RABAT, July 8 (Reuter) Morocco and the European Union have set up a joint ``guidance council'' to steer investment projects valued at up to $610 million to try to replace cannabis growing in the country's northern provinces, a Moroccan official said on Tuesday. The council, composed of ambassadors of EU countries and officials of the staterun Agency for the Economic and Social Development of Northern Provinces (AESDNP) ``held its first meeting in Rabat to examine immediate investment projects worth 5.8 billion dirhams ($610.5 million),'' Hassan Amrani, head of the AESDNP, told reporters. Morocco presented 71 feasible projects which would create new jobs, boost productivity of local fisheries, agriculture, and the tourism industry, Amrani said. Amrani said that local and foreign private businessmen would be involved in these projects. ``We expect the European community to participate at a level of 2.4 billion dirhams of the total amount to speed up the upgrading the Rif region's poor economy,'' he said. According to an AESDNP report, the remote northern mountainous RIF region has a population of six million people with average unemployment of more than 20 percent. The government plans to invest up to 15.5 billion dirhams in a fiveyear plan to open up the region by building new roads, dams, electricity and telecommunications networks and lay down the basis of industrial and agricultural development, Amrani added. An estimated 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) are annually cultivated with hashish whose harvest is transformed into canabis resin and most of it illegally exported to Europe, a Moroccan drug expert said. Western experts estimate funds generated annually from cannabis smuggling at up to $2.0 billion but officials decline to comment on the issue. A British drugs expert last week estimated the annual cannabis crop in Morocco at between 1,500 and 3,000 tonnes. To improve its image abroad, Morocco recently drew up a draft law which will raise the penalty for drug trafficking to up to 30 years in jail and fines to up to 800,000 dirhams ($86,000), the interior ministry said. ``Morocco's struggle against drug trafficking is also based on international cooperation (needed) because of the tight links between drug smuggling, money laundering, crime and terrorism...international solidarity is necessary to eradicate this curse,'' the ministry said earlier. Last year, Moroccan security forces seized 103 tonnes of cannabis bound for Europe. More than 18,000 drug traffickers were arrested, including 342 foreigners, most of them Europeans, the ministry added.