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Morocco to decide soon on domestic oil market opening

RABAT - Morocco is expected to decide this week on whether to extend the state protection on oil market opening or start a gradual liberalization as promised in 1997, Energy Minister Mustapha Mansouri said.

The Moroccan government announced five years ago when it privatized the country's main oil refiner Samir that a protection of the oil domestic market would remain in place until July 1, 2002 to help develop the local oil industry.

"Until now no decision has been made ... But we'll soon take the adequate measures to stop the debate over the oil market liberalization," Mansouri told Reuters by telephone.

A ministerial meeting will be held in the next few days, he said. Morocco liberalized in the 1990s imports of refined oil products but imposed heavy customers tariffs to protect Samir, then slated for sale.

Sweden-based Saudi Corral Holding AB purchased Samir and its subsidiary Societe Cherifienne des Petroles (SCP) in 1997 for around $500 million.

A gradual lifting of these tariffs -- 10 per cent each year over six years -- was expected to begin this month, as part of a free-trade zone agreement signed with the European Union in 1996. But Samir head Abderrahmane Saaidi last month urged the government to extend the state protection for at least three years to support the refinery's planned heavy investments.

Samir launched in 2000 a $700 million investment plan over five years to modernize production tools and reduce the sulfur in its refined products.

 

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