25 February 2016

Morocco Suspends Contact With EU Over Farm Trade Ruling

Morocco has suspended contact with European Union institutions over a court ruling invalidating the bloc's farm trade accord with Rabat and saying it should exclude the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The EU lodged an appeal last week against a European Court decision announced on December 10 to void the trade deal with Morocco in response to a suit filed by the separatist Polisario Front movement, which wants independence for the Moroccan-controlled territory.

The complaint, brought to the court in 2012, involves trade of agricultural products, processed agricultural products and fisheries.

Issued after the Moroccon government's weekly cabinet meeting, the statement on Thursday said Morocco rejects the court ruling as against international law and UN Security Council resolutions.

"Morocco cannot accept to be treated as a subject of a judicial process and to be buffeted between European institutions," it said.

"Continuing in that position would deeply threaten the mutual trust and even the continuation of the partnership between the two sides."

There was no immediate comment from the EU.

EU-Moroccan farm trade in 2015 amounted to 43 billion dirham ($4.6 billion).

The EU and Morocco have struck agreements allowing duty-free quotas for agricultural products such as tomatoes and granting access for European vessels to fish in Moroccan waters in return for financial assistance.

Free trade agreement

The two sides also began negotiations in 2013 to form a deeper and broader free trade agreement.

Morocco has controlled most of Western Sahara since 1975 and claims sovereignty over the sparsely populated stretch of desert to its south, which has offshore fishing and phosphate reserves.

Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara prompted an armed struggle by the Polisario Front backed by Morocco's neighbour Algeria.

The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but talks have since failed to find a lasting settlement in Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accuse Morocco of repressing political freedom in Western Sahara.

Rabat invests heavily there, hoping to calm social unrest.

Earlier this month, Morocco's King Mohammed launched an 18 billion dirham ($1.85 billion) investment plan in Laayoune, Western Sahara's biggest city, driven by state-run phosphate company OCP.


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