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Paris and Rabat sign trade deals
The French president arrives in Morocco to cement ties with the north African country.
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2007 12:52 GMT

King Mohamed VI of Morocco,right, welcomes Sarkozy upon his arrival at Marrakesh airport [AFP]


The French president has started a visit to Morocco with a deal to sell a high-speed rail network, but officials all but conceded the loss of a major fighter plane order.
 
King Mohammed met Nicolas Sarkozy at Marrakesh airport on Monday and the two later witnessed the signing of accords covering trains, defence equipment and atomic power.
The biggest was a $2.8bn deal for a group of firms led by France's Alstom SA to build Morocco's first high-speed rail network, linking the cities of Tangier and Casablanca.
 
The first section from Tangier to Kenitra, 40km northeast of Rabat, should be operational in 2013.

Agreements

   

Morocco also signed an accord with French firm Areva covering the extraction of uranium, which Paris said paved the way for co-operation with Rabat on civilian nuclear energy.

   

A French government spokesman said Morocco also agreed to buy a FREMM class frigate and asked France to modernise 25 of its Puma helicopters and 140 armoured vehicles.

   

But the deal-making was overshadowed by an indication that Morocco had decided not to buy 18 French Rafale fighter planes, choosing cheaper US-built F-16 jets instead.

 

" It has not progressed - you can't have it all," a source close to the French president said.

 

"Will there be other [Rafale orders] in the future? That depends on the financing the Moroccans want to put into it."

 

Bilateral relations

 

Sarkozy's relations with Morocco got off to a shaky start following his May election when he chose regional rival Algeria for his first visit outside Europe.

   

The Barcelona Process

The European-Mediterranean partnership

Morocco responded by scrapping the Moroccan leg of his North African tour, a setback for a president who had already made few friends in Africa with his position on immigration.

 

Sarkozy was accompanied by a delegation of 70 French business leaders aiming to bolster France's strong commercial presence in its former colony as US and Chinese investors push into Africa.

   

France remains Morocco's main export destination, top supplier of imported goods and its biggest foreign investor. Last month, French car manufacturer Renault unveiled plans to build its biggest African plant near Tangier.

 

Mediterranean union

   

Sarkozy travels to Rabat, the Moroccan capital, on Tuesday where he will address parliament, then heads north to Tangier to give a speech on his plans for a union of Mediterranean states.

   

The initiative could supersede the faltering Barcelona Process, aimed at boosting co-operation among Mediterranean countries and creating a free trade area by 2010, a goal that now looks unreachable.

   

The plan fits with Sarkozy's emphasis on curbing illegal migration by working with African countries to improve their economies and create jobs to allow young people to stay put.

   

Morocco supports the idea, but past efforts to narrow the north-south wealth gap have been held back by weak trade ties, political stagnation and animosity among southern Mediterranean states.

Source:
Agencies
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