At the beginning of January 2024, the Mauritanian authorities decided to triple transit fees for Moroccan fruit and vegetables, raising them from €1,600 to €4,600. A surprising decision for Moroccan exporters, unexplained by the Mauritanian side. In an attempt to understand the background of this decision, we spoke to Mehdaoui El Mokhtar, a national Moroccan grower who has operations in Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal.
To understand Mauritania's motives, it's essential to recall the episode of March 2023, when Morocco halted the export of several crops to West Africa. Mehdaoui says, "Morocco has been suffering from a severe and constant drought for the past 4 years, which has led to a shortage of water and the depletion of the water table. Prices of fresh produce have soared on the local Moroccan market, and the government has been forced to ban the export of onions and potatoes to West African countries, including Mauritania."
Another vegetable grower based in Souss Massa told FreshPlaza: "The ban on exports has been experienced as a humiliation in many West African countries, which relied on the Moroccan supply, and have suddenly seen the supply fail to reach their citizens."
However, the decision to increase customs tariffs at the Moroccan-Mauritanian border will be beneficial on several levels, believes Mehdaoui. "First of all, this decision will have an impact on all Moroccan supplies to Africa, since Mauritania is the only gateway to the Sahel countries. This will encourage a better organization of trade and a shift towards sea transport, which is positive for all parties."
"Secondly, the tax increase will benefit Senegalese producers and exporters, who will see their exports to Mauritania increase. Of course, the local Mauritanian market will be impacted by the drop in Moroccan supply, but this won't happen until the beginning of May, thanks to Senegalese supplies. So there's plenty of time to adapt," adds Mehdaoui.
Finally, the decision was quickly felt on the local Moroccan market. According to the Moroccan news website Medias24, prices for Moroccan tomatoes have fallen on wholesale markets in Morocco, a fact directly linked to the drop in volumes exported through Mauritania.
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