This 2014 Article IV Consultation highlights that Morocco has made important strides in maintaining macroeconomic stability in a difficult environment, but challenges remain to reduce fiscal and external vulnerabilities, strengthen growth, create jobs, and tackle poverty. Growth slowed in 2014 as a result of a contraction in agricultural activity following an exceptional 2013 crop and weak demand from Europe. However, growth is expected to rebound in 2015 to about 4.4 percent and remain robust in the medium term as external demand and domestic confidence strengthen. Executive Directors have commended the authorities for their strong policy actions, which have reduced economic vulnerabilities.

Abstract

This 2014 Article IV Consultation highlights that Morocco has made important strides in maintaining macroeconomic stability in a difficult environment, but challenges remain to reduce fiscal and external vulnerabilities, strengthen growth, create jobs, and tackle poverty. Growth slowed in 2014 as a result of a contraction in agricultural activity following an exceptional 2013 crop and weak demand from Europe. However, growth is expected to rebound in 2015 to about 4.4 percent and remain robust in the medium term as external demand and domestic confidence strengthen. Executive Directors have commended the authorities for their strong policy actions, which have reduced economic vulnerabilities.

Background

1. The authorities have made progress in reducing vulnerabilities, but important challenges remain to strengthening growth, reducing unemployment, and tackling poverty. After significant negative shocks to external demand and terms-of-trade in 2012, fiscal consolidation and structural reforms (including, the reform of the subsidy system) have been instrumental in reducing fiscal and external vulnerabilities. But much remains to be done to promote higher growth, reduce unemployment, and lower income, gender, and regional inequalities. The IMF is supporting the authorities’ program through a two-year precautionary and liquidity line (PLL) arrangement, which provides insurance against external risks.1

A. Recent Developments

2. Growth slowed in 2014, but is showing signs of recovery (Figure 1). After a bumper crop in 2013, agricultural growth contracted in 2014. Furthermore, weak demand from Europe and low business and consumer confidence affected nonagricultural output, mainly in the manufacturing and construction sectors in the first half of the year. Nonetheless, there have been recent signs of recovery in activity, and exports from newly developed aeronautics and automotive industries are booming. Overall GDP growth is expected to have decelerated to about 3 percent from 4.4 percent in 2013, with agricultural activity contracting by 1.3 percent and other sectors growing over 3½ percent. Inflation remained low at 0.4 percent on average and 1.6 percent year-on-year in 2014, as a decline in food prices helped offset the direct and indirect impact of the price increases of some formally subsidized petroleum products and of electricity tariffs. Unemployment has remained high at 9.6 percent (October 2014), especially among the youth (20.6 percent, up from 19.6 percent at end 2013).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Morocco: Real and External Developments

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

Sources: Moroccan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

3. In 2014, the overall deficit contracted by 0.3 percent of GDP and reached 4.9 percent of GDP, following a significant adjustment (by 2.2 percent of GDP) in 2013.2 Weaker economic activity hurt tax revenue, which is estimated to have fallen by 0.8 percent of GDP from 2013, to 22.2 percent of GDP. Nonetheless, higher disbursements of grants from Gulf countries and a significant reduction in energy subsidies contributed to containing the fiscal deficit despite some increase in the use of goods and services and grants. The lower subsidy bill mostly reflected the full year impact of measures taken in 2013 as well as further reductions in 2014 in the per-unit subsidies of some products. Lower international oil prices did not generate significant saving to the budget as, since September 2013, the retail domestic prices of gasoline, diesel and fuel, have been indexed on international prices (Box 2). Public debt is estimated to have risen by close to 3 percent of GDP to 66.4 percent of GDP.

4. The current account deficit contracted significantly. It decreased from 9.7 percent of GDP in 2012 to 7.6 percent of GDP in 2013 and is estimated to have declined further to about 5.8 percent at end-2014. This result is owed in part to the trade balance, which improved by 6 percent in January–December relative to the same period in 2013, reflecting a surge in exports (6.1 percent, in nominal dirham) against a slight decline in imports (-0.2 percent). Exports of goods were driven by automobile (26.2 percent) and electronics (26 percent). Imports of petroleum products contracted by 10.1 percent owing to the drop in oil prices. For the year as a whole, it is expected that oil imports will have decreased by 1½ percent of GDP, contributing to about ¾ of the reduction of the current account deficit.

