A free trade agreement between Morocco and the United States would give Georgia companies access to African, European and Middle Eastern markets, according to the Moroccan ambassador to the U.S., Aziz Mekouar, who recently visited Atlanta for the first time.

Mr. Mekouar was the guest of honor for the Atlanta International School’s spring benefit, “Passport to Morocco,” held on April 17.

“Morocco could be a hub for those who want to work with the European Union, Africa and the Arab world,” Mr. Mekouar said during a luncheon at Imperial Fez restaurant in Buckhead.

“Hopefully Congress will pass the free trade agreement because, more than anything, we hope to have more U.S. investors in Morocco. Anything produced in Morocco can be sold to our partner countries without customs duties,” he added.

Even prior to a free trade agreement, Mr. Mekouar pointed out that Georgia auto parts, high tech and food processing companies would do well in Morocco because they would have access to those and other African and Middle Eastern markets.

Morocco already has free trade agreements with Egypt, the European Union, Jordan, Mauritania and Tunisia, and some 70 percent of Morocco’s trade is currently done with the EU.

Morocco’s rigorous intellectual property protection provisions, which are “the best ever agreed to” between the U.S. and a foreign country, should also help facilitate passage of the U.S.-Morocco free trade agreement, Mr. Mekouar asserted.

Negotiations to allow 95 percent of U.S. goods to enter Morocco and 97-98 percent of Moroccan goods to enter the U.S. duty-free concluded in March of this year. Congress is expected to ratify the agreement in July, and the free trade agreement would go into effect January 1, 2005.

A U.S.-Morocco free trade agreement is part of President Bush’s strategy to create a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013. The U.S. currently has free trade agreements with Israel and Jordan and launched negotiations with Bahrain in January 2004.

Mr. Mekouar became ambassador of Morocco to the U.S. on June 19, 2003. He previously served as ambassador to Italy, and before that, Portugal and Angola. He is fluent in Arabic, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the newly sovereign United States in 1777. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the U.S. and Morocco, negotiated in 1787, is the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history.

For more information, contact David Hawley, headmaster of Atlanta International School, at (404) 841-3840 or dhawley@aischool.org.