EU-Moroccan trade stirs debate over Western Sahara

Much has been said about Spanish opposition to a Moroccan-EU free trade agreement, but there are others outside the Iberian peninsula equally opposed to such an agreement - though for very different reasons.

There is controversy surrounding Morocco's administration of the Western Sahara region. So much so in fact that the USA and the European nations not in the EU, but part of the European Free Trade Agreement have refused to acknowledge exports from the region as covered by their agreements with Morocco.

80% of exports from the Western Sahara are fruit and vegetables. It's a growing industry. Vegetable production within a 70 mile radius of the town of Dakhla has increased by 2800% between 2003 and 2009. Fruit production has increased by 500% over the same period. The Moroccan government has plans for further expansion. This al sounds great except for the fat that opponents insist that this has all taken place at the expense of the native population, whom they say have been forced off their land and into refugee camps in the Algerian part of the dessert.

Norway's Minister for Foreign Trade has stated, "Morocco does not have the right exploit the area's resources as if they were its own." A Norwegian company was fined 1.2 million Euro last year for misinterpreting the EFTA free trade agreement with Morocco to include the Western Sahara region.

Some claim there is a problem in that the EU itself does not give the same attention to an exclusion of the region. This, they fear, will lead to tariff free exports from the Western Sahara, by organisation responsible for exploiting the region and its people.

The EU has already been informed by the UN that its former fishing operations in the area were in violation of international law. These activities ceased in 2011. Critics insist that agricultural produce must surely be covered by the same international legislation.

The critics, including Western Sahara Research Watch, say that the EU, largely looking to make easier the importation of Moroccan fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and melon and, to a lesser extent, bananas, pineapple and cucumbers, should be doing more in its trade discussion to encourage Morocco to change its stance in the region. They call for the EU to exclude produce from the region in any future agreement with Morocco.


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