A proposal to lower tariffs in the territory of Western Sahara to the same level as Morocco, was backed by the International Trade Committee on Monday.
The proposal was adopted by 25 votes to 9 with 2 abstentions after the European Commission and Morocco agreed on a traceability mechanism, upon the request of the Trade Committee.
This mechanism guarantees that products coming from the Western Sahara can be clearly tracked, to make sure the benefits of the lower tariffs go to the local population and that they are measurable, a key condition to MEPs’ backing.
In the accompanying resolution, adopted by 24 votes to 9 with 3 abstentions, the MEPs emphasised that “the [local] Sahrawi people have the right to develop while awaiting a political solution” on the status of the area of Western Sahara. Preferential trade tariffs granted to Morocco were withdrawn from the territory following a 2016 decision of the EU Court of Justice.
MEPs also point out that the tariff preferences enjoyed by the territory between 2013 and 2016 had a positive impact on the agricultural and fisheries sector, investment in infrastructure, health and education. The non-application of the preferences, in turn, would have “adverse effects”, they say.
The recommendation for consent has now been submitted to Plenary. Should Plenary endorse the Trade Committee recommendation, the Council will conclude the agreement, which will then enter into force.
The EU and its member states do not recognise the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara, the legal status of which has been under review by the United Nations since 1988. The EU fully supports the UN’s ongoing efforts to secure a lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the conflict, in what is defined by the UN as a non self-governing territory.
The European Commission liberalised trade with Morocco in 2013, but the decision ended up in court, as it covered the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in December 2016 that no trade agreement could cover Western Sahara unless the representatives of the territory had consented to it and if the territory was explicitly mentioned in the text of the agreement.