MOROCCO DEVELOPS JORF LASFAR TO EASE CASABLANCA TRAFFIC

MOROCCO DEVELOPS JORF LASFAR TO EASE CASABLANCA TRAFFIC

Morocco is developing new bulk cargo facilities at the Port of Jorf Lasfar in order to relieve congestion at the Port of Casablanca, its largest harbor.

Port officials at Jorf Lasfar, which has been in operation for less than two years, say their facilities are designed to meet requirements for up to 50 million tons of goods a year. The new port is located 70 miles southwest of Casablanca, convenient for Morocco's most important agricultural and mining regions.Initially, most cargo moving through the port has been raw and processed phosphates and related products. Morocco, the world's largest exporter of phosphates, is said to hold three-quarters of the world's known reserves.

The Moroccan government is under intense pressure from the International Monetary Fund andcreditor banks, as well as local industries, to increase exports. Its imports, valued at $4 billion a year, were more than double the amount earned from exports.

The anticipated cargo volumes at Jorf Lasfar indicate that the government expects a major shift in Morocco's current port activities.

In 1986, the year for which most recent figures are available, port facilities in Casablanca handled 17.6 million tons of cargo, followed by Safi, with 5 million tons, and Mohammedia with 4.2 million tons of international cargo. Jorf Lasfar handled less than 2 million tons, mostly phosphate-related traffic. Nevertheless, that made it Morocco's fourth-ranked port in its first year of operation.

This year, officials expect Jorf Lasfar to handle about 5 million tons, including mixed cargo, cereals and other produce from the region's farms, and petroleum products, in addition to phosphates and related material. In terms of cargo volume, the projections have it tied with Safi as Morocco's second- largest port after Casablanca.

The transfer of phosphate shipping activity from Casablanca to Jorf Lasfar is expected to free up valuable land for other industrial development. At the same time, this would make it easier for manufactured goods produced in the Casablanca region - the nation's economic heartland - to be efficiently brought to market.

According to government officials, the Jorf Lasfar facilities, opened in 1986, cost $1.7 billion. Of this, $1.3 billion was provided by the state-owned phosphate monopoly. The rest came from state agencies governing railways, ports, water and electricity, and from the educational department of the Department of Equipment, which helped train port workers and oversee construction work.

In addition to phosphate exports, Jorf Lasfar also handles significant shipments of fertilizer, sulfur (imported to make sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid and fertilizer), cereals and diverse cargoes.

Trains carrying up to 4,000 tons of phosphate now run continuously between the Khouribga mines and Jorf Lasfar; the same line also handles rapid passenger trains to Jadida, connecting at Nouaceur for Casablanca, Rabat, and points beyond.

An industrial park has also been built at Jorf Lasfar. Although it is not expected to challenge Casablanca, the complex should provide a better regional economic mix. It is part of the government's efforts to boost exports, decentralize the economy and encourage the development of outlying regions.

Few industrial facilities are now active. Port officials say they hope to attract foreign and local investors to the port with the help of the government's new investment incentives, including 100 percent ownership in selected industries, liberal tax holidays, and reduced import-export regulation.

In addition, the port also is the planned site for two other major installations, a thermal power plant capable of supplying 45 percent of the nation's electricity by the year 2000 and an oil refinery with the capacity of 5 million tons.

Construction of these facilities has been postponed, due to the government's strained financial position. However, building may begin as Morocco activates its 1988-92 five year plan, which emphasizes regional development, particularly through spending on infrastructure projects increasing water supply, electricity distribution and telephone services.