What are the possibilities for such advances in the economic and financial cooperation between Morocco and China?

Is the High Speed train can be the driving force to increase and consolidate the Moroccan – China relationship?

The present article presenting the interview of His Excellency the Ambassador of China in Morocco will set some basis of understanding where and how the next step and the potential opportunities where China can contribute directly with its technology and know-how as well as at the level of financing the infrastructure, the agriculture, the water supply and the development of essential sectors in Morocco.

To enable our readers to grasp the level of relation existing between Morocco and China I have also added my previous analysis on the two countries interactions in near past.

This collection of publications will set a light a new spot light on such development through the new TGV project of connecting Casablanca to Agadir and beyond.

The Train, The Train, The TGV, is no more a Fantasy Island

In November 2018, The Tangier-Casablanca high-speed line (LGV) was inaugurated by French President Emmanuel Macron and King Mohammed VI. They officially launched the Al Boraq, Africa’s first high-speed train (TGV)The Al Boraq connects the northern coastal city of Tangier with the capital, Rabat, and the country’s business hub, Casablanca, travel times are considerably reduced to 50mn instead of 3h15mn for the Tangier-Kenitra trip, 1h20mn instead of 3h45mn for Tangier- Rabat, and 2h10mn instead of 4h45mn for Tangier- Casablanca cutting travel times in half, from from 4h45 down to 2h10.

The Boraq is the result of a partnership between Morocco’s national railway operator and the Société nationale des chemins de fer Français (SNCF). This partnership has led to the creation in Rabat of the Institut de Formation Ferroviaire (IFF) benefiting railway workers from Morocco, France and other countries in the region, as well as the establishment of a joint venture between ONCF and SNCF for the maintenance of high-speed trains, while allowing ONCF to gradually develop its skills in this field.

In fact, the $2 billion project has been in development for a decade, funded by the governments of Morocco, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. This TGV is double the speed of South Africa’s Gautrain, launched in 2012, which falls short of the criteria for high-speed rail.

The Tangier – Casablanca connection was built as first layers for further connection with the tourist destinations of Marrakech and Agadir and even beyond.  In comparison to the past conventional train, the TGV cut down the ride from over five hours to 90 minutes.

At the time, the Director General of the Office National des Chemins de Fer – ONCF, declared: “We aim at six million passengers a year after three years of commercial operation, instead of three million currently,” said Mohamed Rabie Khlie, director general of national rail operator ONCF, in a recent interview with Le Monde. “This should enable us to achieve an operating margin that far exceeds that of conventional trains and will justify the development.”

The director general went on to add that growing passenger numbers had caused “saturation of the network,” making the new line a necessity.

He denied that an upgraded service would lead to high costs for passengers.

“We will run trains intended for Moroccans and thus adapted to the purchasing power of Moroccans,” said Khlie. “We do not want a train reserved for high-end customers.”

After more than a year in operation, it continues to excel.

The Moroccan company ONCF was counting on six million passengers after three years of operation. The cost of the LGV, 50% financed by France through various loans, amounts to around 23 billion dirhams (around 2.19 billion euros), almost 15% more than initial estimates, but well below average European costs.

Deemed expensive and unnecessary when it debuted in 2018, the high-speed Al Boraq train, named in reference to a fantastic winged frame of the Islamic tradition, is now unanimous. Its success cannot be denied. In 2019, Al Boraq has carried over 3 million passengers since its launch, with on-time arrivals topping 97% and passenger satisfaction at 92%. A momentum broken by the Covid-19.

Buoyed by the success of Al Boraq, Morocco has several new rail projects in the pipeline. SNCF plans to play a role in:

  • extending high-speed service from Kenitra to Rabat
  • building a high-speed line from Marrakech to Agadir
  • launching a commuter rail system for Casablanca
  • building and renovating maintenance facilities

The European Financiers are Taking the Al Boraq to the Green Pasture of the Euro: Is this Another Trojan Green Horse as Stop Sign for China?

The Investment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the Al Boraq

The green bond market is developing in Morocco. The National Railways Office (ONCF) has just issued a green bond on the infrastructure capital market. This is a first in the Cherifian kingdom. The green bond, worth one billion dirhams (the equivalent of 95.4 million euros), was subscribed by several national investors.

Internationally, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) subscribed to this operation with an investment of 200 million dirhams, equivalent to 19.2 million euros. ONCF was accompanied in this operation by CDG Capital, a bank based in Rabat, Morocco. This bond “will be aligned with the low carbon land transport criteria of the Climate Bonds Standard, verified by a second party and certified by the Climate Bonds Standard Board. It will also benefit from a guarantee from the state-owned provider Tamwilcom,” the EBRD said.

In a certified green bond issued to fund, Morocco’s national high-speed rail network, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is investing MAD 200 million (19.2 million Euro)

Since January 1, 2022, the Al Boraq high-speed train has switched to green energy, the National Board of Railways (ONCF) said in a statement. “The bet of the ONCF is now to supply, in the long term, all of its trains entirely with clean energy, advances the ONCF, noting that the Al Boraq trains will be the first to offer eco-responsible trips to the ‘100% wind power’, reports the MAP agency which quotes the press release. The railway company is greening the electricity supply cycle of the rail network by substituting its electricity consumption with clean energy. ONCF is progressively implementing its green transformation, shifting 25% of its overall energy consumption to green energy, reaching 50% in 2023 before bringing it to all in the medium term.

