EU Court Says Western Sahara Rights Not Respected in Trade Pacts
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s second highest court ruled that EU free-trade accords failed to adequately take into account views of people from the disputed territory of Western Sahara claimed by Morocco.
In a ruling on Wednesday, the EU tribunal said it quashed political-level decisions on a pact amending the tariff preferences granted to products of Moroccan origin and, also, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement.
“In view of the legal definitions of ‘people’ and ‘consent’ in international law, the ‘consultations’ conducted by the institutions with the ‘people concerned’ did not amount to an expression of the consent of the people of Western Sahara,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.
But the court said the effects of those decisions would be maintained over “a certain period” partly in order to legal certainty over the EU’s international commitments.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and Morocco’s foreign affairs minister Nasser Bourita issued a joint statement saying they would “take the necessary measures to ensure the legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of trade relations.”
All the same, the ruling threatens to upset ties with a key southern Mediterranean neighbor in cooperation on security and the control of irregular migration.
The issue of the Western Sahara is considered a top national priority in Morocco. The kingdom suspended in 2016 all contacts with the EU, its main trade and investment partner, when the same court annulled an earlier extension of the two agreements to the disputed territory.
EU officials worked to circumvent that decision by accepting an endorsement by Sahrawis aligned with Morocco’s claim to the territory of the extension.
Polisario Front, which has been seeking independence in the Western Sahara since the 1970s, had lodged an appeal seeking to overturn a decision in 2019 that allowed the inclusion of farm and fisheries products from the region controlled by Morocco to benefit of preferential tariffs applied to products from Morocco.
Its envoy to the bloc, Oubi Bouchraya Bachir, welcome the court ruling as a “victory” for Polisario.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.