Agriculture rapporteur concerned but favours Western Sahara trade deal

In spite of having multiple reasons against the deal - including an EU Court ruling - the rapporteur of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee recommends Parliament to consent to including Western Sahara into the EU-Morocco trade deal.
Published: 09.10 - 2018 09:37Printer version    
In a meeting of the Agriculture Committee, French christian-democrat Michel Dantin, in the morning of 9 October 2018, the committee's rapporteur on the proposed EU-Morocco trade arrangement for Western Sahara, presented his Draft Opinion which calls on Parliament to support the deal.

Read Mr Dantin's full Draft Opinion here. His suggestions to the Motion for a Resolution on the proposal can be found here.

Remarkably, the rapporteur's actual argumentation would lead Parliamentarians to do the opposite, and withhold their consent. In his Draft Opinion, the rapporteur:

  • "feels that he should point out that certain fruit and vegetable imports from Morocco and Western Sahara (tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, etc.) are a highly issue for the European horticultural sector".
  • "emphasises that there are still major competitiveness issues for European producers owing to the wide divergences compared with Moroccan producers in terms of labour costs, working conditions and environmental standards".
  • "points out that very ambitious plans have been drawn up with a view to further developing such production and exports [from Western Sahara]", thus calling on the Commission to "never hesitate to activate the safeguard clause provided for in the agreement" to protect the EU's own farmers from market disruptions.
  • notes that "the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development recommended that consent should not be given" to the original agreement back in 2011 (thus not yet officially including Western Sahara) and that "most of the concerns expressed" back then are "still relevant today".
  • expresses his concern "that the Commission has been unable to provide reliable data on preferential imports of products from Western Sahara that may have been carried out since that date [21 December2016], in spite of the judgment in question", and "wonders what the cost has been to the EU budget of any preferences granted during the period concerned without a valid legal basis" and accordingly is "doubtful whether the Commission is able to assess the impact of the proposed agreement properly".
  • is "doubtful whether the distinction drawn in the new agreement between products from the Sahara and those from Morocco is relevant from a customs and trade perspective".

    The singular argument submitted by the rapporteur as to why Parliament should support the proposal, is that "this would provide a stable and unassailable framework  for trade with a major partner of the EU". That is, however, far from certain. The representation of the people of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front, has already announced further legal action as they believe the basic requirement set out by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) - that the people of Western Sahara ought to consent to having an EU-Morocco agreement affect their territory - has not been met. The Court put forth the criterion of consent in its judgment of 21 December 2016, which concluded that no EU Trade or Association Agreement with Morocco can be applied to Western Sahara.

    MEPs critical

    Most MEPs taking the floor in today's debate still had many questions, particularly with regard to the legal basis for the proposal. Rapporteur Dantin and the Committee's Chair, Czeslaw Adam Siekierski (Poland, EPP) argued that the Committee for Agriculture should not be concerned with non-agricultural matters. Thomas Waitz (Austria, Greens), Maria Noichl (Germany, S&D), and Lydia Senra-rodriguez (GUE, Spain) did not agree, and demanded answers from the Commission.

    DG TAXUD, represented by Mr Perrau de Pinninck, told the MEPs that the Court had not ruled out that an agreement with Morocco could be extended to Western Sahara, provided there was consent. But consent cannot be ascertained, Mr Perrau de Pinninck stated, the Commission cannot organise a referendum. So there had been a wide consultation of the people of Western Sahara and that the vast majority of those consulted expressed support for the deal. He expressed that some, including the Polisario Front, opposed the proposed trade deal over non-economic reasons, adding that the concept of consent does not mean there has to be unanimous consent.

    It should be added that among the list of 112 groups and individuals that the Commission presents as 'consulted' bodies, the name of Western Sahara Resource Watch appears together with 93 other organisations that had either never been invited to a consultation process or that had rejected taking part. Polisario is also included in the list - though the email correspondence between the EU Commission and Polisario documents that an informal meeting set up at the request of Polisario to engage the EU in trade negotiations following the CJEU judgment, has been misused to create the impression that Polisario had taken part in the consultation process. Nothing in the emails sent by the Commission hints of a consultation procedure. Dozens of Saharawi civil society groups that were never even invited to take part in the consultation, but that did issue a joint-letter to condemn the Commission's approach of negotiating over their land with Morocco, were also lumped in as having been consulted.

    "Once again, the Commission is being dishonest to Parliament", says Sara Eyckmans of Western Sahara Resource Watch. "None of the 18 stakeholders - not exactly a vast number - taking part in the consultation process represents the people of Western Sahara: they are either politicians elected in Morocco's elections held illegally in the territory or Moroccan economic operators. The people of Western Sahara were not approached for their consent, and weren't invited to a consultation process - even though the Commission tries to make it appear as if they have".

    In response to questions by other MEPs as to whether products form Western Sahara respect the standards that EU producers should respect, Mr Perrau de Pinninck stated that phyto-sanitary standards will be rigorously monitored, and assured a 100% applicaiton of those standards in Western Sahara. He added that the agreement provides for monitoring and exchange of information with Morocco, and that the Commission is working with the Moroccan authorities to obtain reliable data.

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    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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