Biotechnology continues to be a politically sensitive subject . A draft law regarding the introduction, use, and marketing of GMO that has been circulating among government agencies for two years.
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
Required Report - public distribution
GAIN Report Number: MO 1208
Agricultural Biotechnology Annual
Hassan F. Ahmed, U.S. Embassy, Rabat
Idriss El Honsali, U.S. Embassy, Rabat
Biotechnology continues to be a politically sensitive subject in Morocco. A draft law regarding the
introduction, use, and marketing of GMO that has been circulating among government agencies for two
years was retrieved by the Ministry of Agriculture for further revisions. It is not clear whether this draft
law would undergo further modifications or would be discarded and replaced by a new draft. In April
2011, Morocco ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and in June 2012 approved the Nagoya
Protocol on sharing genetic resources. Morocco’s approval of these agreements should help accelerate
building a legal framework for biotechnology. FAS/Rabat continues to work with Moroccan institutions
to build their biotechnology research capacity and enhance bilateral cooperation on biotechnology
issues of mutual interests.
Section I. Executive Summary:
Biotechnology is a politically sensitive issue in Morocco as many negative perceptions have spilled over
from its geographical neighbors in Europe. Morocco’s heavy dependence on the EU market as the main
destination for its agricultural exports has created reluctance among policy makers and producers for the
acceptance of biotechnology products. The scientific community in Morocco is relatively advanced and
clearly understands that biotechnology has much to offer the developing world, but the application of
science-based public policy remains a challenge. Although there is a National Biosecurity Committee
that was officially formed in April 2005, currently there is no legal framework for biotechnology in
A draft law regarding the introduction, use, and marketing of GMO that has been circulating among
relevant government agencies for two years was retrieved last year by the Ministry of Agriculture for
further revisions. It is not clear whether this draft law would undergo further modifications or be
discarded and replaced by an entirely new draft. Recent developments in the biotechnology arena, such
as Morocco’s approval of two international treaties related to biotechnology, have increased the
likelihood that a new and more comprehensive draft of biotechnology law will be undertaken. Moroccan
biotech experts indicate that Morocco could follow one of two approaches in designing its new
biotechnology law. It could follow a model based mostly on EU legislations or could adopt a model
similar to the biotechnology template developed for countries members of the African Union.
In April 2011, Morocco ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The ratification of the protocol,
which entered into effect in July 2011, should help accelerate setting up a legal framework for
biotechnology in Morocco in the coming period. According to the Moroccan constitution, the
international treaties and protocols to which Morocco is a signatory supersede national legislations. On
June 17, 2012 the Moroccan Government Morocco approved the Nagoya Protocol on sharing genetic
resource. With the approval of this protocol, Morocco should have access to genetic resources and to
equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their utilization. Morocco, however, would need to
establish a legal framework to draw on the benefits of this protocol.
Imports of biotech seeds for planting are currently not allowed into Morocco and a “GMO-free”
certificate is required for customs clearance. Certificates provided by breeders and unofficial bodies are
accepted. FAS/Rabat continues to maintain close working relations with Moroccan government officials
handling biotechnology issues to avoid trade disturbance and prevent any potential restrictive
regulations. U.S. government programs such as the Science Fellowship Program, Cochran and Borlaug
are used to promote Moroccan scientists’ knowledge about biotechnology and set the stage for a wider
acceptance among regulators. In 2008, three researchers from the National Agronomic Research
Institute (INRA) participated in biotechnology trainings under the Norman Borlaug program.
Section II. Plant Biotechnology Trade and Production:
U.S. Trade Interest in Morocco
According to official trade data, Morocco imported $6,293 million worth of agricultural and food
products in 2011, while it exported a total of $3,382 million. Morocco has a close economic and trade
relations with the EU, especially France, because of the geographic proximity. Due to their proximity
and established trade relations, EU countries control about 30 percent of Morocco’s agricultural and
food import market and accounts for over 60 percent of Moroccan agricultural exports (mostly fresh
fruits and vegetables). By comparison, only about 5 percent of Morocco’s exports go to the United
States, and includes olives, olive oil, sardines and anchovies, fresh citrus and processed tomatoes.
