"Just announced the launch of negotiations for a free-trade agreement with Morocco,'' European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso tweeted on Friday, after his meeting with Morocco’s prime minister Abdelillah Benkirane. That Free Trade Agreement will have consequences for Western Sahara.
With Barroso’s visit to Rabat last week, the European Commission has officially commenced its talks with Morocco on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA); a large-scale trade deal that will substantially deepen the Union’s already tight-knit trade ties with Morocco.
Though geared at facilitating the gradual integration of Morocco’s economy into the EU’s single market, the DCFTA is likely to drag occupied Western Sahara into the equation. So far, the EU has neglected to exclude the occupied territory from its trade deals with Morocco – thereby backing up Morocco’s untenable claims to its southern neighbour and undermining the UN peace process it claims to neutrally support.
Through intensifying trade with and investment opportunities in Morocco, European businesses risk becoming part of the protracted conflict if enticed to undertake commercial activities in a territory that the UN still classifies as a colony.
The Commission’s move to launch the DCFTA talks at this time is off-base. Just last week, it became public that the Frente Polisario has filed a law suit against the Council of the European Union
at the European Court of Justice over the EU-Morocco agricultural agreement, for failing to exclude Western Sahara.According to Reuters
, trade between the EU and Morocco amounted up to approximately 24 billion euros in 2011, and the EU is keen to open up trade in the services sector. Morocco is also the largest recipient of European neighbourhood aid, with 580.5 million euros earmarked for 2011-2013.
Last year, 31 Saharawi civil society organisations from occupied Western Sahara and the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria wrote a letter to the European Commission, requesting the exclusion of their country from the geographical application of the DCFTA
. The European Commission has not consulted them so far in the process.