Morocco-EU trade deal draws fire
The European Parliament has signed off a trade deal with Morocco which poses questions about the status of Western Sahara.
The pact, agreed Thursday (16 February), liberalises EU-Morocco trade in agriculture and fisheries and ups the quotas for zero or low duty imports between the two.
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EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos called it "a balanced agreement, which opens new opportunities for our producers in Europe and paves the way for a real reinforcement in our relations with Morocco."
It will knock off 55 percent of tariffs on Morocco agricultural products and fish and up to 70 percent of tariffs on the EU equivalent within 10 years.
Some restrictions apply to "sensitive" produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, tangerines, garlic, zucchini and sugar.
MEPs say the deal will support the country's transition to democracy while alleviating economic and security problems.
Agriculture accounts for 38 percent of the kingdom's workforce, while unprocessed fruit and vegetables from Morocco account for 80 percent of its total imports into the EU, reports Reuters.
"The European Parliament was rightly in favour of the democratic transitions that were taking place in the so called 'Arab spring,' and strongly in favour of measures encouraging economic stability in North Africa," said British Labour MEP and rapporteur David Martin.
Some tomato growers do not like it.
On Tuesday, Spanish farmers dumped 200 kilos of tomatoes on the doorstep of the European Parliament's office in Madrid in protest. Their unions say the deal risks undermining 450,000 jobs in the vegetable sector.
But other critics have more serious concerns.
Opponents say the deal flaunts international laws that prohibit commercial exploitation in the Western Sahara, however. The region - the size of the UK - was annexed by Morocco just before the Spanish pulled out their colonial masters in 1976.
Under a United Nations General Assembly resolution, the indigenous Sahrawi are entitled to a referendum to determine whether to become an independent state or an autonomous Moroccan region. No such referendum has taken place to date.
The Green's French Jose Bove said the EU should exclude the Western Sahara from the trade agreement. The US, he says, has no such trade agreement.
"It is politically irresponsible in terms of the signal its sends to the international community," he added.
"The text of the mandate does not even refer to Western Sahara, which has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975," said Mohamed Sidati, an envoy in Europe of the Polisario Front, the political wing of the region's indepenence movement.