Thursday, September 29, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Morocco

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in Tangier today (Thursday) to be present at the inauguration of work on Africa’s first high-speed rail line. His prescence is intended to highlight France’s role in delivering the project.

An agreement on the construction and operation of a 350-kilometer (219-mile) high-speed rail line linking Tangiers and Casablanca via the capital Rabat was signed during Sarkozy’s 2007 visit to Morocco. He vowed then that he would return to the country to help lay down the first stone when building work began.

Rabat says it expects the first leg of the rail-line to cost three billion euros ($4.1 billion), for which France has extended a 920 million euro loan.

The Tangiers-Casablanca line, scheduled to enter service in 2015, will eventually be extended to Marrakesh and Agadir, Moroccan officials have said.

The balance of the rail project is being funded largely by Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. According to Karim Tazi, a sociologist, the rest of the borrowed money will have to be paid for by future generations.

Some analysts question whether or not it is really worth Morocco going into further debt in order to reduce the train time between Tangiers to Casablanca from five hours, to two hours and 10 minutes.

In December, the French group Alstom inked a 400 million euro deal to provide Morocco with 14 high speed trains, a contract seen as a boost for the company after it was snubbed by Eurostar, which had elected to buy trains from Germany’s Siemens.

France is Morocco’s top trading partner, absorbing 25 percent of exports.

Sarkozy, in his scheduled four-hour trip to the North African kingdom, also plans to meet King Mohammed VI.

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