What the EU decision to annul Morocco’s Trade Agreement means for Aotearoa

What the EU decision to annul Morocco’s Trade Agreement means for Aotearoa

A decision made on Wednesday by the General Court of the European Union (EU) declared that the Moroccan Agriculture and Fishery trade deal be annulled, as it has not received consent from Sahrawi in Western Sahara.

The EU Court upheld the applicant’s claim that “the requirement relating to the consent of the people of Western Sahara, as a third party to the agreements at issue, … [had] not been respected.” The court also acknowledged that the applicant, the Polisario Front is “recognised internationally as a representative of the people of Western Sahara, even if that recognition is confined to the self determination process of that territory.”

This follows a similar case held in the EU Court of Justice in December of 2015, which annulled an EU-Morocco trade agreement because Moroccan fisheries were in territories belonging to Western Sahara without consent from Sahrawis.

Morocco, which sees Western Sahara as a Southern province of their country criticises the legitimacy of the Polisario Front claim to self termination in Western Sahara. The de facto political wing is supported unconditionally by Morocco’s neighbour Alegeria who is accused of seeking to destabilise Morocco through its funding of the Polisario Front. Morocco’s phosphate mine is said to employ a large number of Sahrawi and invest back into the region.

Western Sahara is considered as a non-self-governing-territory by the United Nations (UN), meaning that the Polisario Front is not a legitimate governing party. It also means the UN does not recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the region. Rather, the international body wants to achieve a “lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” In 1991 the UN established a mission to create a referendum that would allow Sahrawis the opportunity to vote on independence or integration with Morocco. The UN has yet to achieve such a goal, thirty years since its creation, leaving the region and its people in a political limbo.

Aotearoa New Zealand legitimises Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara by being one of the few countries to continue importing phosphate (used in fertilizer) which is mined in Western Sahara. The state-owned Moroccan phosphate company, OCP Group (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) claims Aotearoa New Zealand makes up roughly twenty-two percent of their annual export.

According to the 2021 report done by Western Sahara Resource Watch, an Aotearoa New Zealand company Ballance Agri-Nutrients imported approximately $39.17 million (NZD) worth of phosphate in 2020. Another company, Ravensdown is estimated to have imported $12.18 million (NZD) worth of phosphate into the country in 2020.

Both companies emphasize they are working within “the UN framework” to “provide direct and indirect benefits to the inhabitants of the territory and to the territory itself.” Ravensdown goes as far as to say that they work with OCP Group, to ensure that high standards are complied with.

Furthermore, in March of this year, Auckland’s High Court dismissed a judicial review into the New Zealand Superannuation fund over concerns of its investments in New Zealand fertilizer companies, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown. Justice Woolford accepted that imports from the disputed territory posed a risk to Aotearoa New Zealand’s wider interests, there was however “no suggestion that the risk [was] due to management and administration of the Fund.”

According to Morocco World News, “The landmark court case is likely to provide the confidence many investors need to consider the region as a new source of investment and exports. Investors that have been reluctant to invest in Western Sahara or use Moroccan exports from the region can take confidence that if a country like New Zealand does not see an issue with the matter, they have no need to.”

The annulment of the agreement will not be done immediately, as the court has given a two-month period to allow for any appeals.