The Casablanca International Mediation and Arbitration Centre (CIMAC), officially launched in late 2014, aims to bring a modern and streamlined alternative dispute resolution system to Morocco. Coming in addition to the modernisation of the mining regulations, the centre provides mining investors in the region with a credible and well-supported dispute resolution mechanism which may be used widely as an alternative to the local courts.
With eighty-five per cent of the world's phosphate reserves located in this part of Africa, as well as significant reserves of iron ore and uranium, mining companies are among the region's largest investors. Arbitration is generally viewed as the most appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes arising from these investments. Indeed, the Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines, or ONHYM, has standard form templates for mineral exploration and sale which provide for the arbitration of disputes, with Morocco as the venue. The streamlining of arbitration in Morocco can therefore only assist in providing mining investors, through such ONHYM contracts or otherwise, with efficient recourse. As can be seen from high profile disputes elsewhere in Africa, such as the pending arbitration involving Randgold Resources in Mali, there is a material risk of disputes in such investments, and the efficiency of the forum inevitably has a significant impact.
The launch of the CIMAC builds on steps already in progress in Morocco's development towards an efficient arbitral venue. The State has already reformed its legislation and can boast a modern law on international arbitration and mediation, based on widely accepted UNCITRAL model principles. It is also a party to both the New York Convention, facilitating the enforcement of arbitral awards, and the World Bank's ICSID Convention, allowing investors recourse against the State if international investment protection law is not respected. The CIMAC will go one step further in enabling disputes based in Morocco to be run efficiently, while at the same time raising awareness of arbitration and thereby assisting in the reduction of interference by the local courts. The Centre has the capacity to deal with arbitrations in Arabic, English and French, and its gateway location between the EU, Africa and the Middle East may even be significant within the wider region, providing a potentially valuable compromise venue for parties doing business between these regions.
At the CIMAC's launch, the Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane highlighted the importance of a neutral dispute settlement institution, independent from the court system, particularly in terms of efficiency. As he observed, "the Moroccan court system, like everywhere in the world, is characterised by the slowness of its procedures, something which is not compatible with the exigencies of the business world; hence the importance of a developed arbitral system". Further encouragement to potential users comes from the institution's aim to be fully international, including a substantial number of foreign individuals on its list of arbitrators and even the appointment of a foreign president to its arbitral court.
The launch of the CIMAC is part of the wider plan of King Mohammed VI to make Morocco a regional focal point for business, with the reform of the mining laws and the establishment of the Casablanca Finance City some of the headline projects in the aim of establishing Morocco as an efficient and stable place to do business. Certainly, the launch of the centre, in providing a viable option for the resolution of disputes, may assist all investors in the region, in the mining sector or otherwise.