  • On July 28, 2022, EBRD invests MAD 200 million (€19.2 million equivalent) in green bond for Moroccan rail operator Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc (ONCF)
  • First green bond in Morocco’s infrastructure sector
  • ONCF will use the proceeds of this operation to refinance the debt contracted for the construction of Morocco’s first high-speed line with a maximum speed of 320 km/h. 

The EBRD is the only international investor in the bond, which will be aligned with the Low Carbon Land Transport Criteria of the Climate Bonds Standard as verified via a second party opinion and certified by the Climate Bonds Standard Board. It will also benefit from a guarantee provided by state guarantee provider Tamwilcom.

Morocco is a founding member of the EBRD and became a country of operations in 2012. To date, the EBRD has invested more than €3.5 billion in the country through 88 projects.

The New Projected Connection between Casablanca and Agadir

China covets the construction of the second high-speed train line, “Al-Boraq”, which will link Casablanca and Agadir

This project of TGV linking Casablanca to Agadir will in fact be an extension of the one existing between Tangier and Casablanca that was built by the French giant Alstom.  The importance of this line is to be also a prelude to integrating the Moroccan Southern Provinces through the completion and establishment of a high speed rail connection.

The Moroccan Sahara Region includes the ten following provinces: Guelmim, Assa-Zag, Tan-Tan, Sidi Ifni, Laâyoune, Boujdour, Tarfaya, Es-Semara, Oued Ed-Dahab, and Aousserd.  In accordance with the Moroccan Initiative of a Large Autonomy for the Sahara Region, this Region will serve as a pilot and model for Its advanced regionalization and infrastructure and other energy oriented projects are planned to implement as additional initiatives to increase the développement of these southern regions.

The new high-speed train line (TGV) which will connect Casablanca to Agadir is on  the table and it can be a very competitive bid and project to succeed in acquiring.  France has already built the TGV connecting Tangier to Casablanca and the distance railroad between the two cities is about 222 miles and the road distance between Casablanca and Agadir is actually 289 miles.

Rabat – Casablanca to Agadir: Tread of Rail Connection for Political Benefits

While Casablanca is the Economic and Financial Hub in Morocco, Agadir is actually the Political Hub of the current Prime Minister of Morocco, Azziz Akhanouche. Agadir, the southern coastal city is the prime minister’s political stronghold, where he also serves as Mayor: Therefore, Agadir has benefited from several development contracts since the start of the year 2022. This project of the TGV between Casablanca and Agadir is one of them trying which can reinforce the position of the Prime Minister Azziz Akhnouche who is actually the focus of the anger crossing all the social lines giving the inflationary surge and the rising price of the energetic products.

Morocco – China Friendly and Cooperative Relation

Since 1958, just two years following the independence of Morocco, Beijing and Rabat established official ties in 1958.  More recently and since 2016 during the visit of the Moroccan King to Beijing, the agreements between China and Morocco, signed by Chinese President XI Jinping and King Mohammed VI, in 2016, Sino-Moroccan cooperation has entered an exponential phase. Several projects have emerged, giving rise to an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral issues as well as on topics of common interest between Morocco and China.

Cooperation relations between Morocco and China took on a new dimension in 2016, when many agreements were concluded between the two countries that were crowned by the realization of diverse projects including the inauguration of the Cultural Center of China in Rabat and the launch of a direct air link Casablanca-Beijing.

Morocco supports the principle of One China while the Government of the People’s Republic of China “Over the past five years, have voted in favor of Security Council resolutions on the Sahara, and are in favor of a permanent political solution that can satisfy all parties involved in the conflict. China is trying to help build a political solution to this file, and support the return of the political process to this file in accordance with UN resolutions and recommendations”. This was a declaration of Ambassador of China in Morocco, His Excellency Li Ghanglin who added that China follows the Dossier very closely at the level of the United Nations.

His Excellency Li Ghanglin, the ambassador affirmed that “Morocco is a natural partner in the implementation with China of the “Belt and Road” initiative, recalling that “Morocco is also the first Maghreb country to have signed in 2017 the initiative’s joint implementation plan with China”, adding that it aims to facilitate Chinese trade and investment in Morocco.

The Ambassador declared that the time is appropriate to develop further the cooperation between China and Morocco given that their bilateral and diversified relations “are in an upward dynamic. And as an ambassador, I welcome that.” [and] “I am ready, with our Moroccan friends”, to work on the diversification of Morocco’s partners and “the identification of new areas of cooperation”, declared the ambassador.

“China wants to strengthen its relations with Rabat. We know that Morocco is turning more towards the West and Europe, but with the rise of China, we are reaching out to help the Kingdom, especially in the field of infrastructure where we have developed a lot”, mentioned Li Changlin, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Morocco during a recent interview granted to the Moroccan Newspaper Hespress.

