WSRW awaiting answers from New Zealand

When representatives of the New Zealand government visited Morocco in January, Western Sahara Resource Watch sent 5 questions to the New Zealand government regarding how the government views trade with occupied Western Sahara. 5 months later, we are still waiting for an answer.

Published 17 July 2008


17 July 2008

Hon Phil Goff, Minister of Trade,
RT Hon Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Dear Sirs,

From both New Zealand harbour registries, and from international media reports it is evident that New Zealand keeps importing phosphates from occupied Western Sahara. As we have clearly underlined, this trade is highly unethical and in violation of international law.

On 7th of July 2008, the New Zealand FertResearch sent a letter to the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, stating that “On issues of international trade, member companies of Fert Research take guidance from the position of the New Zealand Government. […] The most appropriate authority for you to take up any concerns you have with the position taken by New Zealand on trade in Western Sahara resources is the Minister of Trade's office.” See the full letter below. 

On behalf of Western Sahara Resource Watch – an international organisation with members in more than 30 countries – I would like to remind you of the letter that I sent to you both on the 27th of January 2008. The letter contains 5 questions regarding the ethics, politics and law relative to the New Zealand phosphate imports from occupied Western Sahara. See the letter below.

I have still not received a reply from you to the 5 questions, and I am looking forward to your reply. 

For your information, this request has been published on the website 

See also copy of letter from FertResearch to; Mr. R Hansen, Chairman, Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara

Noel Peterson
The New Zealand - Western Sahara Association 


7 July 2008

Mr. R. Hansen
Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.

Dear Ronny,

Phosphate Trade With Morocco

Ballance Agri-nutrients has forwarded your email to them to me, and asked me to reply on their behalf.
The member companies of Fert Research have always acknowledged that they import phosphate rock from Morocco, and that some of that raw material is sourced from locations in the Western Sahara.
On issues of international trade, member companies of Fert Research take guidance from the position of the New Zealand Government.
As recently as June 2008, New Zealand 's Minister of Trade, Phil Goff, publicly stated "the UN does not prohibit trade in resources from Western Sahara. Nor does such trade contravene a UN legal opinion [ Hans Correll, UN Under Secretary for Legal Affairs, 2002]".
Mr Goff also made the point that "New Zealand does not unilaterally refuse to trade with countries with whom we have disagreements. [if it did] New Zealand would have to withdraw from trading with much of the world's population".
The most appropriate authority for you to take up any concerns you have with the position taken by New Zealand on trade in Western Sahara resources is the Minister of Trade's office.

Yours sincerely


Dr.Hilton Furness
Technical Director
FertResearch, P O Box 9577
Newmarket, Auckland
New Zealand
Tel: +64-9-415-1357
Fax: +64-9-415-1359
Mobile: 0274-516-817


Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Trade
Minister for Trade Negotiations
Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control

CC: Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Tauranga, January 27th 2008 

Regarding New Zealand business interests in occupied Western Sahara

The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association notices that you have just concluded a 5 day delegation of public and private representatives from New Zealand to Morocco. 

We have followed the New Zealand and Moroccan media reports on the issue, and would like to express our support to the increased trade and cooperation between the two countries. We are, however, very worried about the way New Zealand could be dealing with the occupation of Western Sahara in the relations to Morocco, and have hereby 5 questions that we hope you are able to answer. 

The questions are based on the fact that any business activity in Morocco would have to take into consideration that Morocco is an occupying power, illegally controlling the neighbouring country Western Sahara. The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association would like to stress that that the natural resources in Western Sahara do not belong to Morocco, and clearly underline that any New Zealand business activity with Moroccan authorities or companies in Western Sahara are highly unethical and politically controversial. 

They are furthermore in violation of international law. As the former UN Secretary-General for Legal Affairs stated in 2002, while summing up international law in the field, “the General Assembly has consistently condemned the exploitation and plundering of natural resources and any economic activities which are detrimental to the interests of the peoples of those Territories and deprive them of their legitimate rights over their natural resources”. See his opinion here: 

To the Moroccan newspaper Le Matin on January 24th, you are quoted of having expressed an interest in establishing a partnership for fishing with Morocco. It is mentioned particularly that New Zealand could be interested in a cooperation for exploration of the deep waters offshore Morocco. This poses a dilemma, since approximately two thirds of Moroccan fishing takes place in occupied waters. Entering into deals with Moroccan fisheries authorities in Western Sahara is considered for instance by Sweden as in violation of international law, since Morocco has no authority to sign fishing deals for Western Saharan waters.

-Can you confirm that New Zealand is interested in a fisheries partnership with Morocco ? 

-Has it clearly been stated –or will it be clearly stated- to the Moroccan authorities that any fishery cooperation would only have to take place within the borders of Morocco that are internationally recognised? 

New Zealand is today one of the very few countries in the world that import phosphates from the occupied Western Sahara. The Moroccan state phosphate company, OCP, has extracted phosphate rock from the area since shortly after Morocco invaded the country in 1975. 

All evidence that we have suggest that the phosphate trade is neither to the benefit nor interest of the people of Western Sahara. After the Moroccan take-over of the management of the Bu Craa phosphate plant from Spanish colonial authorities, significant adverse changes resulted, with serious loss of employment opportunities for native Sahrawis. The French non-governmental organisation France Libertés, headed by Danielle Mitterrand, carried out a mission to Western Sahara in 2002 and has described these changes thoroughly in one of its reports. The France Libertés mission met with 200 former Sahrawi workers from the mines. All of them claimed having suffered various violations of their socio-economic rights. Regarding those who still work in the company, the report states that “not only have the Saharawi workers benefited very little if not at all, of any promotion, but they have mainly been subject to downgrading measures in the scale of the jobs they held, without any prior information, nor any reason.” The result today, over 30 years later, is that the Sahrawis are systematically marginalised from this industry, an industry that used to employ approximately 2000 Sahrawis prior to the occupation. Please find the France Libertés report at the following website: The general civil society in Western Sahara and the Front Polisario strongly opposes the international participation in the industry. Polisario is internationally recognised as the representative of the Sahrawi people. 

In a New Zealand parliamentary debate regarding the New Zealand phosphate imports from Western Sahara on July 26th 2006, you mentioned that you were indeed aware of the UN opinion from 2002, stating that the interests of the inhabitants of non-self governing territories must be paramount in such an issue when considering the legality of such imports. 

But simultaneously you made a confusing paradox. On one hand you claimed that “I do not think anybody can say with any certainty what the local people in Western Sahara feel about the mining of phosphate resources. I certainly have no evidence about that”. On the other hand, you stated that the imports to New Zealand were in compliance with international law. 

If the Moroccan mining in the Sahrawi’s land is in the violation of the interests and wishes of its people – something that all evidence suggests are the case – then we believe it must be in violation of international law. 

-Has the Minister during the visit to Morocco received any evidence proving your suggestion that the New Zealand phosphate imports is indeed in line with international law?

-Did the Minister for instance meet with any representatives of the Sahrawi people while in Morocco ?

Some states, such as Norway, discourage its companies from entering into Western Sahara because of the political and ethical dilemmas, since they say it might undermine the UN peace process for the territory. See for instance here: 

-Does the Minister agree that it would be a true support to the UN peace process if all New Zealand business activities in the territory are frozen until the dispute over the land has been settled? 

Looking forward to your reply,

Noel Peterson
The New Zealand – Western Sahara Association. 

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