The EU Commission and Morocco have had a third round of talks to agree on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Such an agreement aims at integrating Morocco’s economy into the EU single market – and, if failing to exclude it, also the illegitimate economy of occupied Western Sahara.
The meeting between EU and Moroccan officials took place from 20 to 24 January 2014 in Rabat.
The EU seems keen to press on. "The DCFTA goes beyond the simple notion of liberalization of trade and elimination of customs duties applicable to goods, by favoring closer economic integration, by reducing non-tariff barriers, by liberalizing trade in services, ensuring investment protection and harmonizing regulations in several areas of the commercial and economic environment (public procurement, standardization, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, intellectual property law, competition, customs and trade facilitation, etc.) ”, the EU delegation in Rabat was quoted.
On Moroccan side, there appears to be more hesitation, welcoming the strategic-political benefits of closer ties to the EU but fearing the effects on its trade deficit.
A study published in the autumn of last year by ECORYS – an independent consultancy firm appointed by the EU Commission – however forecasted that the economic effect of the DCFTA would be negligible for the EU, yet for Morocco it would result in a GDP increase of 1.3% in the short term and 1.6% in the long term. In addition, Morocco would experience an upsurge in exports. Morocco’s Economic and Social Council (CESE) has now announced that it wants to carry out its own impact assessment.
Though the exact content of a potential DCFTA remains undisclosed, the main objective is clear: the reduction of non-tariff barriers between the European and the Moroccan market.
“This poses a severe threat for the peace process in Western Sahara. If Morocco’s exports to the EU are to become completely unhindered, then businesses in Western Sahara – such as the agricultural industry, now restrained by the quota imposed upon Morocco - will be allowed to export to the EU market without restriction”, says Sara Eyckmans from Western Sahara Resource Watch. “Beyond that, the prospect of gradually integrating Morocco’s economy into the EU’s internal market, without clearly excluding Western Sahara from the deal, will open all sorts of economic opportunities in the occupied territory, further entrenching the occupation.”
The above-mentioned ECORYS study concluded that the DCFTA would particularly be important for sectors as agriculture, renewable energy, textiles and offshoring of business support services.
WSRW has reported extensively on Morocco's agricultural business and renewable energy plans in occupied Western Sahara. The illegal exploitation of those resources could in the future take place within the framework of the DCFTA.
In spite of incessant and clear calls of the Saharawi people to be included in the negotiation process on their own country, both on fisheries and free trade, the European Commission appears reluctant to do so, once again inviting only Morocco to sit at the table.
YEPP, the youth section of the EU parliament's conservative platform EPP, has asked the EU to not enter into deals with Morocco that also covers natural resources from the annexed Western Sahara. WSRW was just made aware of this text, originally adopted in YEPP congress in May.
An impact assessment ordered by the EU Commission on the effects of the envisioned EU-Morocco DCFTA confirms that Western Sahara is part of the deal's scope. But the people with the sovereign rights to the land, the Saharawis, will not even be heard as a stakeholder to the process.