5. External stability has improved, but vulnerabilities remain (Annex I). The diversification of export products achieved over the last decade has mitigated the decline of traditional exports, notably textile and phosphates. Owing to recent improvements in the current account, the external balance assessment (EBA) indicates that the real effective exchange is in line with fundamentals. Financial inflows dominated by FDI and loans, remain broadly stable in percent of GDP. They were buoyed by corporate and sovereign bond issuances in the second quarter of 2014 and the delivery of financial assistance by development partners. External debt, though on the rise, remains relatively low and is sustainable. However, standards shocks (exchange rate depreciation or a shock to non-interest current account) would result in a significant increase in debt-to-GDP ratio. Reserves have increased and now exceed five months of imports or 93.6 percent of the assessment of reserve adequacy (ARA) metric at end-December, an adequate level given existing capital controls. However, such a level would not be comfortable enough to withstand significant external shocks.

6. Bank Al-Maghrib (BAM) recently lowered its policy rate in consideration of weak growth, improving reserves, and low inflationary pressures. BAM lowered its policy rate to 2.5 percent with two cuts of 25 basis points each, in September and December 2014. The policy rate had remained unchanged since March 2012, although BAM had already lowered the reserve requirement ratio from 4 percent to 2 percent in March 2014 in response to tight bank liquidity. As a result of this action, but also reflecting the better international reserves position and the lower fiscal deficit, bank liquidity has improved. BAM’s 7–day advances decreased by 45 percent in November 2014 compared to the previous year. By contrast, longer-term interventions (3 months) have increased, in the context of a program to support lending to very small, small, and medium-sized enterprises (VSME). After reaching a decade-long low of 3.8 percent in 2013, credit growth has slightly increased but remained subdued at 4.3 percent in November 2014. Low credit growth resulted from weaker demand in the context of protracted low growth in Europe and low domestic confidence, together with supply-side factors including still relatively tight liquidity conditions, slow deposits growth, and rising nonperforming loans (NPLs).

7. The financial system remains sound overall. At end-June 2014, overall capital-adequacy ratio remained well-above the Basel III requirement. BAM is in the process of implementing the new definition of prudential capital and, according to provisional data, the new regulatory capital-to-risk-weighted assets ratio slightly increased to 13.5 in June 2014. Banks’ profitability remained adequate despite slow lending activity. It benefited from the appreciation in the fair value of the T-bills trading portfolio as the market yield dropped and from activities in sub-Saharan Africa, which constituted an important source of revenue for the three major banks. Reflecting the weaker economic activity, NPLs continued to increase reaching 6.9 percent of total loans in November 2014, but they remained adequately provisioned.

8. Poverty has decreased considerably over the past decade but many challenges remain to supporting higher and more inclusive growth (Figure 3). GDP per capita has increased significantly since 1990, more so than the regional average. Broader indicators of poverty and living standards have also improved, as illustrated by improvement in the UNDP’s Human Development Index. While higher growth explains a large part of this achievement, policy action also played a key role, as shown, for example, by the increased public spending on health, better access to sanitation, and greater reach of financial services. In these areas, progress has been significant and higher than in other oil-importing countries of the region. Nevertheless, poverty persists, particularly in rural areas, and inequalities have slightly increased. Despite the efforts already made, more is needed to reduce structural unemployment, increase female labor force participation and reduce the gender gap, improve healthcare, and reduce regional inequalities.3 Shortcomings in the quality of education are also widely recognized as a key impediment to improving social and economic indicators. Improvements in those areas are crucial to achieving more inclusive growth and reaching a higher potential output.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Morocco: Fiscal and Financial Market Developments

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

Sources: Moroccan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Morocco: Inclusive Growth

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

Note: All regional averages are weighted by population.MENAPOE = Middle East Oil Exporters.
A01ufig01

PPP GDP Per Capita

(Average US Dollars)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

Source:World Bank, World Development Indicators.
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Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators.

The Income Ratio is estimated from the distribution of national income by quintile.

