The European Union’s highest Court ruled in December 2016 that Western Sahara cannot be part of the EU’s trade deal with Morocco. Yet to date, the EU continues to import fisheries products from Western Sahara, directly supporting Morocco’s illegal claims to the territory. The only adjustment the EU has made following the landmark ruling has been to admit that they are doing what they have always done.
With support from the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) recently published an extensive report outlining the scope of the illegal practice that the EU is undertaking:
- It accepts erroneous declarations of origin on customs documents and veterinary certificates issued by Moroccan authorities on occupied land;
- It accepts the inclusion of companies located in Western Sahara within the list of approved establishments of the Moroccan government;
- It waives customs duties on such goods;
- It actively hinders the gathering of data on the trade flow from the territory.
The EU’s tacit support for Morocco’s exploitation and untenable claim to Western Sahara has been a cause of deep frustration to the people of the territory. Morocco’s military response to a recent protest by Saharawis against Morocco’s plunder of their land has led to renewed armed conflict, imploding a UN-brokered truce of 29 years.
The Court of Justice of the EU in 2016 set as a prerequisite that the Saharawi people must consent in order for EU trade to take place with the territory. This never happened. The WSRW report documents that instead of trying to obtain a consent to continue its trade, the Commission misled the Parliament and Council by presenting false claims on the Saharawi people’s opinions. Not a single association advocating for self-determination was ever in contact with the EU for the renegotiation of a renewed trade deal.
A lucrative part of the trade consists of the import of fishmeal and fish oil. In few other places in Europe is this more visible than a terminal in the port of Bremen: the centre for fishmeal imports to Europe. This report follows the routes of fishmeal from the occupied territories to Germany and shows that half of Morocco’s fishmeal exports to Germany in 2019 actually came from Western Sahara. Similarly, WSRW has tracked exports of fish oil from Western Sahara to the Netherlands and France. The fish products originate from unsustainable fishing activities carried out in the waters of Western Sahara.
The EU has made sure that trade with the occupied territory flows smoothly, both for the exporter in Western Sahara and the importer in the EU. The Moroccan government is allowed by the EU to issue permits to the exporter and list itself as the country of origin. Meanwhile, the EU openly accepts the importer to buy products under a EU-Morocco deal that are produced at a location that is not part of Morocco.
“We call on the EU institutions, the EU member states and the involved companies to honour the rulings of the Court of Justice, and most of all the wishes of the people of Western Sahara. As it is now, the EU is directly undermining the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination and the UN peace process. The EU has no right to enter into trade deals with Morocco covering Western Sahara without first obtaining the consent of its people. The EU should not place itself above the law”, said Sylvia Valentin, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch.