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"No difference between attacking Moroccan trucks in Europe and piracy in the Red Sea"

Since the end of January, attacks on Moroccan trucks loaded with fresh produce have been occurring in France and recently in Spain. Several Moroccan exporters have told FreshPlaza of their dismay and concern at the increase in raids. In a press release, the Moroccan Confederation of Agriculture and Rural Development (COMADER) expressed its "deep concern at the repeated and unfounded attacks on Moroccan products, as well as misinformation in the media", and stated that Moroccan agricultural exports "stand out for their high quality and strict compliance with the legal standards required on import markets."

Oussama Machi, an exporter based in the Souss Massa region, told FreshPlaza: "We are very badly affected by these mindless and unjustified acts. The people behind them don't care whether the trucks are destined for the Spanish market or the UK, and target trucks simply because they come from Morocco. What does a Spanish or French protester have to do with a tomato truck heading for the UK, which is no longer a member of the European Union? I don't see any difference between what's happening in Europe now and the attacks by Houthi pirates in the Red Sea."

The exporter describes the damage, in a testimony corroborated by other exporters from different Moroccan regions: "These people attack Moroccan trucks, destroy a few pallets, and leave the trucks open, which ruins the cold chain and causes fresh produce to spoil. All exporters are affected because those who escape the attacks suffer from blocked roads, delivery delays, and therefore penalties imposed by customers. When trucks manage to reach the markets, this creates congestion and a fall in prices."

According to Machi and several other industry sources, "all the damage was suffered solely by the exporters. Neither the transporters nor the insurance companies take any responsibility." An exporter based in the Larache region said he was turned down by his insurer on the basis that "goods insurance does not cover strikes or acts of banditry, either in Morocco or elsewhere." Contacted to comment on the situation, the Moroccan Insurance Federation did not respond to our requests.

Over the last few days, the situation has taken on significant proportions, to the point of slowing down the harvest of several crops in Morocco pending a settlement and a return to calm. An exporter based in the Gharb region told FreshPlaza that he had suspended his exports. Another exporter, based in Agadir, said, "Some of us cannot easily recover from the loss of a whole truckload."

"The mode of the protests, and their motive, are not at all justified." says Machi, "The protesters are using us as scapegoats to put pressure on their government, and get more subsidies, that's all. None of their accusations against Moroccan producers and exporters are well-grounded. On the contrary, it is Morocco that is coming out of the Association Agreement with the EU with a deficit, including in agricultural products. Morocco has an individual trade deficit with France and Spain as well. France imported $706 million worth of Moroccan tomatoes last year, and Morocco imported €868 million worth of French wheat, not to mention that trade is conducted in their currency, which is advantageous for their economy as a whole. It is in France's interest to buy Moroccan tomatoes, given their proximity and price, whereas Morocco would have to buy Russian wheat. And let's keep in mind that in all of Europe, only 3% of tomatoes are of Moroccan origin."

As for the accusations of "inferior quality of Moroccan products" and "non-compliance with environmental standards", Machi replies: "We are governed by the same certifications as they are in Europe, we obey the same standards and we have the same audits. On the opposite, Moroccan exporters are in fact at a huge disadvantage. Our Spanish and French counterparts say that our labor is cheaper, but we employ three times as many workers per hectare as they do. We have transport, export and other costs that they don't."

"They say our quality is inferior, but they re-label our products to sell them as if they were produced in Europe. Our only advantage is the climate. If Moroccan tomatoes disappear from the market, how will French or Spanish producers produce in winter? Will they use air-conditioned greenhouses, with carbon emissions that are harmful to the environment they defend? Or will we see empty shelves of tomatoes like last winter?"

Machi continues his plea in response to the protesters' accusations, "The price thresholds and volume quotas, as well as the contingent regime, effectively protect local production in Europe, and are already in place. They are in fact too strict for Moroccan exporters and European consumers alike, but we didn't expect European producers to be the ones complaining. It's worth remembering that Spain's business model is based on exports and that they have a firm grip on the market, selling all their volumes, never at a loss. There are times of the year when Moroccan exporters sell at a loss in order to meet their contracts."

Nevertheless, the exporter makes a distinction between protesters, "You can divide them into two sides: there are what I would call the criminals, who are lashing out at the Moroccan trucks, with the full complacency of the law enforcement and in total impunity, intimidating the drivers, to put pressure on their government and the European Commission. On the other hand, there are the farmers who are suffering and are crumbling under the weight of debts. We read with great sorrow and distress the statistics on the suicides of our fellow farmers in France. But we are not at all in the same competitive schemes with them."

"What's more, although the free trade agreements have enabled Morocco to integrate into the global economy, we still have a large deficit, especially with Europe," adds Machi. "It's only in tomatoes and certain fresh produce that we have the advantage, and European consumers need these products from a close, reliable, and stable source like Morocco," he concludes. In its statement, COMADER pointed out that "between 2021 and 2022, Moroccan exports of agricultural products to the EU increased by 15%, while exports to Spain rose by 2%. Over the same period, EU agricultural exports to Morocco have increased by 75%, while Spanish exports have risen by 20%."

For more information:
Oussama Machi
Casamance Food
Tel: +212661178150
Email: [email protected]