B. Outlook and Risks

9. Growth is expected to rebound in 2015 and remain robust in the medium term. Building on the recovery observed in most recent indicators in 2014, overall growth should accelerate close to 4½ percent in 2015, supported by improved external demand, strengthened domestic confidence, and a return to normal agricultural output. Over the medium term, the ongoing modernization of the agriculture sector, the continued expansion of Moroccan firms to new markets, the growing importance of newly developed sectors, as well as higher investment in infrastructure and human capital are expected to lift growth above 5 percent, assuming continued steadfast implementation of structural reforms. Inflation is expected to stabilize at about 2 percent. The reduction in the fiscal deficit and improvement in international reserves are also expected to continue to improve liquidity conditions which, together with the strengthening the financial policy framework, will help support continued adequate financing of the economy.

10. The external position is expected to improve over the medium term (Annex I). In 2015 and over the medium term, the current account deficit should continue to narrow and the reserve position to strengthen, benefitting from the growth in newly developed export sectors, recovery in the other sectors, stronger external demand and, in the near term, also by a large positive terms-of-trade shock mostly triggered by the fall in international oil prices. The latter will help reduce oil imports by more than 3 percent of GDP in 2015. The capital and financial accounts are expected to remain strong, particularly FDI, as political and social stability and relatively strong economic performance make Morocco an attractive destination. The external debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 32.1 percent at end-2014 and is expected to stabilize at that level over the medium term. However, stress tests show that 30 percent exchange rate depreciation or a shock to non-interest current account would result in a significant increase in debt relative to GDP. The net international investment position (NIIP), which deteriorated significantly following the global financial crisis, is expected to stabilize over the next few years as external buffers strengthen.

11. Risks have declined but remain substantial. A protracted period of slow growth in advanced economies, in particular Europe, would affect the economy through low exports, FDI, and remittances. An increase in world energy prices resulting from geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine could worsen the current account deficit. An abrupt surge in global financial market volatility would increase interest rates and raise the cost of financing and indirectly affect external demand and FDI. On the domestic front, looming local elections (mid-2015) and parliamentary elections (2016) risk affecting the pace of reforms in a volatile regional environment.

Risk Assessment Matrix1

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The Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) shows events that could materially alter the baseline path (the scenario most likely to materialize in staff’s view). The relative likelihood of risks listed is the staff’s subjective assessment of the risks surrounding the baseline (“low” is meant to indicate a probability below 10 percent, “medium” a probability between 10 and 30 percent, and “high” a probability of 30 percent or more). The RAM reflects staff’s views on the source of risks and overall level of concern as of the time of discussions with the authorities. Non-mutually exclusive risks may interact and materialize jointly.

Policy Discussion

12. Morocco has made important strides in rebalancing the economy, but higher and more inclusive growth is needed to reduce poverty. A significant reduction in vulnerabilities was achieved over the past two years (Box 1). The authorities should consolidate gains in stabilization and “aim higher and try harder” to build a better future. Well managed, the current period offers an opportunity to enter a virtuous cycle of growth, confidence, and investment. This requires pursuing an appropriate policy mix, adapting the policy framework to strengthen the economy’s resilience and adaptability, and implementing a vigorous program of structural reform to boost Morocco’s potential beyond the pre-crisis level. The present Article IV consultation therefore focused on three main themes: (i) the policy mix to sustain the ongoing stabilization; (ii) the policy framework for a more resilient economy; and (iii) structural policies for higher and more inclusive growth.

Implementation of Past Fund Advice

Policy implementation has been broadly in line with past Fund advice.

Fiscal policy. The authorities removed subsidies on all liquid petroleum products, thereby eliminating risks to the budget linked to the volatility of oil prices, while they expanded support to the most vulnerable through dedicated social programs. A new organic budget law was adopted by the parliament, which will help strengthen the budgetary framework once comments from the Constitutional Council have been addressed. The parametric reform of the public pension system is expected to be implemented in 2015.

Monetary policy. Inflation remains low and inflation expectations are well-anchored. Given low inflationary pressures, low growth and improving reserve position, BAM lowered its main policy interest rates to 2.5 percent in December 2014. Preparation for a more flexible exchange rate has progressed, including with technical assistance from the Fund.

Financial policies. A new banking law approved by the parliament in November 2014 will help strengthen the regulatory, supervisory and macroprudential frameworks, including with respect to the international activity of Moroccan banks. However, more work is needed on cross-border banking resolution.

Structural reforms. Morocco made progress in doing business indicators, but much remains to be done to further improve the business climate, as discussed below.

A. Policy Mix: Sustaining the Stabilization

13. Public debt has been on the rise, but remains sustainable (Annex II). As the fiscal deficit widened, public debt rose from 47 percent of GDP in 2009 to an estimated 66.4 percent of GDP in 2014. It is expected to peak at about 68 percent of GDP in 2015—a relatively high level for an emerging market—before decreasing to about 63 percent of GDP by 2019. The debt sustainability analysis (DSA) shows that debt remains sustainable and robust to various shocks and that the primary balance is projected to be higher than its debt-stabilizing level, putting debt firmly on a downward path. However, relatively large public and external financing needs are a source of vulnerability under certain shocks, and debt sustainability is also dependent on growth materializing at the expected level and on continued fiscal consolidation. The authorities agreed with staff’s assessment that the debt remains sustainable. They stressed that while financing needs were high, the domestic debt market was liquid and capital controls limited rollover risks, given the lack of alternative options for investors.

14. The authorities have embarked since 2013 on a fiscal consolidation aimed at external adjustment and fiscal sustainability, while seeking not to compromise growth. In response to rising public debt and widening external imbalances, the authorities have aimed to gradually reduce the fiscal deficit to 3 percent of GDP in 2017. After a sharp reduction in the deficit in 2013, the pace of adjustment slowed in 2014 in face of lower growth. The fiscal deficit objective of the 2015 budget (4.3 percent of GDP) is consistent with the authorities’ medium-term objective. The cyclically-adjusted primary balance is projected to improve by ½ percent of GDP in 2015 and cumulatively by 2.2 percent of GDP between 2014 and 2017. The strengthening of public finances is expected to come mainly from a reduction in expenditure, as tax revenue as a share of GDP is already among the highest in the region.4 Staff supported the authorities’ planned fiscal path for 2015–17. It considered that this path was consistent with the need to rebuild fiscal buffers, including putting the debt firmly on a downward path and reducing financing needs, while avoiding being a significant drag on growth. It noted the need to sustain efforts to further lower the fiscal deficit beyond 2017 to ensure a continued reduction of the debt-to-GDP level. To promote higher and more inclusive growth, it will also be important to ensure that the fiscal space created by actions to lower the cost of subsidies and efforts to reduce wage bill translates into higher capital and social spending. Staff noted that the 2015 budget misses an opportunity in that respect, as goods and services expenditure are set to increase by 0.3 percent of GDP while investment is to decline by almost one percent of GDP.

A01ufig03

Change in Expenditure

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

15. As fiscal consolidation is pursued, the central bank has appropriately loosened monetary policy. Although the exchange rate is pegged, the existence of capital controls provides some scope for monetary policy. In a context of low inflation, low growth, slowing credit growth, still-negative output gap, weak domestic and external demand, and improved reserves position, BAM’s recent cuts in interest rate were appropriate and are expected to help support credit demand by fostering lower lending rates. Other measures put in place by BAM to ease liquidity pressures and foster greater access to credit, including the intervention under the VSME funding program, are expected to help support bank lending to the private sector while remaining consistent with low inflation, as pressures on consumer prices are set to remain subdued. In the context of the current exchange rate peg, the overall policy mix remains consistent with strengthening macro-stability. Further monetary loosening may be considered should the timid recovery stall and reserves continue improving; however, BAM should remain vigilant, in case second-round effects on inflation stemming from the subsidy reform materialize, or external risks worsen.

B. Adapting the Policy Framework to Strengthen the Resilience of the Economy

16. As the economy recovers from the global crisis, adapting the policy framework will help increase its resilience. The current policy framework has served Morocco well, but the recent period of global and domestic economic stress has tested its limits. A stronger fiscal and financial policy framework will help contain existing or potentially new sources of fiscal, external, and financial risks, while adapting the exchange rate and monetary regime would make the economy more nimble. The authorities have embarked on important reforms to this end.

