After the meeting, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was quoted saying "these negotiations show the EU’s strong commitment to further developing its trade and investment ties with Southern Mediterranean partners who are committed to political and economic reforms".
The Commissioner's statement on Morocco's supposed commitment to reform coincided with an aggressive lobby campaign by Morocco to counter the proposal by the United States to have the UN monitor human rights in Western Sahara. Morocco considered this to the "an attack to their national sovereignty". The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that there was no need for human rights monitoring in Western Sahara, as there were "more violations in the north". The Commission's trade talks started 22 April, the same date as the Security Council sat down to discuss the MINURSO mandate.
It is precisely Morocco's misinterpretation of its national sovereignty which is at the heart of the EU's dubious stance on Western Sahara. While the Union does not recognise Morocco's self-proclaimed sovereignty over the occupied territory, it does not go the extra mile to also have the territory expressly excluded from its trade deals with Morocco, such as the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).
The DCFTA is geared towards gradually integrating the Moroccan economy into the EU single market. The talks are expected to deepen existing trade relations in a number of areas not yet covered, such as services and public procurement, investment protection and commitments on competition and intellectual property rights.
Furthermore, the DCFTA will simplify existing customs procedures and remove trade barriers, industrial standards and food safety requirements.
The EU is Morocco's biggest trading partner, accounting for around 50% of the country’s total trade. EU-Morocco trade in goods has continued to grow in recent years, reaching more than €26 billion in 2012. Trade in services are worth €7 billion according to the latest available figures. The total bilateral direct investment stocks approach €29 billion.
The second negotiating round is scheduled for end June in Brussels.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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