According to U.S. trade data, Moroccan agricultural and food imports from the U.S. reached a record
high of $932 million in 2011. Bulk commodities and intermediary products account for over 90 percent
of U.S agricultural products exported to Morocco. Major U.S. agricultural exports include soybeans and
soybean products, corn, corn products, wheat (soft and durum), and planting seeds. South American
countries such as Argentina and Brazil are also major suppliers of corn and soybeans products to
Section III. Plant Biotechnology Policy:
Current Legal Status
Currently, Morocco does not have a legislative or regulatory framework related to biotechnology, either
for domestic production or for imports of biotech commodities. A draft of law regarding the
introduction, use, and marketing of GMO was sent by the Ministry of Agriculture for review to various
ministries (Health, and others) in 2008. This draft law has been circulating intra-government agencies
for over two years, and retrieved last year by the Ministry of Agriculture for further revision. It is not
clear whether this draft law would undergo further modifications or be disposed of and replaced by an
entirely new draft.
Two important developments related to biotechnology have recently taken place and may impact the
regulatory framework in Morocco in Morocco. In April 2011, Morocco ratified the Cartagena Protocol
on Biosafety. The ratification of the protocol, which entered into effect in July 2011, should help
accelerate establishing a legal framework for biotechnology in Morocco in the coming period.
According to the Moroccan constitution, international treaties and protocols to which Morocco is a
signatory supersede national legislations. In addition, on June 17, 2012 the Moroccan Government
approved the Nagoya Protocol. With the approval of this Protocol, Morocco should have access to
genetic resources and to equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their utilization. Morocco,
however, will need to establish a legal framework to draw upon the benefits of the protocol.
Background and Current Situation
Morocco is still using an internal memorandum dated August 1999 as its legal foundation on which the
Ministry of Agriculture rests its claim that GMO products are officially banned from Morocco. This two
paragraphs memo, signed by subordinates from Ministry of Agriculture, was issued at a time when
various food safety and health related issues where dominating headlines in Europe (GMO, BSE,
Dioxin, FMD, etc.). It imposes a blanket prohibition on imports of biotechnology products and includes
no details on the product coverage, certification, testing, or threshold levels.
This memo causes concerns among agricultural and food importers because of the uncertainties of its
implementation. The memo, which could have been used at any time or sporadically, has added
significant risk for traders. However, this fear has faded since there has not been any mention of the
memo for many years now. The reality is that Moroccan imports of biotech commodities such as corn
and soybeans and soybean products remained undisrupted since 2001. In 2011, Morocco imported over
1.7 million MT of corn, valued at $580 million, of which 190,880 MT were from the U.S. About 100
percent of Morocco’s imports of soybeans (51,000 MT, valued at $30 million) and soybean meal
(490,000 MT, valued at $223 million) was of U.S. origin. Moroccan soybean oil imports in 2011
totaled 495,000 MT, of which 253,000 MT, valued at $330 million, were from the U.S.
Imports of planting seeds with biotech events are not allowed into Morocco. There is a mandatory
registration of any new planting seeds before the Ministry of Agriculture which will reveal its biotech
provenance and therefore the new varieties will not be approved. No U.S. seed exporters, to our
knowledge, have tried to register biotech seeds. In the last few years, Morocco has imported about $90
million worth of planting seeds annually, with nearly 90 percent from Europe. The United States
accounted for 6 percent of the market and exported mostly planting seeds for vegetables, watermelon,
alfalfa, tomatoes, sorghum and fodders.
National Biosafety Committee (NBC),
The National Bio-safety Committee (NBC), which was established in April 2005, is a purely advisory
body to the government on GMO issues related to agriculture and food. The NBC is chaired by the
Prime Minister or his representative and includes, and has members several ministries. The role of NBC
is to provide counseling as to the use, handling, transportation, import, distribution and marketing of
genetically modified organisms and will provide the government with suggestions regarding:
The national policy regarding the genetically modified organisms.
Emergency actions to take to protect against potential danger from using biotechnology.
The legal and organizational measures related to biosafety
Research programs and conditions of use of genetically modified organisms including the
necessary isolation measures for protection from the hazards related to research on genetically
Keep up with scientific advancements in the field of bio-safety both nationally and abroad.
Different parties designated by the Prime Minister from the civil society and the private sector that have
interests in the field of environment and consumer protection and belong to the sectors of production
and marketing of genetically modified organism products and their derivatives could also participate in
the NBC. The Committee can request, for counseling purposes, the attendance of scientists and legal
experts from the public and private sector, human and animal health, plant health, environment, and
The NBC usually convenes twice a year (October and March) and, if requested by the Chairman, in
extraordinary sessions. After the designation of the National Office of Food Safety (ONSSA) as the
competent government authority in charge of implementing regulations and agreements related to
biotechnology, the role of NBC has significantly diminished and has not been actively performing its
function for the last two years.