17. A new organic budget law (OBL) is expected to strengthen the budgetary framework. A new law was adopted by parliament in November 2014. However, the Constitutional Council ruled in late December that some provisions were unconstitutional, partly for procedural reasons. These relate to the dates of implementation of the new law as well as a provision that stated that only finance law could modify tax or custom legislation. The government intends to resubmit the law to parliament in its Spring session to address the Council’s comments. Once definitely adopted, and as its provisions gradually enter into force over the next few years, the new OBL will introduce multi-year and program budgeting, establish a golden rule to limit new net borrowing to the financing of capital spending, make binding the ceilings on wage appropriations, and restrict the carryover of investment appropriations from one budget to the next. The last two features address budget framework weaknesses observed in 2012. Staff looks forward to the final adoption of the law, once the Constitutional Council’s comments have been addressed, as it will modernize the fiscal framework, enhance its efficiency, and increase transparency and financial control. Staff noted that some provisions could have been strengthened to further reduce fiscal risks, for example, tighter restrictions on the creation of new special treasury accounts or adding an escape clause to the golden rule. The new provisions of the OBL are expected to be introduced gradually between 2016 and 2020. The Fund stands ready to provide technical assistance (TA) to support a prompt and successful implementation of the new law.

18. Staff supports the authorities’ intention to transition to a more flexible exchange rate, with accompanying changes in the monetary policy framework. Although the peg has provided a useful nominal anchor for the economy in the past, a more flexible regime would better support the ongoing diversification of trade and financial flows, help preserve competitiveness, and facilitate the absorption of external shocks. The Fund is supporting the preparation of this transition by providing TA on options for and operational management of a more flexible exchange rate regime. It has also provided TA to strengthen BAM’s macro-modeling capacity in preparation for a new monetary regime, such as inflation targeting. In staff’s views, a gradual transition could start with a widening of the band around the peg and a reexamination of the weights in the currency basket to which the dirham is pegged. The improvement in the external and fiscal positions offers an opportunity to transition to a new exchange rate regime under better conditions. Staff and the authorities agreed that once the forthcoming FSAP is completed, which will further assess the preparedness of the financial sector to withstand greater exchange rate fluctuations, the various strands of TA and surveillance work in this area could usefully be pulled together to inform further decisions in this area.

19. The financial supervisory and regulatory framework is being further strengthened. A healthy financial sector is crucial to macro-stability, and supports more inclusive growth by facilitating access to finance. In turn, sustained financial system health depends on the quality of the regulatory and supervisory framework. The authorities are committed to further strengthening financial regulations and supervision. In this connection, they are gradually integrating the norms of Basel III. Furthermore, parliament approved in November 2014 a new banking law, which strengthens BAM’s supervisory and regulatory powers, upgrades the macroprudential framework (an area where the Fund is also providing TA), and provides the framework for the development of Islamic finance. A new central bank law was submitted to the general secretariat of the government. It aims to strengthen BAM’s independence and extend the scope of its supervisory powers. Staff supports these efforts and encourages a timely completion of the revision of the central bank law. The FSAP update, for which the main mission is scheduled in April 2015, will offer an opportunity to take a comprehensive and in-depth view of financial stability and development and of the evolving policy framework.

20. The evolution of the financial policy framework is also taking into account the challenges posed by the international expansion of Moroccan banks. Three major Moroccan banks have rapidly expanded their operations in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly through acquisitions of local banks. The international activity of the Moroccan banks constitutes about 19 percent of total volume of activity of the sector (17 percent for activity in Africa alone). This expansion brings new opportunities for Morocco and host economies but also comes with challenges and opens new spillover channels. Staff and the authorities concurred on the main steps needed to tackle new supervisory challenges, and staff welcomed progress already made in that area. In particular, a supervisory college for one of the three cross-border banks was already established and plans for setting up the other two are well advanced. In addition, one of the cross-border banks has already started simplifying its structure, which had become increasingly complex as the bank expanded internationally. The authorities also noted that the new banking law and the forthcoming new central bank law will significantly strengthen BAM’s supervision and crisis resolution abilities. Looking ahead, it will be important to implement the Basel framework for dealing with domestic systemically important banks through an assessment methodology and higher loss-absorbency capital requirements; to continue encouraging reliance of subsidiary operations on local funding; and to ensure that cross-border banks have strong risk management frameworks including strict controls on their subsidiaries. Progress on cross-border crisis management and resolution mechanisms is also crucial, though, as recognized by staff and the authorities, inherently more difficult given the many actors involved in the home and host countries.5