“I received, in recent days, a Chinese delegation which has a working partnership with the OCP Group, for the construction of agricultural units. This partnership mainly concerns the proper extraction of fertilizers in order to use them in the agricultural field, in an intelligent and sustainable way,” adds Ambassador Li Changlin.

Other Areas of Common Interests and Cooperation Between China and Morocco

During this interview, His Excellency Li Changlin also spoke on other subjects related to current economic events, in particular agriculture, the construction of water dams and the “Belt and Road” initiative, while putting an emphasis on the experience China has mastered in each of these areas.

With regard to agriculture, and after recalling Chinese expertise and know-how in this sector, in China as in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Li Changlin affirmed that his country had much to contribute to Morocco.

“There is potential for cooperation in the agricultural sector and the construction of dams”, his Excellency Mr. Li Ghanglin precise that it is essential that “Moroccan officials have confidence in the Chinese experience so that we can work together in these sectors, in order to improve the yield of cereals “and to secure Morocco’s water needs.  

His Excellency the Ambassador added that China is ready to put its expertise at the service of the Moroccan agricultural sector to help Morocco cope with the effects of the drought from which it is suffering, declared the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Morocco, H.E.M Li Changlin who called on Moroccan officials to trust the Chinese experience.

Morocco and China: The High Speed Train a Showcase for the Rest of Africa

In the interview granted to Hespress, His Excellency, Li Changlin did not hide China’s intentions to carve out a place for itself in the important project, underlining its determination to win the contract for the extension of the TGV line connecting

The diplomat is convinced that China’s participation in the realization of the TGV project will bring “added value to the deepening of the strategic partnership between our two countries”, he said.

And for good reason, Beijing openly aspires to participate in the realization of this gigantic project. The price tag for this extension of the TGV from Casablanca to Agadir will be estimated at more than 75 billion dirhams. 

China is seeking to be the constructor and has started to place itself in the position that many cannot match.  For this reason, His Excellency Mr. Li Changlin, the Ambassador of China in Morocco is setting the tone and the tune for such move and willingness of China to build this extension of the TGV, notably by presenting the quality of relationship between Morocco and China and the proven expertise of China Technology and Know-How in this building high speed train and its rich experience in the construction of major infrastructures.

Through its ambassador to Morocco, Li Changlin, the People’s Republic of China has clearly expressed its wish to carry out this new high speed train line that will link Casablanca to Agadir, arguing that the Kingdom can count on cutting-edge expertise in this field and on internationally recognized experience.

Li Changlin, Chinese Ambassador to Morocco, revealed that Beijing aspires to build the second line of the “Al-Boraq” high-speed train (TGV), which will link Casablanca and Agadir. “The Chinese experience in the field of infrastructure is recognized worldwide”, he said.

China exports 350km/h bullet trains to Indonesia for Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway while the

Bullet Train Made in China reaches 350 KMH (217.48 MPH) while Al Boraq Train Made in France and actually in service between Tangier and Casablanca in Morocco is still traveling at an impressive speed of 300 KMH (186 MPH)

Financing and Technological Advantage Card for China: One Stop Shop instead of Multilayers of Constructers and Financial Institutions

Chinese expertise in the field of infrastructure is not the only argument mentioned by the latter to win the favor of Moroccan decision-makers regarding this project.  In the light of the recent decision of China to forgive debt to several African countries can be also considered as a leverage for the dedication of China to participate in the development of Africa without adding the burden of external debt on the corresponding projects. 

During his interview, the diplomat subtly mentioned an important aspect that China can boast of having, that of the financing of the said project. An aspect that cannot leave Morocco indifferent, which recently let it be known that it was looking for “innovative solutions” (according to the expression of the Minister of Transport and Logistics) to finance the said project.

“The realization of such a project takes into account the technical aspect, but also the mobilization of funding”, he said before conceding that “it is up to Morocco, to the competent authorities of Morocco, to choose their partner. And, anyway, “China is trying to catch up in Morocco”.

Morocco and China Bilateral Cooperation

As if to underline the interest of this initiative, Li Changlin confides that his country has carried out several projects in recent years as part of its implementation in Morocco.

The diplomat thus cites City Discastel in Kenitra, which manufactures aluminum rims. Most of the production of this unit, which required a total investment of 600 million dollars, is exported to the United States and Europe.

Another project and not the least, that of “Tangier Tech” which includes three units: industrial, logistics and real estate.

In addition, the diplomat affirms that “Chinese companies believe that Morocco has extraordinary assets. Namely: the proximity to Europe, Africa, the Arab world…”. They also believe that it “has an attractive attractiveness and investment policy” and can rely on a qualified workforce.

Recherches et publications sur la Chine par Saïd El Mansour Cherkaoui


INVEST IN MOROCCO – Chine – Maroc:

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Said El Mansour Cherkaoui Works on United States of America

We are committed to promoting economic systems at the national and global levels based on the principles of justice, equity, democracy, participation, transparency, accountability and openness. “

Report of the International Conference on Development, Monterrey, United Nations 2002, p. 9