November 23, 2014 / 8:51 AM / 5 years ago

Casablanca financial centre plans arbitration body to grow in region

MARRAKESH, Morocco, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Casablanca’s international financial centre will launch a business arbitration body this week in an effort to expand its footprint in the region, an official involved with the project said.

“In the past, African companies might go to Paris, Brussels or Geneva to resolve their business disputes,” said Said Ibrahimi, chief executive of the Moroccan Financial Board, a public-private body which oversees Casablanca Finance City.

“Now they will be able to stay in Africa and find professional services here,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a business conference.

Morocco’s government began developing Casablanca Finance City in 2010 as a banking centre for French-speaking Africa, in the same way that Johannesburg and Mauritius serve English-speaking countries on the continent.

Financial companies, professional services firms and regional headquarters of multinationals can become members of the centre, receiving tax concessions and other benefits such as fast-track visa procedures for staff.

In setting up an international arbitration body, Morocco is following the example of the Middle East’s top banking hub, the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Dubai’s arbitration body and the DIFC court system are reasons for multinationals to locate themselves in the DIFC; they encourage lawyers and other professional service firms to set up shop in the emirate, bringing down costs and helping to create an ecosystem which attracts more financial companies.

Ibrahimi said experienced arbitrators would be invited from around the world, including Europe and Asia, to serve in Casablanca’s arbitration body, in much the same way as the DIFC employs many foreign judges for its court system.

About 60 companies, including arms of major foreign banks such as BNP Paribas, are currently members of Casablanca Finance City and the number is expected to rise to 100 by the end of 2015, Ibrahimi said. A 100-hectare zone in Casablanca is being developed to physically house the companies, and the first ones are expected to move in by 2016. (Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Olzhas Auyezov)

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