EU to secure agriculture trade pact after Morocco’s warning
Casablanca - The European Union has said it would take appropriate measures to preserve its partnership with Morocco and secure an agriculture trade agreement after Rabat warned that failure to implement the accord would bring dire consequences for both parties.
“Ours is a model partnership, rich and multidimensional,” said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Moroccan Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita in a statement after their February 7th meeting in Brussels. “The EU and Morocco are determined to preserve and develop it,” she said.
The statement said that “partnership between the EU and Morocco is the fruit of a patient construction of almost half a century” and that talks between the European Union and Morocco would continue in an “atmosphere of serenity and mutual confidence”.
The meeting was several weeks after a December 21st statement from Mogherini and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar announced that the European Union’s top court had overturned a decision by a lower tribunal to quash the European trade deal with Morocco.
That ruling was a blow to the Polisario Front, a separatist movement seeking independence in the Western Sahara, which had argued that the 2012 trade deal had been illegally applied to the disputed Western Sahara. An EU court agreed, annulling the trade deal on those grounds and in early 2016 Rabat suspended ties with Brussels.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on December 21st overruled the general court’s decision, concluding that the liberalisation agreement does not apply to Western Sahara.
“It must be held that the Front Polisario cannot, in any event, be regarded, in light of the arguments on which it relies, as having standing to seek annulment of the decision at issue. Consequently, the action must be dismissed as inadmissible,” the CJEU ruling stated.
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, has been the centre of controversy for decades. Morocco maintains it is part of its kingdom but Polisario Front separatists have pushed for an independent state. A bloody conflict between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan state left thousands dead before a UN ceasefire in 1991.
Before the meeting in Brussels, Morocco’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries warned that failure to fully implement the accord would jeopardise thousands of jobs in Morocco and Europe, trigger a new flow of migration to Europe and place the continent at risk.
Agriculture accounts for 15% of Morocco’s gross domestic product and employs 40% of the country’s workforce. About 80% of agricultural jobs are in rural areas. Job losses could drive Moroccan farmers to migrate to Europe, where countries are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants.
Illegal immigrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, try to cross from Morocco to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla every day.
“We have a free trade agreement, a win-win partnership,” said Moroccan Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch. “Unfortunately, there are areas of uncertainty about everything that is prepared in Brussels. As a minister of Agriculture, I still haven’t understood the commission’s position in relation to the southern zones.”
“We do not want to enter the internal kitchen of the European institutions,” he said in reference to EU courts, the European Council and the European Commission.
Akhannouch warned that if the trade protocol is not fully implemented, he would reach out to trading partners in Russia, the United States, China or Africa.
Professor Lotfi Abourizk, from the Hassan II faculty of Law and Economics in Casablanca, said Akhannouch’s warning was common sense.
“I think Akhannouch’s declaration was very logical,” Abourizk said. “It is a European problem that has to be resolved within European institutions.
“Morocco is right to up the tone because it has other potential markets to exploit should the EU fail to fulfil its obligations.”