EU court quashes trade deals with Morocco over Western Sahara
European judges annulled two trade and fisheries agreements between the EU and Morocco, a victory for activists who argued that the union had not obtained consent from the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
The EU court on Wednesday overturned a 2019 trade deal and a fisheries deal that would allow Morocco to export agricultural products to Europe from the resource-rich region of Western Sahara, on which Rabat has long claimed sovereignty.
But the independence movement in Western Sahara, known as the Polisario Front, has launched legal action against the agreements, arguing that they should not automatically extend to the region. The Luxembourg court ruled in favor of the move on Wednesday, ruling that EU governments had not obtained sufficient consent from the people of Western Sahara when ratifying the agreements.
“The measures taken by the EU authorities before the conclusion of the agreements in question cannot be considered as having obtained the consent of the people of Western Sahara”, declared the court. However, he added that the cancellation would not go into effect immediately, which would allow both sides to appeal against the decision.
Oubi Bachir, the Polisario Front’s envoy to the EU, said the court decision was a “historic judgment” and a “victory for the Saharawi people at the hands of European justice”. Rabat declined to comment.
The cancellation is a blow to EU-Morocco relations and comes after European judges ruled in 2018 that a previous fisheries agreement could not apply to Western Sahara. The EU is Morocco’s largest trading partner, with nearly two-thirds of the country’s exports sold in the bloc.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, said the bloc was determined to continue stable trade relations with Morocco despite the judgment. “We remain fully mobilized to continue cooperation between the EU and Morocco,” Borrell said in a joint statement issued with Nasser Bourita, Moroccan Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The EU and Morocco struck a pact in 2019 to modify a series of preferential tariffs for products of Moroccan origin, alongside an agreement allowing EU vessels to fish in Moroccan and Western Sahara waters. Last year, the committee published a report claiming that the agreement “brought benefits to Western Sahara and its people in terms of exports, economic activity and employment”.
“The Tribunal considers the Front as the representative of the Saharawi people who, consequently, has the capacity to take legal action before European courts to defend the sovereign rights of its people”, declared Bashir.
The FT has revamped Trade Secrets, its go-to daily briefing on the changing face of international trade and globalization.
Sign up here to understand which countries, companies and technologies are shaping the new global economy.
In response to the court ruling, Spain said Morocco was a “strategic partner”, noting that for the moment the fisheries and agriculture agreements remained in force.
Madrid’s relations with Morocco came under pressure this year when it admitted the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement for hospital treatment – but he has close economic ties to and depends on the North African country. for intelligence cooperation against Islamist extremists.
After a 30-year ceasefire, fighting resumed last year between the Polisario Front and Morocco, following Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Rabat’s claims on Western Sahara in exchange for the normalization of relations of the kingdom with Israel. Tensions have since simmered in the form of lightning strikes and long-range Polisario bombardments against Moroccan units along the sandy berm that separates the two sides.