EU appears clueless on import levels from Western Sahara
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The EU Commission puts the trade flow from Western Sahara into the Union at "just €7000" for the entire year of 2016. "Beggars belief", WSRW states.
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EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström mentioned the odd figure in a letter sent to Bernd Lange, Chair of the European Parliament's Trade Committee, earlier this month. Lange had previously requested the Commission to provide statistics on the EU's trade with Western Sahara.

The territory is treated by the UN as the last unresolved colonial question in Africa, and under partial illegal occupation by the EU's trading partner, Morocco.

While Commissioner Malmström puts the value of processed fish products from the occupied territory to the EU at €122 million for 2016, the remainder of products covered by the trade deal would amount to "just €7000".

"After years of nothing but vague wordings from the EU Commission on the matter of imports from occupied Western Sahara, this very precise number that is now being coughed up makes no sense whatsoever", says Davide Contini from Western Sahara Resource Watch. "It is obvious the Commission hasn't the faintest idea about the trade volume."

Interestingly, the Trade Commissioner's statement is contradicted by the EU's Foreign Affairs Chief, Federica Mogherini. Replying to a question by an Italian Euro-Parliamentarian from the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP, Mogherini stated in September that it is "difficult for the EU to accurately quantify from EU international trade databases the share of total trade actually coming from Western Sahara".  

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In 2012, WSRW published the first ever report on agricultural industry in Western Sahara, documenting how produce grown on the different sizeable plantations near the town of Dakhla made its way to EU supermarkets. Since the publication, the plantations have expanded in size, indicative of a profitable business undertaking.

"The 2012 EU-Morocco trade liberalisation deal covered essentially two sectors; fisheries and agricultural products. It is inexplicable that the Commission would claim that the total agricultural export from Western Sahara to the EU in 2016 did not exceed €7000", says Contini. "Unless if one takes into account that the EU outsourced responsibility by allowing importers to choose the trade scheme for declaring their purchases."

In her letter, Commissioner Malmström does admit that before the judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) of 21 December 2016, imports from Western Sahara were overwhelmingly declared as being from Morocco rather than Western Sahara in order to obtain tariff preferences. As such, the Commissioner writes, the collected statistics don't reflect the real volume of trade. Between the lines, the Commission admits to years of tariff fraud on these imports and hence to a substantial loss in terms of EU budget revenue.

The landmark CJEU judgment clarified that since Western Sahara has a distinct and separate status from Morocco, no EU trade or association agreement can be applied to the territory, unless with the explicit consent of the people of Western Sahara.

But the EU is unwilling to stop importing from Western Sahara. And instead of respecting the Court's judgement and engaging with the Saharawis, the EU Commission is doing the opposite: it has turned to occupying power Morocco to discuss how Western Sahara can remain inside the geographical scope of the EU's trade deal with Morocco. The Commission is expected to finalise a deal with Morocco in the next months. A deal that it is thus negotiated with the wrong (and unlawful) interlocutors, and one lacking any impact assessment in terms of trade effects on the EU market.

"So far, the Commission has not presented any credible figures on the trade flow from Western Sahara to the EU. This goes against long-established EU practice", Contini continues. "It is hard to imagine EU governments agreeing to a trade deal with any given nation, without knowing the relevant facts and figures. They would never sign a blank check. Yet when it comes to Western Sahara, all logic and legal requirements are out of the window. It is a joke."

Both EU Member States and the European Parliament will cast a vote on the outcome of the negotiations. "It is hard to imagine how Member States - and Members of the European Parliament - will be able to justify approving an agreement which has been negotiated without any due consideration to international and European law, and ultimately, without any due consideration to the interests of European businesses and consumers", Contini observes.



    

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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.
EU Court cases on Western Sahara for dummies

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It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Stand up for the Gdeim Izik 25!

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Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
Support Western Sahara Resource Watch

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Help us to protect the natural resources of Western Sahara for the Saharawi people. Support our work by making a donation.
Report: Moroccan green energy used for plunder

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At COP22, beware of what you read about Morocco’s renewable energy efforts. An increasing part of the projects take place in the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is used for mineral plunder, new WSRW report documents.

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