The European Commission is looking to open negotiations over a new fisheries protocol between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco, it has announced.
The current, four-year protocol to the fisheries partnership agreement with Morocco will expire on July 14 2018. In 2017, both the commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and the Moroccan minister for agriculture and sea fisheries, Aziz Akhannouch, expressed their intention “to renew this instrument which is essential for both parties”.
However, the existing protocol is at present being scrutinized by the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2014, the UN-recognized representative of the people of Western Sahara — the Polisario Front — took the deal to court, seeking its annulment over including Western Sahara.
Morocco has occupied three-quarters of Western Sahara, including the coastal strip, since 1975, according to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW).
An independent evaluation study has underlined the positive impact of the current protocol in terms of sustainable fishing and its contribution to the socioeconomic interests of the fisheries sectors both in the EU and in Morocco, said the EU.
“In particular the sectoral support foreseen by the protocol, as support to the national Halieutis Strategy for the development of the fisheries sector, has benefited all regions covered by the protocol. The evaluation also highlights the clauses supporting economic development and benefiting local population, such as landings in ports and embarkation of local seamen (about 200 seamen being employed on board EU vessels).”
It is expected the EU council will endorse the recommendation in the coming weeks, “so negotiations can start immediately afterwards to ensure continuity and legal security for fishermen and industry at the expiry of the current protocol”.
About 120 vessels from 11 EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and United Kingdom) are concerned.
Under the current protocol, the EU pays Morocco an annual €30 million: €16m for access to the waters Morocco considers under its jurisdiction, and €14m which is earmarked for developing Morocco’s fishing industry, said WSRW.
“Three consecutive annual reports on the geographical spending of that sectoral support have demonstrated that 66.5% was poured into building fisheries infrastructure in occupied Western Sahara. That industry is run by Moroccans, as Saharawis have been socioeconomically relegated to the fringes of a society due to Morocco’s policy of social and economic exclusion of anyone who does not support their colonial project in Western Sahara. Saharawis who find employment, or who have managed to set up some kind of business, have had to pledge their allegiance to the Moroccan king.”
A UN special rapporteur on the right to food has noted that the people of Western Sahara were not equally benefiting from the economic projects that Morocco was undertaking in the territory. Poverty continues to affect the Saharawi population disproportionately.
In December 2016, the EU Court of Justice issued a final judgment in the case the Polisario Front had brought against the EU-Morocco agriculture deal. The court concluded that Western Sahara has a “separate and distinct” status to Morocco, and that as such no EU trade or association agreement could be applied to the territory.
“In disregard of that clear judgment, the EU Commission is now in talks with Morocco to explore loopholes that will allow for a continuation of the trade flow from the occupied territory.”