Agrium Inc, a Canadian agro-business, is expecting its first shipment of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara by the end of the month. The matter has attracted media attention in Canada, stating that "it could be the first import of conflict minerals coming directly into Canada since the apartheid era in South Africa".
Photo: Neptune Bulk Terminals in Vancouver, where the first shipment of phosphate from occupied Western Sahara to Canada is to arrive on 24 October 2013.
On 24 October, the bulk carrier Ultra Bellambi is scheduled to arrive at Vancouver. On board of the freighter are 60.000 tonnes of phosphate rock from the Bou Craa mines in Western Sahara. The cargo is worth almost $10 million. That money however, will not end up with the Saharawi people of Western Sahara - the original and sole people of the territory - but with the Moroccan regime that has occupied large parts of their country since 1975.
The phosphate rock was purchased by Calgary based Agrium Inc, under the terms of an agreement it concluded earlier this year with Moroccan state owned company Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP). Agrium confirmed to Canadian newspaper The Tyee that it would import one million tonnes each year until 2020, and that part of the imports will be sourced in Western Sahara.
Western Sahara Resource Watch has contacted Agrium Inc in April this year, calling on the company to refrain from importing from the Bou Craa mines in Western Sahara through their contract with OCP.
Agrium responded that "on issues related to disputed territorial claims, Agrium looks to guidance from the Canadian and US governments before entering into any agreement which may be related to the territory. Agrium's agreement with OCP complies with the respective trade and customs laws of these jurisdictions."
WSRW has today sent another letter to the company, denouncing the imports and asking for disclosure of cited legal evaluations.
A UN Legal Opinion on exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources is quite clear that such activity is illegal if not done in accordance with the wishes and the interests of the people of the territory - the Saharawi. The latter have unequivocally stated that they do not consent to Agrium's imports, through a letter by their political representation Frente Polisario to the company.
The Tyee quotes Peter Chapman, executive director of the shareholder advisory organization SHARE, "If it's not possible to purchase phosphate rock from Western Sahara in a manner that's consistent with international law, then that would be a concern to institutional investors, particularly those investors that believe that the rule of law is important to the long term health of capital markets."
The Swedish government pension funds announced late September that it had decided to exclude Canadian company PotashCorp for importing phosphate from Western Sahara. In 2010, the Norwegian Pension Fund also decided to divest from the company because they considered such imports "grossly unethical."
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 five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The EU Court of Justice will rule on the Union's trade and fisheries agreements with Morocco in occupied Western Sahara on 29 September.
The Mexican imports of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara is picking up pace. New images from Mexico today show a second vessel offloading - while a third is on its way.
Here are all vessels that transported petroleum products from Spanish refineries into occupied Western Sahara last year.