The reason for my trip is to represent FMO during a trade mission with Minister Lilianne Ploumen in Morocco and Tunisia.
When I started working at FMO a few years ago, coming from a commercial bank, I could not foresee how diverse my job as an investment officer would be. I’m usually working on several new transactions with often innovative entrepreneurs in West and North Africa, I closely monitor the portfolio of existing clients and regularly discuss the results on the environmental and social side of companies. And today it is time to join a trade mission group led by the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.
I’m flying via Casablanca to Tanger, accompanied by one of my clients, a Dutch entrepreneur who has been active in Morocco since 1948. While discussing the business I realize again what a challenge it is and how it really takes guts to set up your business in a developing country. Culture differences, logistic and trade challenges, different political context and the question of how you arrange financing if commercial funds are not available? At the same time there are unique opportunities there as well. Good and precise craft, market opportunities, closer management of your (supply) chain and the chance to really have positive impact.
On Monday we visit the impressive new cargo port, Tanger Med. To my surprise I find out that Tanger Med in Morocco is only 14 km away from the Spanish mainland. This area is to be developed into a logistics center to act as a gateway between Africa and Europe. I’m excited by the opportunities here. After this we continue our trip with Minister Ploumen to the company Trojaco, a 100% subsidiary of the Dutch company The Makers. This company produces tailor-made men’s suits and – not to forget – the well-known designer brand Dries van Noten! The icing on the cake, I would say.
As part of a mandatory relocation, Trojaco was obliged to build new manufacturing facilities. As FMO we were able to finance part of this, and in addition assist Trojaco with bringing the new production facility to compliance with the highest environmental and social standards, which is increasingly important in the fashion industry as we all know. With a bit of pride that FMO was able to support this Dutch entrepreneur abroad, I’m leaving Trojaco in Tanger and together with the others am heading to Rabat, where the Dutch embassy is located. In the evening we attend a trade dinner, where I meet several interesting companies all doing business in Morocco, most of them with a Dutch link. By the end of the evening I’m convinced of the market opportunities in this country; to be continued…
The next day’s program holds a waste seminar, with innovative Dutch entrepreneurs who see ample opportunity to bring their waste treatment solutions to the Moroccan market. Time flies and before I know it we’re heading to the airport to take off to our next destination: Tunisia, a country with unique agricultural resources. This moment is also unique for me, as I’m actually entering the official government aircraft for the first time. While some of my fellow travelers look as though this is part of their daily business activities, I’m honestly quite excited!
We land in Gabes, a city on the coast of Tunisia where we are scheduled to visit our next FMO client, Desert Joy. This is a subsidiary of the Dutch company Agrocare, one of the largest Dutch tomato growers. Agrocare had been looking for an opportunity to expand their winter production abroad in a sustainable way. When winter hits in the Netherlands, Dutch growers have to resort to artificial grow light to produce tomatoes. Tunisia offers us a tremendous amount of natural light, as well as a huge amount of available geothermal water, making the process far more energy efficient. When you’re confronted with such business cases, like how to grow tomatoes in an efficient and sustainable way in the winter, you realize that all the products we see in the supermarket have an entrepreneurial story. When Agrocare came across the opportunity to build greenhouses in Tunisia they believed this was the right step to take. By providing Desert Joy with financing FMO supports the export of Dutch horticultural best practices and techniques and safe and standardized working environments for employees (largely women). After several intensive days I said goodbye to the trade mission group with several business ideas to explore in the back of my mind. For sure to be continued…..