C. Structural Policies in Support of Higher and More Inclusive Growth

21. Staff welcomed the impressive progress in subsidy reform, which is instrumental in reducing fiscal vulnerabilities and creating space for growth-enhancing spending (Box 2). Subsidies on all liquid petroleum products (diesel, gasoline, fuel) have been eliminated since last year, including the earlier-than-planned completion of a gradual reduction in the per-unit subsidy to diesel prices. Furthermore, the authorities have decided to fully liberalize their prices in 2015. These efforts helped significantly reduce the subsidy bill to 3.6 percent of GDP in 2014 and 2.3 percent of GDP expected in 2015 from 6.6 percent of GDP in 2012. They also considerably shield the budget from international price volatility, lowering associated fiscal risks in case oil prices rose again. The authorities are considering ways to gradually reduce subsidies on wheat, sugar, and butane, with care not to hurt the most vulnerable population that depends on these subsidies. Already, the reduction in fuel subsidies has been accompanied by an expansion of social programs in health and education, and the introduction of a number of mitigating programs.

22. Reforming the tax system is important to bolster the contribution of the fiscal sector to growth. Following the recommendations of their national tax conference in April 2013, the authorities have initiated reforms to make the tax system more equitable and better able to support competitiveness. The aim is to widen the tax base, significantly reduce tax expenditures, review income and VAT rates, and improve tax administration. Staff has been supportive of the reform, while cautioning against lowering tax rates before ensuring that the gains from broadening the tax base are solid. Following measures introduced in 2014, including steps to ensure progressive taxation of large agricultural firms, the 2015 budget introduces new, if not bold, steps to reduce the number of VAT rates and includes measures to better enforce tax payments from self-employed and liberal professions. Staff noted the Fund’s readiness to provide technical assistance on implementing the fiscal reform.

Fuel Subsidy Reform

The subsidy system in place since 2000 was a drain on the budget while being largely ineffective in helping the poor.1 The system mostly focused on petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, industrial fuel oil and fuel oil used for electricity generation) while the prices of wheat flour and sugar have also been subsidized. With global oil prices increasing threefold from 2000 to 2012, the government’s subsidy bill almost tripled from less than 2½ percent of GDP to more than 6½ percent of GDP during the period. With it, the fiscal deficit exceeded 7 percent of GDP in 2012.

To address this important source of vulnerability, the authorities have implemented significant reforms leading to an impressive reduction in the cost and fiscal risks related to fuel subsidies. The key milestones in the reform were:

  • Early 2012: Establishment of three technical commissions to prepare the reform, including government and civil society representatives. The commissions were to evaluate the macroeconomic impact of possible reforms, formulate proposals to revise the price structures of subsidized products, and develop alternative targeted social protection schemes.

  • June 2012: Increase in the retail price of diesel, gasoline, and fuel oil by 14 percent, 20 percent, and 27 percent respectively, yielding an estimated saving for the budget of 0.7 percent of GDP for the year.

  • September 2013: Partial indexation of the domestic prices of diesel, gasoline, and industrial fuel oil to world prices effective August 16, 2013, which significantly reduced the vulnerability of the budget to international oil price fluctuation.2 The indexation was accompanied by a hedging operation for diesel to cap the price increases that might be needed in the first year of the indexation system.

  • February 2014: Removal of subsidies on the domestic prices of gasoline and industrial fuel oil (excluding fuel used for electricity generation). First reduction of the per-unit subsidy on diesel with a plan to gradually eliminate it by mid-2015. Introduction of measures to alleviate the impact of the reform on the poor; these include expanding existing targeted social programs (providing support to school-age children and helping the poor with medical expenses) and introducing new programs to support low-income widows and physically disabled individuals, as well as support for the public transportation sector, to mitigate the cost of higher fuel prices and limit fare increases.

  • April 2014: Second reduction of the per-unit subsidy on diesel.

  • June 2014: Removal of subsidies on industrial fuel oil used for electricity generation. Introduction of program contract with the public electricity company (ONEE) that includes direct transfers during the next four years as well as a revision of electricity tariffs. The annual cost of the transfers will be about 0.5 percent of GDP in 2015-16 and 0.1 percent of GDP in 2017.

  • July 2014: Third reduction of the per-unit subsidy on diesel.

  • January 2015: Elimination of the subsidy on diesel.

A01ufig04

Components of Subsidy Expenditure

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2015, 043; 10.5089/9781498381642.002.A001

1 See Selected Issues Paper on Fuel Subsidies in Morocco: International Experience and Possible Ways Forward, SM/13/14, January 2013 for more details on the subsidy system in Morocco.2 The indexation rule, based on a rolling moving average of the last two months, provides for the automatic adjustment of domestic prices when the difference between implied world prices and actual domestic prices exceeds 2.5 percent.