Concern about the EU
Generally, Moroccans tend to be far more exposed to European (French) positions than to U.S. positions
on many issues. Political sensitivities in Europe (including in food safety such as GMO, Dioxin, BSE,
and FMD) tend to regularly spillover to Morocco due to the close historical ties to Europe (formerly a
Morocco’s biggest challenge in biotechnology is the perceived risk that acceptance of biotechnology
may negatively affect demand in the EU for Moroccan agricultural exports, especially fruits and
vegetables. The leading agricultural exporting groups in Morocco (through which many of the new
technologies made their way to Moroccan farms) who would also be the best potential user of biotech
seeds (vegetables) are sensitive to the GMO issues and reflect the concerns of their European
customers. European customers and consumer groups requested on several occasions from their
Moroccan suppliers that the exported product be GMO free (vegetable oil in canned sardines, “GMO
free” tomatoes, etc.).
The Government of Morocco recently announced that, seed imported under the Temporary Admission
Regime (imported to produce crops locally and process them for re-export) must be “GMO Free”. This
decision clearly aims to reduce EU importers fear of GMO products and officially claim that Morocco
does not accept GMO seeds.
GMO labeling is not required, but for products that are used directly for human consumption (especially
canned corn) importers print “GMO Free” on the label to avoid being asked to provide a “GMO-Free”
certificate. A product labeled “contains GMO” is unlikely to clear customs.
As mentioned earlier, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, signed by Morocco in May 2000, was
ratified by the Moroccan Parliament on April 25, 2011 and entered in force on July 24. The Cartagena
protocol on biosafety is a legally binding international agreement governing the trans-boundary
movement of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) resulting from modern biotechnology. The
protocol does address mainly the intentional introduction of GMO to the environment and the utilization
of GMO as feed food or in processing. Its objective is to ensure safety in the transfer, handling and use
of GMO’s. The Moroccan National Office of Food Safety (ONSSA) has been designated as the
competent government authority in implementing the protocol, while the Ministry of Water and
Environment is assigned as the focal point which would serve as a liaison for information and
In addition, on June 17, 2012 the Moroccan Government Morocco approved the Nagoya Protocol. With
the approval of this Protocol, Morocco should have access to genetic resources and to equitable sharing
of the benefits arising from their utilization. Morocco, however, will need to establish a clear and
transparent legal framework to draw on the benefits of this protocol. It is worth mentioning that ONSSA
will also be the government authority in charge of implementing the Nagoya Protocol.
Section IV. Plant Biotechnology Marketing Issues:
Positions on Biotechnology within Morocco
A. Research Community: Although there is relatively well-developed biotechnology research in
Morocco in various universities, the area of developing transgenic plants has not yet been tapped.
Currently biotechnology research includes areas such as tissue culture, vaccine production,
fermentation, gene markers, etc. The interest in the technology in the research community is great. The
National Agronomic Research Institute (INRA) actively seeks solutions through biotechnology for
widely used crops specific to Morocco such as developing faba bean resistance to orobanche
(broomrape), resistance of date palms to Fusarium, and eventually developing drought resistant wheat.
B. Society at Large: The average educated Moroccan consumer tends to get most of the information
about biotechnology from the local Arabic and French newspapers but also from the widely accessible
European (French) and Middle-Eastern satellite broadcasted TV channels. There is very little exposure
to English channels including U.S. channels. Sporadically, written articles on “GMOs” are published
locally by non-specialized journalists and newspapers and tend to be negative and reflect concerns and
fears raised by European media.
C. Free Trade Agreement: There is a risk that, if aggressively pushed, the biotechnology products
might be perceived by the local consumers as a direct result of the FTA with the United States which
would be against the United States general policy to promote free trade in Morocco.
D. Consumer Organization: There are about ten identified consumer associations in Morocco and
most are relatively inactive. To our knowledge, none of these organizations have expressed explicitly
and specifically their position about biotechnology issues. The leading consumers associations should
be targeted on the medium term to be educated about the benefit and the actual, realistic, risks of
biotechnology. Regular spillovers from the EU media tend to provide negative perceptions about
biotechnology to leaders of consumer associations.
E. Local Food and Feed Industry: Unless the local food processing companies are involved in exports
to Europe and they have to fulfill the traceability requirements, the concern about use of biotechnology
ingredients is believed to be small as long as the issue is not raised in public. If the issue becomes
public, there is a good chance that the government and the food processors will be forced to take
measures to reassure the consumer. While currently tolerated by the government, products of biotech
crops (corn starch, soya flour, etc.) will likely not be admitted for food use if explicitly labeled as
F. Government Positions: The government as a whole is still in the process of forming its position on
biotechnology. The Ministry of Agriculture, which has the benefit of a number of U.S.-educated
scientists, including at high levels, has the most experience with the subject, is most aware of the
potential gain for Morocco, and therefore has the highest level of comfort. The Ministry of Agriculture
is appreciative and realistic of Morocco’s dependence on agricultural imports. The Ministry of
Environment has responsibility for biodiversity and therefore is another key Ministry in decisions
affecting biotechnology. In this Ministry, as well as in the Ministry of Health and in the Ministry of
Higher Education and Research, there are individual scientists who understand the value of the
technology, but the GOM position is not yet officially formed. Although biotechnology products have
been widely consumed in Morocco (corn and soybeans), the issue remains politically sensitive. Most
government officials prefer to deal with biotechnology in non-public ways in order to avoid triggering
reactions of EU customers or become a target for local journalists.
