Timing Right for Morocco FTA

Agreement scheduled to begin July 1. Bill Spiegel

Published on: Jun 2, 2005

Just as Moroccan farmers wrap up their worst wheat harvest in years, implementation of the U.S./Morocco Free Trade Agreement is about to commence.

The treaty, which begins July 1, states that Morocco will buy 250,000 metric tons of durum wheat (one ton contains about 35 bushels of wheat) and depending upon the success of the Moroccan harvest, at least 280,000 to 700,000 tons of hard red, soft red and hard white classifications of wheat. The number will climb over a period of 10 years to as many as 1 million metric tons.

Michael Fay, USDA Agriculture Attache for Morocco, says the FTA will begin July 1. It will prove to be a boon for U.S. wheat farmers, he predicts. "Morocco always will be an importer of wheat, even when their farmers have good years."

Under the agreement, Moroccan wheat buyers will "bid" on tariffs for the right to buy U.S. wheat. The highest bid receives the wheat.

"Wheat was very important to Morocco. Given the subsistence levels of their farmers, they need to import," Fay says.

The country has been a steady buyer of U.S. wheat in the past and in 2004, became the ninth country to import all five classifications of U.S. wheat – hard red winter, hard white winter, soft red winter, durum and hard red spring. Moroccans use the durum wheat for semolina, which eventually becomes couscous, while the other wheat classifications are used for bread.

The agreement is historic, Fay adds. "We’ve never done a free trade agreement with a company at this level of development." Morocco is described as a developing country. Many rural citizens have no running water and field operations often are powered by animals. Yet, it is one of the world’s largest consumers of wheat-based products, averaging consumption of 6 million metric tons per year.

Furthermore, the agreement promises to educate Moroccans about the best ways to use the products received from the U.S., says Thomas Riley, U.S. Ambassador to Morocco. "There is an exchange of information between the two partners. We’re not just saying, ‘here’s a ship,’ but here is the best way to use it."

Morocco, the FTA stipulates, will export to the U.S. high quality textiles, processed foods and oils and certain processed fruits, Riley says.

Spiegel is joined by other journalists and U.S. Wheat Associates administration on a Kansas Wheat Commission-sponsored tour of Morocco, Italy and Nigeria from May 29-June 8.