By Ahmed Eljechtimi and Ulf Laessing
KSAR SGHIR, Morocco (Reuters) - Morocco will open new terminals at its Tanger Med port on Thursday allowing it to surpass the largest ports in the Mediterranean Algeciras and Valencia, and driving further investment and manufacturing to the country.
Already the biggest port in Africa with an annual volume of 3.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 2018, Tanger Med will add six million in capacity after its extension worth 1.3 billion euros making it the largest in terms of container capacity in the Mediterranean, Rachid Houari, port director, told Reuters.
Morocco hopes the port, which offers a platform for exports by local production plants of French car makers such as Renault and Peugeot, will reach volumes of 4.5 million TEU by this year's end like Algeciras in southern Spain.
Located on the western tip of the Mediterranean just across from the Spanish coast port authorities hope it can build on its role as a calling point for container shipping firms, especially between Asia, Africa and Europe.
"I hope we will add one million TEU of containers every year," said Houari. He declined to give an exact forecast about future volumes, saying only the original terminal had reached 3.5 million TEU in just six years.
"Fingers crossed we will fill it up in six years," he said.
Some 90% of container volumes passing through the ports are transit to other destinations, he said. The biggest market is West Africa with a share of 40 percent, a region where Moroccan firms have heavily expanded to in recent years. Some 20% will go to Europe and 10% to the Americas.
Morocco invested 1 billion euros in the first terminal which has created some 76,000 jobs in the vicinity, he said.
The port is located some 50km west of Tangier, the main city in northern Morocco, to allow space for expansion.
Tangier also has a ferry terminal carrying some 40,000 people per day in the summer peak season as Moroccans living in Europe cross the Mediterranean.
The terminals are operated by APM Terminal, owned by Denmark's Maersk, Germany's Eurogate and a local firm.
(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)