23. The pension system urgently needs reform to ensure its viability and broaden its coverage. The main civil public pension fund (CMR) is already receiving less in contributions than it pays in benefits and, absent reform, could exhaust its reserves by 2021. The government announced in June a parametric reform that includes increases in contributions and in retirement age and lower benefits. It submitted its proposal for review to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC), which endorsed the principle of the reform but advised somewhat less ambitious parametric changes.6 The government’s intention is to gradually implement the reform starting in 2015. This first step will pave the way for a broader structural reform that has been prepared to put the entire pension system (public and private) on a long-term sustainable footing while gradually expanding its coverage to workers who currently have no coverage, an important social goal. The parametric reform under the government’s proposal would prolong the viability of the regime (that is, push back the deficit) by eight years to 2022 and the depletion of the fund’s reserves to 2031 instead of 2022, allowing time for the broader reform to be implemented (by contrast, the CESE’s proposal would prolong the viability of the regime by only five years). Staff welcomed the plans to reform the pension system. It underscored the urgency of the reform, given the difficult financial situation of the CMR, and stressed that the more ambitious the parametric changes, the more durably the financial soundness of the fund will be restored. It considered that moving ahead with the broader structural reform was also important to expanding the coverage of the pension system to the large number of workers currently without pension benefit.

24. The business environment has improved but much remains to be done to increase competitiveness and business opportunities. The authorities’ efforts to improve the business environment are driven by a national committee chaired by the head of government. Based on an updated methodology, Morocco ranks 71 among 189 countries in the 2015 World Bank Doing Business indicators, against 87 in previous estimates. The World Bank report notes that governance and the business environment improved recently thanks notably to easier procedures for property transfer, construction permits, and trading across borders, the reduction of electricity connection costs, and some streamlining of administrative procedures. However, more efforts are needed to reduce government bureaucracy, further improve transparency, competition, and governance, and address corruption, all of which have been identified as key impediments to doing business in Morocco. The reform of the judiciary—a crucial piece of these efforts—is ongoing. Strengthening the effectiveness of the anti-money laundering AML/CFT framework is also needed for Morocco to keep pace with more competitive emerging markets.

25. The labor market needs further reform to help reduce unemployment. The unemployment rate declined from 14 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2009, but has hovered between 9 percent and 10 percent since then, despite relatively high growth. Youth unemployment exceeds 20 percent (15 percent for graduates). The government aims to reduce the unemployment rate to 8 percent by 2016. The authorities noted that they are completing an overhaul of existing employment support programs and have initiated a dialogue with social partners to examine the labor code. Staff supported these efforts. It noted that high hiring and firing costs have been identified as important impediments to job creation. Also, insufficient access to information hampers the smooth functioning of the job market. The education and vocational training systems need to adapt to reduce the gap between labor force skills and business needs. While the highest value-added industries often provide professional training to fulfill their needs for skilled workers, a broad reform of the education system is needed to improve the quality of education, and to increase school attainment and female enrollment rates.

Staff Appraisal

26. Policy action has helped maintain macroeconomic stability and rebuild buffers in a persistently difficult environment. However, the economy still faces important challenges as growth has slowed and unemployment remains high. Low business and consumer confidence, coupled with still weak European economic activity, has hampered nonagricultural growth while agriculture has contracted following the bumper crop of 2013. A significant drop in food prices has contributed to a reduction of the already low inflation. The fiscal deficit in percent of GDP was further reduced as subsidy expenditures were reined in and higher external grants offset lower tax receipts. The public debt, though on the rise, remains sustainable. The surge in exports, coupled with a slowdown in import growth aided by lower energy prices, helped improve the external current account markedly and rebuild international reserves.

27. The outlook is positive but risks remain substantial, calling for sustained implementation of reforms. Growth should rebound in 2015 to exceed 4 percent on the back of improved prospects in Europe, a return of domestic confidence, and a positive contribution of agriculture. Assuming continued steadfast implementation of structural reforms, it should continue increasing in the medium-term. The current account is expected to continue to improve as a result of growth in newly developed export sectors, stronger external demand, and lower oil prices. Morocco’s stability makes it a choice destination for FDI. Nevertheless, the economy remains vulnerable to global conditions, notably the risk of a protracted period of slow growth in Europe or an oil price surge resulting from geopolitical tensions. Hence, it is important for the authorities to continue implementing reforms to rebuild external and fiscal buffers, strengthen competitiveness, and increase the resilience of the economy.

