Morocco's King Mohammed VI starts his first official visit to Spain on Monday, when he is scheduled to sign several economic accords including one agreement aimed at creating Spanish-financed projects in northern Morocco worth 50 million dollars.
Madrid is furthermore expected to agree to convert some 40 million dollars of Moroccan debts -- estimated to total 879 million dollars -- into private investment.
In recent years Spain has strengthened its presence within its southern neighbor, especially in the relatively undeveloped northern regions of the country.
In doing so, it has become -- with almost 600 companies set up south of the Straits of Gibraltar -- Morocco's second provider and trading partner after France.
In 1999, Spain's direct investment reached 344 million dollars, or almost 20 percent of Morocco's foreign investment.
The visit by Mohammed VI -- who inherited the Moroccan throne after the death of his father last year -- will, analysts predict, present Spanish authorities with the opportunity to raise the thorny issue of fishing rights.
The two countries have been unable to reach agreement on the issue since Morocco denounced a fishing agreement with the European Union a year ago.
To the extent that the 600 European fishing vessels allowed under the agreement were essentially Spanish, Madrid would like Rabat to tone down its position and demands during discussions set to take place at the end of the month with the European Union.
Morocco justifies its tough stance by saying that its fishing resources are over-exploited and seriously threatened by the agreement.
Madrid is also likely to raise the issue of the smuggling of cannabis, which is grown in the north of Morocco, as well as the matter of illegal immigration from the Maghreb state to Europe via Spain.
Despite surveillance of Morocco's coastlines, the steady stream of young Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans arriving illegally every year in Spain continues to swell.
Frequent tragic accidents at sea -- including the drowning of one person and the disappearance of nine others after a boat carrying 90 Moroccans sank off Morocco's Atlantic coast late Saturday -- and Spain's consistent efforts to deport illegal immigrants have failed to stem the tide.
Spanish authorities have already let it be known they are not willing to broach the question of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, which Morocco wants to regain.
"We believe that these two towns do not constitute colonies and Spain is not willing to examine any question about their sovereignty," the Spanish ambassador to Rabat, Jorge Dezcallar, was quoted as saying in the newspaper Liberation on Friday.
The two countries are also expected to announce the setting up within two years of a themed "Morocco year" in Spain and a "Spain year" in Morocco – RABAT (AFP)
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