After the revolutionary waves that affected the Arab world in 2011, the European Union has immediately taken the chance to speed up the democratization process in the Mediterranean basin. As it already did in the last decade, the EU chose to support the neighboring Countries by tightening the economic ties with them.
Morocco is an international crossroads. Thanks to its geographical position and to its political stability, Morocco is considered as the “door of Africa” and it has demonstrated to be a strategic partner for the EU. In 2000, the Association Agreement between the EU and Morocco entered into force. In particular the Agreement set the arrangements for the establishment of a free trade area, promoting the agricultural and fishery products circulation.
On March 1st, 2013, the Negotiation for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) was launched. The Agreement aims to balance the Moroccan trade legislation to the European one. In addition, an EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural, and fisheries products entered into force on October 1st, 2012. In 2014, Morocco gained the position as first trading partner of the EU (€29.25 billion total trade volume). The main products imported from Morocco are machinery and transport equipment, clothes and textile goods and agricultural products. While the products exported by the EU are metals, transport equipment and machines. On December 10th, 2015, the business flows increased during the last years was blocked by the decision of the European Court of Justice to invalidate the trade agreement. The interruption is referred in particular to the agricultural and fishery goods exportation.
The decision has political roots: the agreement included also products coming from the occupied territory of Western Sahara. As the area known as Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic considers itself independent from Morocco, it does not accept the authority of this State. In 2012, The Polisario Front, a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement aiming to end Moroccan presence in the Sahara, brought the case to the Court highlighting the dangerous effect it could generate in the area. The Court decided to void the trade deal with Morocco.
Rabat affirmed to be surprised by this decision expecting the EU will find a solution to keep the agreement alive without modifications. The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs defined this decision “incoherent” and “unintelligible” considering the strong cross border cooperation relationship set with the EU. He also specified that “the Moroccan farmers are waiting to know which effects the Court’s decision will produce on the economy of the Country.” During her visit to Rabat, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, replied: “The (European) Council disagrees with the ruling of Dec. 10 […] that is why an appeal has been lodged at the European Court.”
Last March, when the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Algeria, he used the term “occupation” to describe Morocco’s annexation of a large part of the Western Sahara region in 1975. This visit has been criticized by the French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Gilles Pargneaux. “I am astonished – he said – that Ban Ki-moon claimed that no progress has been made between the parties while the kingdom of Morocco submitted in 2007 to his office an autonomy plan whose own services and Security Council deemed as ‘credible’.” The suspension of the trade deal is animating the debate whereas, in the backdrop, the Polisario Front keeps on claiming the independence of Western Sahara.
Considering the long treaties drawn up to protect the human rights and different cultures, and taking into account the importance of social partnership as an essential element of the cross-border cooperation relationships, the EU should be worried about the protection of the Sub-Saharan African minorities in Morocco. In particular, the EU should consider that the Polisario Front is trying to preserve the Sahrawi culture and identity. The International coordinator of Western Sahara Resource Watch, Sara Eyckmans, declared: “This judgment shows how clear-cut the Western Sahara case is legally. Neither Morocco nor the EU have the right to exploit the resources of Western Sahara. No State in the world recognizes the baseless Moroccan claims to that land. If the EU wants to deal with the goods of Western Sahara, they need to first consult the people of the territory, not Morocco.”
On the other hand, during the last years, this kind of trade agreement has damaged the business of some South European goods such as citrus and olive oil. These products have always represented a precious and rich income for their producers such as Sicily. In facts, its recent agricultural business scenario has been characterized by the depreciation of the citrus market during the winter season 2015–2016. In particular, it has suffered a high economic damage, and this impacted negatively on the economy of the whole area.
Considering that the Mediterranean has always been considered a thriving zone, the recovery of such agreement and the total liberalization of agricultural products coming from the North Africa, will generate an economic gap within the Mediterranean basin itself. Although the idea of economic partnership is a major objective of the European policies, if the European Union is not able to protect its own producers and their products, it will eventually increase the economic gap that already exists between the North and South of Europe.
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El Yakoobi, Aziz. “Morocco Supends contacts with the UE over Curt ruling on the farm trade,” Reuters, 25 February 2015. uk.reuters.com/article/uk-eu-morocco-westernsahara-idUKKCN0VY273
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European Parliament. “EU-Morocco trade agreement and adverse impact on agricultural production in Mediterranean countries,” Parliamentary questions, 12 January 2016. www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+P-2016-000174+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN
Tsukerman, Irina. “EU Court Decision’s on Morocco-EU Agriculture Agreement Is Contrary to International Law,” Morocco World News, 3 March 2016. www.moroccoworldnews.com/2016/03/181246/eu-court-decisions-on-morocco-eu-agriculture-agreement-is-contrary-to-international-law/