28. The authorities’ fiscal and monetary policy mix has been appropriate to sustain the ongoing stabilization of the economy. The current fiscal adjustment path aims to support the external adjustment and ensure fiscal sustainability while preserving growth. As public debt has reached a relatively high level and is accompanied by large financing needs, the planned improvement in the primary balance is important to bring debt back onto a downward path. Efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit should continue beyond 2017, for which the authorities target a deficit of 3 percent of GDP. At the same time, the projected reduction in subsidy and wage bills will free space that should be used to increase growth-enhancing capital spending. Monetary policy has been appropriately loosened in the context of low inflation, slow credit growth, and a negative output gap.

29. Adapting the policy framework is important to strengthen the resilience of the economy. Although stronger provisions in some areas would have been warranted, the new OBL is expected to strengthen and modernize the fiscal framework by enhancing its efficiency, improving financial control, and increasing fiscal transparency. Staff urges the authorities to address the Constitutional Council’s comments as quickly as possible to avoid further delay in the implementation of the law. Transitioning to a more flexible exchange rate regime would better support the diversification of trade and financial flows while helping preserve competitiveness, and would better insulate the economy against shocks. Staff supports BAM’s efforts to strengthen the financial supervisory and regulatory framework to ensure the continued soundness of the financial sector. In particular, BAM’s is appropriately tackling the challenges that come with the international expansion of major Moroccan banks. The upcoming FSAP update will provide an opportunity for an in-depth assessment of the stability and development opportunities of the financial sector.

30. Fiscal reforms have a central role to play in reducing vulnerabilities and promoting higher and more inclusive growth. The authorities are to be commended for the remarkable progress in reforming the subsidy system, a pillar of the efforts to reduce vulnerabilities and create space for growth-enhancing and social spending. Similarly, the reform of the tax system aims to bolster the contribution of the fiscal sector to growth by making the system more equitable and better suited to support competitiveness. The pension reform is urgently needed to ensure the financial viability of the system and extend its coverage to a larger share of the workforce.

31. Steadfast implementation of structural reforms is needed to support higher and more inclusive growth. Improving the business environment is important to strengthen competitiveness and open more business opportunities. Although progress has been made, more efforts are needed to improve transparency, competition, and governance, streamline bureaucracy, and address corruption. The ongoing revamping of programs in support of employment is welcome. Lowering hiring and firing costs and improving the quality of education are also crucial to significantly reducing unemployment.

32. Staff recommends that the next Article IV consultation be held on the standard 12-month cycle.

Table 1.

Morocco: Selected Economic Indicators, 2011–19

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Sources: Moroccan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Refers to the macro framework for the request for a successor PLL arrangement in EBS/14/91.

Revised macro framework.

Includes credit to public enterprises.

Table 2.

Morocco: Budgetary Central Government Finance, 2011–19

(Billions of dirhams)

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Sources: Ministry of Economy and Finance; and IMF staff estimates.

Refers to the macro framework for the request for a successor PLL arrangement in EBS/14/91.

Revised macro framework.

Includes capital transfers to public entities.

Table 3.

Morocco: Budgetary Central Government Finance, 2011–19

(Percent of GDP)

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Sources: Ministry of Economy and Finance; and IMF staff estimates.

Refers to the macro framework for the request for a successor PLL arrangement in EBS/14/91.

Revised macro framework.

Includes capital transfers to public entities.

Table 4.

Morocco: Budgetary Central Government Balance Sheet, 2011–19

(Billions of dirhams)

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Sources: Moroccan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Refers to the macro framework for the request for a successor PLL arrangement in EBS/14/91.

Revised macro framework.

Data for the remaining instruments are currently not available.

Table 5.

Morocco: Balance of Payments, 2011–19

(In billions of U.S. dollars, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Ministry of Finance; Office des Changes; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Refers to the macro framework for the request for a successor PLL arrangement in EBS/14/91.

Revised macro framework.

Excluding the reserve position in the Fund.