As the European Commission excerted pressure on the European Parliament to approve a controversial EU trade agreement with Morocco earlier this year, they claimed the agri-industry in Western Sahara was practically inexistant. The Commission has now stated it is twice the size as they said in February.
"So far there is practically no agricultural activity in Western Sahara (only 300 hectares close to Dakhla) and there is no exploitation of resource in agriculture", stated the European Commissioner for Enlargment and the European Neighbourhood Policy in a fact sheet distributed to the Parliament in February this year.
This happened just days before the Parliament was scheduled to vote on an important trade agreement allowing further liberalisation of trade in agricultural and fisheries products between Morocco and the EU. The Commission intensely lobbied the Parliament to have the agreement accepted.
The agreement is rather controversial in that it fails to specifically exclude the territory of Western Sahara from its application. In this way, the plantations owned by the King of Morocco, can export to the EU market from the land that the same royal family brutally occupied in 1975, in violation of international law.
Documented the boom
In its report 'Conflict Tomatoes' launched 14 February 2012, few days before the vote, Western Sahara Resource Watch documented how 11 royal and privately owned plantations are exporting fruits and vegetables from Western Sahara. Through a number of sources, including documents from Moroccan ministries and satellite footage, WSRW concluded that the total exploited area was 588 hectares.
The European Commission has now admitted that the plantation size was much larger than they had first stated. The statement from the Commission, 23 May, followed a question from 4 MEPs earlier this year.
According to the information now provided, the acreage is said to be 520 hectares. The information on the webpages that the Commission is now refering to, quotes the potential plantation land to be 192 times as big: 100,000 hectares. In previous presentations, the Moroccan ministry of agriculture has set the acreage at ten times larger: 1,000,000 hectares (e.g. presentation from 2009) According to the Commission, there is "no reasons to question the information given to us" by Morocco.
The consequences of a booming industry is exactly what WSRW warned about in its report.
23 May 2012
Answer given by Mr Cioloş on behalf of the Commission
The process of negotiations and adoption of the EU‑Morocco agreement for the liberalisation of trade in agriculture and fisheries took around five years. The data used by the Commission for the agricultural activity in Western Sahara was provided by the Moroccan agricultural administration during this period.
In the various documents and presentation (based on information from the Moroccan authorities) provided to the European Parliament, the Commission has reported its understanding of the existence of about 500 hectares, of which around 350 hectares are already exploited, compared to the 588 hectares reported by the Western Sahara Resource Watch. The latest figure reported by the Morocco Ministry of Agriculture is 520 hectares(1).
The relationship between the European Union and Morocco is based on mutual trust. In the past we have had no reasons to question the information given to us regarding the agricultural land in Western Sahara.
Given the limited divergence of the data provided by the authorities and NGOs on this issue, an internal inquiry is not deemed necessary. But we will take the issue up with the Moroccan authorities to check that the information we have is both accurate and up to date.
2 March 2012
Question for written answer to the Commission
Ana Miranda (Verts/ALE) , Jill Evans (Verts/ALE) , Frieda Brepoels (Verts/ALE) and Nicole Kiil-Nielsen (Verts/ALE)
Subject: Agricultural activity in Western Sahara
In the context of the debate on the EU‑Morocco agreement for the liberalisation of trade in agriculture and fisheries, the Commissioner for enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Füle, has produced a ‘fact sheet’, which has been distributed to MEPs. This document states: ‘So far there is practically no agricultural activity in Western Sahara (only 300 hectares close to Dakhla) and there is no exploitation of resource in agriculture’. The purpose of this statement was to downplay the argument that the agreement would affect Western Sahara.
However, at the same time the organisation Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) has released a report under the title ‘Conflict Tomatoes’, which reveals the existence of 11 agricultural sites in occupied Western Sahara and provides a GPS location for all of them(1).
According to this research, all these are ‘either owned by the Moroccan king, powerful Moroccan conglomerates or by French multinational firms’, while ‘no firms are owned by the local Sahrawi and not even by small-scale Moroccan settlers in the territory’. Furthermore, the same report states that 646 hectares have been equipped for agricultural activity, out of which 588 hectares are already being exploited. Last but not least, the Moroccan government aims to increase agricultural activity in Dakhla in the years to come. The Regional Agricultural Plan provides for the expansion of the total area devoted to early-season crops, from 588 hectares in 2008 to 2 000 by 2020. This plan also provides for an increase of greenhouse production from 36 000 tonnes in 2008 to 80 000 in 2013 and 160 000 in 2020. That increased production will be destined exclusively for export. The number of people working in agriculture in the region is expected to triple by 2020.
Can the Commission specify the source of the data provided by it concerning agriculture sites in Western Sahara? Has it launched an internal inquiry to find out whether those data were correct or wrong?
A new EU trade agreement that is set to boost the personal fortune of King Mohamed VI of Morocco is facing opposition because it promotes the exploitation of disputed territory of the Western Sahara. Source: The Telegraph, 29 Jan 2012.
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