As Morocco‘s ambassador to the United States since 2002, Aziz Mekouar has seen a positive trend in trade relations since the two countries entered into a free trade agreement midway through his tenure. 

“We are seeing some results,” Mr. Mekouar said during an interview Atlanta. “I think the trade between the two countries grew by 140 percent since (the agreement) entered into force in 2006.”

Morocco is a mostly Muslim country in northwest Africa situated just eight miles across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. About 20 years ago, the country realized that opening its borders was the route to prosperity in the modern global economy, Mr. Mekouar said.

As if to affirm the importance of trade, the final talks on the formation of the World Trade Organization concluded in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1994.

In the years that followed, Morocco began cultivating trade agreements around the world, starting with nearby Europe, where it had strong historic ties and easy geographic access. Now, about 63 percent of its trade volume is with European countries.

“It is as if we were in Europe,” Mr. Mekouar said.

Along with the U.S., Morocco has bilateral pacts with Turkey and four Arab countries. It also has special customs agreements with African nations. Its main exports to the U.S. are high-tech products. Large U.S. aerospace companies like Boeing Co. have operations in Morocco.

“Globally, we have free trade agreements with 1 billion people,” Mr. Mekouar told GlobalAtlanta during an interview at Georgia State University.

The ambassador spoke at Morocco Day, a Feb. 24 event at Georgia State featuring live music, poetry readings, food and a documentary screening.

He said such events help boost understanding about his country, which is shrouded in mystery for many. The movie “Casablanca,” set in the Moroccan city, gives an introduction, but Morocco’s blend of cultural influences leads to fuzzy perceptions about the country in the U.S.

The picture has gotten a bit clearer for many Americans who have visited Morocco as the country’s tourism scene has developed over the past decade. In 2000, 2.5 million tourists visited the country of 32 million people. Last year brought 8 million visitors, Mr. Mekouar said.

Even in a down economy, tourism has remained resilient. Mr. Mekouar attributes the stability to the fact that more European vacationers are forgoing trips to faraway destinations. Morocco is no more than two and a half hours by plane from every capital in Europe, Mr. Mekouar said.

“Basically Morocco is becoming the Florida of northern Europe,” he said, citing the country’s warm “California weather.”

Georgians of Moroccan descent are hoping that more people in the state will experience what their country has to offer.

Samir Mahir, a program manager for IBM Corp. in Atlanta, is vice president of the American Moroccan Association of Atlanta, which was founded in 2004.

“We focus on cultural events and attempting to promote the relationship between America and Morocco,” Mr. Mahir told GlobalAtlanta.

Mr. Mahir estimates that 6,000-7,000 Moroccans live scattered throughout Georgia, and the organization hopes that as these communities promote Moroccan culture, business ties will emerge that could lead to the formation of an American-Moroccan chamber of commerce.

Mr. Mekouar said Georgia companies looking for a place to invest will find opportunities in Morocco’s information technology, textiles, automotive and agricultural sectors.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...