Morocco has been a hub of international development over the last few years. Now the North African nation is treading in the footsteps of economic powerhouses like Japan, South Korea, China and France to build an intercity TGV rail link.

Oil-poor Morocco sits in eighth place among its Arab world neighbors in the World Economic Forum’s recent Global Competitiveness Index for 2017-2018. The Arab country rankings are topped by the UAE’s technologically-smart diversified economy, with resource-rich Qatar in second place and oil producer Saudi Arabia in third.

 How Arab nations square up
Image: WEF Arab World Competitiveness Report

But Morocco has been working hard to increase its economic clout. Attempts to open up Morocco’s economy have made the country’s goods market more efficient and competitive.

Trade and industry policies aimed at increasing international integration have led to lower average import tariffs, dropping from 18.9% to 10.5% in a decade, as well as an influx of foreign companies investing in the country.

Automobile production increased tenfold between 2005 and 2017, and the Moroccan aerospace industry and textiles sector have also rapidly expanded.

The era of speed

Reflecting a wider trend across the Arab world, Morocco has also invested heavily in infrastructure projects.

A €1.8 billion investment has transformed the country’s ageing, slow and creaky rail network, which has been shunting rail passengers along the coastal line between Morocco’s two main cities, Tangiers and Casablanca, since it came into service in the 1960s.

Now, a new age of rail travel has arrived as Morocco pioneers the first high-speed train link on the African continent. The new intercity TGV, built by French engineering company Alstom, will more than halve the four hour and forty-five minute journey time from Tangiers to the industrial hub of Casablanca. Operating at a top speed of 320 km/hour, the 12 new trains will cover the 354-mile journey in just over two hours.

The project was jointly funded by France which contributing half of the total investment, with the other half funded by Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Mohamed Rabie Khlie, CEO of Moroccan National Railway, notes that the TGV will directly employ 1,500 workers and indirectly employ 3,000 who will continue working in Morocco’s national railway service.

It is hoped the modernized rail network will prove a catalyst for increased prosperity and new business opportunities within the North African country. However, no single factor will be the silver bullet to overcome all the difficulties facing entrepreneurs in the region. Literacy rates, for example, remain low.

But, together with the ongoing economic and social reforms, infrastructure investments can help to bring much-needed economic promise to the region.