Hassan Lyoussi, chairman of the Moroccan Association of Citrus Fruit Producers (ASPAM), believes the first of these arguments is unfounded: "When our fruit and vegetables leave Morocco for Europe, they are subject to very strict controls by official bodies such as the National Office for Food Safety (ONSSA) and the Independent Export Coordination and Control Organisation (EACCE), the latter of which is accredited by the relevant European authorities. These products are subject to similarly rigorous checks when they enter Europe, including tests on plant health and quality as well as on food safety."
Patrick Brouard, sales director of Moroccan tomato exporter Matysha, which has been located at the Saint-Charles agricultural wholesale market (MIN) near Perpignan for a year and a half, says: "We know very well that we're being watched more closely than others. We use fully integrated pest management in our production: no pesticides and no residues. "
Moroccan tomatoes represent just 2% of total European production
The second argument, which is all about protecting markets and jobs and is put forward by the likes of Spanish farmers' association Asaja, is barely any more credible, claims Mr Lyoussi: "Morocco's market share is extremely low. With tomatoes, for example, which is the product people mention the most, our exports to the EU (about 350,000 tonnes) represent only around 2% of total European tomato production. Morocco has to comply with quotas and timetables. On top of all this is the infamous safeguard clause, which the EU can enact whenever it likes in order to protect its markets from imports from countries outside the EU, such as Morocco."
The third and final argument is the legal one, and French MEP José Bové, rapporteur of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, is its self-appointed cheerleader. He claims that while both the UN and the EU consider Morocco as the de facto administrative power in the Western Sahara, it remains to be seen what will emerge as the de jure administrative power with which the EU might reach a lawful international agreement. In the absence thereof, the territory of the Western Sahara must remain outside the EU-Morocco Agreement.
As we know, the European Parliament didn't follow the recommendations of its Agriculture Committee.