Trial by Fire for our food exporting industry

The visible efforts that our country has been making for several years leave no doubt about Morocco’s intention to move towards the industrial development of our agricultural resources as finished products. The stated goal is to make a better export profit on our African continent and elsewhere. It follows that our farmers will logically have to be properly supervised and better paid in the future for a regular supply of industrial processing units allowing them to work regularly and calmly. Some of these Units are in the making while implementation is underway for others across the Kingdom. A huge effort has also been made in terms of preparing or upgrading infrastructure, roads, highways, ports and other logistical needs.

In view of all this, we are tempted to conclude that, for us professionals in the national agri-food sector, the goal of exporting more finished products “Made in Morocco” is already in our pocket. But that would be, in our opinion, premature to say the least.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Ryad Mezzour, complained before Moroccan senators that our fellow citizens disdained “Made in Morocco” products, of superior quality according to the Minister, in favor of imported products  of lower quality.

We recall that the 28-07 Act on food safety is quite clear in requiring industrial units to produce their food items in compliance with the law regardless of the destination of the products (local market or export). However, it is obvious that if our compatriots disdain the products made here, foreign customers will not be rushing to buy them either. There is therefore no doubt in our eyes that the Minister’s disappointment, which we share, is sincere. The insufficient sales in our national market of locally produced food products is an indisputable fact. But if the statement recalled by the Minister is correct, the “diagnosis” he makes as a member of the government may be questionable. Because his “diagnosis” could mean, for example, that Moroccan consumer prefers buying imported food on principle. And that would amount, in a way, to questioning the civic behavior of Moroccan customers. Except that such an assumption is largely contradicted by eloquent examples where Moroccans have not hesitated to show their full and complete solidarity with any national cause that won their support. If this adherence is currently lacking in terms of “Made in Morocco” food purchases, it is probably because the shortcomings have more to do with the very quality of the industrial foods that are offered to the Moroccan customer.

To better understand the issues underlying the food purchasing process, it is useful to remember that we live in a world where communication channels are very open. Moroccans therefore see, via one media or another, that in our European neighbours, those in America and elsewhere, the regulatory authorities regularly announce the withdrawal or recall of defective food products which are either in the commercial channels (not yet sold) or already purchased by the consumer. In this context, it should be noted that the statistics of organizations specializing in the management of the quality of food products show that on average a proportion of 5% of the products manufactured then turn out to be non-compliant. It is this category of products that is being withdrawn or recalled by our European and other partners. That being said, Moroccan consumers have so far not had the chance to see this approach applied by the supervisory authority over the agri-food sector in our country. In fact, and on the scale of a country like Morocco, this can represent tens of thousands of samples of products which are in the distribution channels and which pose a potential danger to the health of the consumer. So, in the absence of a guarantee of the possible removal by the supervisory authority of such defective products, the Moroccan consumer prefers to direct his purchases towards products from other import competitors.

These observations suggest that  suspicion of the Moroccan consumer with regard to food “Made in Morocco” would find its origin in  lack of confidence in the work of  supervisory authority on the agri-food sector.

However, according to the law, this responsibility falls formally to  ONSSA (National Office for Sanitary Safety of Food Products), under the Ministry of Agriculture, which oversees the application of 28-07 Act on food safety.

Now, appearances are sometimes deceiving. The reality is that quality control of what we eat is the responsibility of a scattered authority of which ONSSA is only one of the components. Alongside, other organizations get involved in the control of food products without it being known who depends on whom and whether these officials are really connected to each other. For exemple,

There is  Morocco Foodex —  this is the new name of the EACCE (Etablissement Autonome de Contrôle et Coordination des Exportations), an organization created in the forties of the last century by the French protectorate to ensure the quality of imported products of Morocco by the metropolis — which is still there and does a job in principle suppressed by the 28-07 Act on food safety.

There are the Municipal Hygiene Offices, which come under the Ministry of the Interior, which give licenses to caterers, restaurants and others.

There is  LOARC (Official Laboratory for Chemical Analysis and Research), not directly linked to ONSSA. This laboratory assumes full responsibility for the analytical control work of the products submitted to it, including collecting of samples. That said, LOARC has subscribed to delegating its responsibility for sample collection to private entities without well-defined responsibility from a food safety perspective. The laboratory justifies this measure by a work overload. It’s possible. But this organization, which has a de facto monopoly on laboratory analyses, is perfectly profitable and can of course recruit more sampling technicians if it wishes. In our opinion, the reason for this subterfuge (delegation of sample collection to separate bodies) – inherited from the defunct Fraud Repression service working under the defunct coercive law 13-84 of the same name – lies elsewhere. In the event of a failure in the analytical control results, the determination of the source of the error, between the act of sampling and the laboratory analysis operations, proves compliated. This allows these civil servants to justify many years of service without having ever been worried by disciplinary or legal measures.

There is also the organization called Imanor, under the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Mr. Ryad Mezzour, which distributes all kinds of certifications to all those who wish. However, the certification of private Units by a state body (i.e. the State) runs counter to  Good Practices in force elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, certification represents service that an authorized service provider provides to a company that meets the regulatory conditions for this service. This is contract work. In this context, in the event that one of the contracting parties is not satisfied with its relationship with the partner,  eventuality that occurs in commercial activity, there is a dispute. That one can be resolved amicably or, failing that, before the commercial courts. These courts have the mission to act quickly to keep fluid commercial circuit. But in the event that an operator is led to lodge a complaint against the certifying State, it will have to do so before the administrative courts, the work of which deviates notoriously from the speed of execution assigned to the commercial courts. Then, dispute with the State can drag on for years, which is contrary to the expectations of operators. In addition, the company certified by the State may have false impression of being in a comfortable position which does not require it be insured for cases of its defected products. This impression is false, because according to the law it is the judge who decides, with regard to the damage suffered, the compensation to be provided to the plaintiff. Without insurance, the Unit can therefore be pushed into bankruptcy and state certification will be of no help.

If we look at things from the other side, a foreign customer, for example, harmed by a Moroccan private supplier certified by the State, would have, in the absence of insurance, less guarantee of being compensated correctly in the event of commercial litigation. The thing is, this prospect is part of the reviews that importers do before making their choice on the successful supplier from one country or else.

What we have just mentioned in the foregoing is a succinct summary of the inconsistencies and deficiencies that tarnish the work of those responsible for monitoring the quality of the food we consume.

It goes without saying that the organizations of European obedience, including the accreditation, certification, lobbying and other bodies, which abound in our country, are well informed of these weaknesses in our system of control and expertise.

For the moment, Morocco does not pose commercial risk to EU exporters since the Raw Materials that we sell to them serve them rather to fill their pockets. But the moment Morocco begins in earnest, as it has planned, to export processed products, it will be regarded as competitor that will have to be knocked down. There is no doubt that the inconsistencies and weaknesses mentioned above will then be carefully highlighted to affect the quality and safety of our products for export.

The reality is that we, as a nation, lack credibility with our work of control and expertise for the agri-food sector. So, it becomes urgent to correctly set up these structures in question and think, at the same time, of the accompanying measures to perpetuate them while making them more robust.

Our ambition as a future exporting country that counts for processed food products is at this price.