Section V. Plant Biotechnology Capacity Building and Outreach:
FAS has an overall strategy to support local interest in biotechnology by enabling dialog between US
and Moroccan regulators and scientists and by keeping the Moroccan scientific community informed of
developments in biotechnology. While the government avoids confronting the issue, because of the
sensitivities with the EU, we believe that Morocco will be in a better position to eventually reach sound
public policy regarding biotechnology if it is fully informed of the benefits biotechnology can provide to
its agricultural sector. The Ag Attaché office will continue promoting exposure and increased
familiarity of Moroccan regulators and scientists with biotechnology.
The Cochran program has been used to increase the knowledge of key government officials about use
and acceptance of biotechnology in the United States. The program was also used to take a multi-
disciplinary team from several ministries (Agriculture, Environment, Human Health, and High
Education and Scientific Research) to the United States to meet with key officials in APHIS, EPA,
FDA, universities, farmer’s organizations, U.S. trade organizations, and go through the approval process
and the use, distribution, and acceptance of the biotechnology products.
A regional biotechnology meeting to which key contacts from the Agricultural Research Institute in
Morocco (INRA) and the Ministry of Agricultural Division in charge of biotechnology was hosted in
February 2006 by FAS. The meeting laid the groundwork for increased cooperation between scientists
in the region.
Norman E. Borlaug Fellowship program
The Borlaug program is being used by FAS to provide promising scientists with an opportunity to spend
about 6-8 weeks in the United States and work one-on-one with a U.S. scientist in their fields.
Participants will learn new research techniques, gain exposure to the latest scientific developments in
various fields of agriculture, access fully equipped laboratories and libraries, and learn about unique
public-private partnerships that help fund agricultural research and science. The program will provide
the opportunity for scientists and policymakers to establish long-term contacts with U.S. scientists and
apply the newly gained knowledge from U.S. laboratories to their research and development programs.
Under this program, three researchers from INRA participated in 2008 in biotechnology trainings at
three different American universities. The first researcher went to the University of Virginia Tech to
study the identification and cloning of a gene involved in plant-parasitic weed interaction. The second
one went to Michigan State University to improve knowledge in wheat genetic transformation,
biosafety, and molecular characterization of genetic transformed plants. The third researcher went to
Iowa State University to start working on Agro bacterium-mediated transformation on legumes. (Faba
bean and chickpea). The Borlaug program will also provide the opportunity to establish long term
collaboration with US and Moroccan scientists.
State Department Embassy Science Fellowship Program
This program brought, in 2007, a research scientist from the United States to Morocco to work with
INRA in its biotechnology laboratory in Rabat. The Science Fellow from North Carolina State
University provided an opportunity for the Moroccan INRA scientists to learn from the US experience,
gain insights into scientific techniques trends in the United States and to establish long-term contacts
with a U.S. university.
Country Specific Needs
Due to the sensitivity of the “GMO” topic in Morocco, USDA should maintain a low profile and
continue working to promote biotechnology between scientists and increase the understanding and
acceptance of biotechnology among opinion leaders in various government institutions. Most Moroccan
scientists view biotechnology as “just another technique” that needs to be mastered and thus offer the
best way to promote a science-based position on biotechnology. Key government officials need to be
educated and informed about the potential development and use of biotechnology products in Morocco.
Strategy for the Future
During the last years, the Ag Office has worked closely with the GOM – via seminars, Cochran and
Borlaug training and individual meetings – to help it prepare a trade-friendly regulatory approach to
biotechnology. So far, our efforts have been successful in preventing hasty trade-restrictive measures,
and are yielding a cadre of well-informed officials who are gradually developing a position based on
science and taking into account commercial realities.
In the future, FAS/Rabat intends to build on these past efforts: to enhance Moroccan research
capabilities and strengthen regional cooperation; increase linkages with U.S. scientists to further
develop expertise among the various Ministries involved in biotechnology and to maintain close
personal contacts to help the GOM as it develops its regulatory system.