco became the first non-EU member state to sign an open-skies agreement with the Union, and in the same year also signed a new Fisheries Partnership Agreement allowing EU vessels to fish in its Territorial waters.

In November 2010 the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a long-term loan agreement for €200 million for the extension of the port. The EIB had previously provided financial backing for the first phase of the Tanger Med construction, and also partly financed the car production facilities.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon


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