Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Moroccan News Briefs

Etihad Airways will extend its codeshare agreement with state-run Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc to give its customers access to more destinations in Morocco and West Africa.

The deal will allow Etihad passengers to travel from Casablanca to the Moroccan destinations of Agadir, Laayoune, Fez and Marrakech, as well as Nouakchott in Mauritania and Dakar in Senegal.

In return, Maroc will offer travellers access to Etihad Airways services beyond Abu Dhabi to Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Singapore.

Etihad Airways' Chief Executive Officer James Hogan, said: 'An important part of Etihad's growth strategy is to offer customers access to as many global destinations as possible, whether this be through opening up new routes on our own or through strategic agreements with other airlines, adding breadth and depth to our network.

'The expanded cooperation with Royal Air Maroc will significantly enhance access to destinations for our customers flying beyond Casablanca throughout Morocco and to West Africa.'

Chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Air Maroc, Driss Benhima, said: 'This new agreement confirms the confidence we have in each other's operations and services, and helps meet our aims of enhancing the travel experience for our customers and providing them with new destination choices.'

Moroccan triumphs at the  Fifth Avenue Mile road race.

Morocco's Amine Laalou surged past two-time Olympic medallist Bernard Lagat of America in the final straight to win the Fifth Avenue Mile road race on Sunday.

Amine Laalou

Defending champion Shannon Rowbury led a US sweep in the women's race.
Laalou won in 3 minutes, 52.83 seconds in his first appearance in the race on the famed New York City avenue.

International plan to save the Mediterranean Basin ecosystem unites 34 countries on 3 continents

The first ever comprehensive plan to preserve the unique and beautiful ecology of the Mediterranean Basin was launched today (Wednesday September 29, 2010) at the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) in Paris.

The five-year plan, which will focus on delivering the biggest conservation impacts by targeting resources carefully at the most threatened and biologically important areas, has been devised by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) - a partnership of the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), , the Government of Japan, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Conservation International.

The plan was also funded by the Mava Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. A first $10 million installment is available to support biodiversity conservation over the next 5 years.
With nearly half a billion people living around the Mediterranean Basin and more than 220 million tourists visiting the region each year, efforts to reduce pressures on the ecosystem are vital, and new approaches are needed to ensure that the region maintains the services and biodiversity that have supported civilization in the region for millennia.

Efforts to overcome unsustainable use of the region’s limited fresh water and to ensure that tourism brings economic benefits without “killing the goose that laid the golden egg” and destroying the ecosystems that made the Mediterranean such a magnet for vacations will be critical.

And where does Morocco fit in? The answer is that the Atlas Mountains will be a major focus. The reason is obvious as this mountainous region of 12,812,888ha  contains 30KBAs is the source of the most important rivers in the Maghreb region.

The vast array of unique species found here include 237 endemic flowering plants, the Atlas CedarCedrus atlantica, the Snub Nosed Viper (or Lataste’s Viper) Vipera latastei and the Critically Endangered Addax, or Screwhorn Antelope Addax nasomaculatus, which has been reintroduced to the region.

It also contains one of only three remaining breeding colonies of the Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita. The biggest threats are overexploitation of plants – the area is particularly important for wild species of flowering bulbs, unsustainable water management, in particular damming for irrigation and water storage, agricultural intensification, and overgrazing causing soil erosion.

National Geographic magazine to start in Arabic

After decades of turning out yellow-framed covers featuring Egyptian artifacts and other Mideast treasures, National Geographic magazine will for the first time soon start printing in Arabic.

The picture-packed science magazine lining countless bookshelves plans to issue its first Arabic edition next month, making its more than century-old publisher the latest Western media company to tap the growing Middle East media market.

"The stories in this magazine talk about all countries and all cultures," said Mohamed al-Hammadi, editor-in-chief of the new edition, who expressed hope it would give Arab readers a deeper understanding of the planet and how others live.

"The readers here, they need this," he said in an interview.

With backing from the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, "National Geographic Al Arabiya" aims to reach readers across 15 countries from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. It will contain translated articles from the 122-year-old U.S. edition and original pieces tailored to the region.

On Wednesday, the magazine named a panel of seven Arab experts who will serve as advisers and contributors. They include Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, female Saudi medical researcher Khawla al-Kuraya and Essam Heggy, a Libyan-born planetary specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The goal is to produce at least a fifth of the articles locally, al-Hammadi said.

Morocco's Economy - a report card

Despite adverse economic conditions in the EU, the Moroccan economy grew by 4.9% in 2009. Its relative resilience is owed to its diversification towards export-oriented industries and services, and to the large investments in infrastructure and housing that have been driving the economy in recent years. Furthermore, due to their limited integration in the global financial system and stringent regulation by the central bank, Moroccan banks were not directly impacted by the crisis. However, in 2010, manufacturing and tourism have been affected by the increased economic difficulties of the EU, Morocco's main trading partner.

As it has not been endowed with raw materials (except phosphates), Morocco faces a high energy dependence. This is partly offset by substantial revenues from tourism and by remittances from emigrant workers and growing foreign direct investment (FDI). Morocco's current account balance deteriorated in 2009 and is expected to post a deficit of over 4% of GDP in 2010; this is mainly due to lower receipts from exports and tourism, as well as declining remittances from expatriate workers, which were affected by the economic slowdown in the EU. Fitch does not expect a quick return to the pre-crisis situation of current account surpluses.

The stability of the political system is a key credit strength for Morocco. Radical Islamism is marginalised, as the regime has liberalised political life and allowed the emergence of moderate Islamist parties. The king benefits from a real legitimacy among the population, due to his role as leader ("Commandeur") of Moroccan Muslims. However, poverty remains high in rural areas, and social indicators remain well below those of investment grade peers. The mounting frustration among the poorest segments of the population could potentially lead to political instability over the longer term.

In other financial news, Morocco on Tuesday sold 1 billion euros worth of euro-denominated, 10-year bonds, returning to international capital markets for the first time in more than three years, Thomson Reuters' IFR reported.

The new bonds were priced at 99.495 with a coupon of 4.5 percent. They will pay investors an yield of 4.563 percent, or 200 basis points over midswaps, IFR said.

Morocco took advantage of the strong market appetite for yield to price the bonds at the lower end of the yield guidance provided by the lead of the managers -- HSBC, Barclays and Natixis.

The amount issued was above initial expectations of some 750 million euros. Fund managers in London heard that demand for the bonds was around 2 billion euros.

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