Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Survey on the question of Western Sahara Part 3/3: Economic data. A desert full of resources

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, December 22nd 2020 à 14:30 | Read 1199 times

Fishing resources and their sharing is at the heart of the economy of Western Sahara while Moroccan investments are increasing in the region, as fast as the establishment of consulates. Version française

Fishing is one of the main resources of Western Sahara (photo: DR)
Fishing is one of the main resources of Western Sahara (photo: DR)
Deposits of phosphate and rare minerals not yet exploited, energy (wind and water power), communication routes (trans-Saharan road), Western Sahara does not fail to arouse economic covetousness. Not to mention its very rich fishery resources to be drawn from a coastline of 1,100 kilometers, the main economic activity today and a stumbling block between the belligerents. "The prospects for foreign investment will develop on this territory," said a diplomat who said that the Americans would be willing to commit $ 3 billion.

In December 2016, a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declared Morocco and Western Sahara to be two separate and distinct territories. In January 2018, before ruling on the validity of the EU-Moroccan fisheries agreement signed in 2006 (at the request of the British High Court of Justice, itself seized by the NGO Western Sahara Campaign), the general counsel of the CJEU, Melchior Wathelet, suggested that it be invalidated. As grounds, he stated that "the fishing exploitation by the Union of the waters adjacent to Western Sahara established and implemented by the contested acts does not respect the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination". And that "the Union has failed in its obligation not to recognize the illegal situation arising from the violation by Morocco of the right of this people to self-determination and not to provide aid or assistance to maintain this situation.

A month later, the ECJ disavowed this with a subtle counter-claim, arguing: "given that the territory of Western Sahara is not part of the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco, the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara do not fall within the Moroccan fishing zone covered by the fisheries agreement". And yet... In December 2016, the same CJEU concluded that the association and liberalization agreements were not applicable to Western Sahara. But, it expressed itself on the agricultural agreement and did not mention fisheries.


Western Sahara a separate and distinct territory

Despite this unclear jurisprudence, in early 2019, after two years of negotiations without consulting the Sahrawis, two extension agreements in Western Sahara were concluded between Morocco and the European Union.
The first concerns the association agreement - which has linked Rabat to Brussels since 2008 - and the second concerns fisheries. The latter granted the right to go fishing in Moroccan waters, for four years and for an annual contribution of €40.1 million (compared to €30 million under the previous protocol), to 128 vessels from ten European countries. The main beneficiaries for demersal species (those that live and feed on the bottom of the sea such as sea bream, cod, hake or whiting), Spain and Portugal, and for tuna, France and Spain. As for the Netherlands, Lithuania and Latvia, they obtain 70% of the quotas allocated to the large-scale fishery for small pelagic species (those living in waters close to the surface or between the surface and the bottom such as sardine, anchovy, herring, mackerel).
"The EU must comply with the rulings of its Court of Justice, which clearly reaffirmed the status of the territory of Western Sahara as a separate and distinct territory from the Kingdom of Morocco, and that any trade in this territory with the EU must have the consent of the People of Western Sahara. Something that the EU has never respected", raises Mohamed Ould Cherif, director of the Franco-Sahrawi think tank Ahmed Baba Miské.


Integration of the waters of Western Sahara to the Moroccan maritime borders

The jurisprudence of the CJEU remains unclear (photo: F.Dubessy)
The jurisprudence of the CJEU remains unclear (photo: F.Dubessy)
In mid-November 2020, seventeen MEPs raised their voices on the anniversary of the Madrid Agreements. "45 years after one of its member states swapped the fate of a people for a shoal of fish, the EU must find its moral compass again and take its responsibilities under international law to ensure a fair and lasting solution to the conflict by holding the long-promised referendum on self-determination," they said in their communication. According to them, the EU institutions have "repeatedly ignored the rulings of the EU Court of Justice by including Sahrawi lands and waters in trade and fisheries agreements with Morocco without seeking the consent of the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people, the Polisario Front". They called for EU cooperation assistance to Morocco that no longer supports "the entrenchment of an illegal occupation and the financing of housing and employment for Moroccan settlers. For these MEPs, "goods produced in the occupied territories must stop entering the European market as certified by Morocco and produced in Morocco, against the consent of the Saharawi people".
Gilles Devers accuses: "the Spanish fisheries have lobbied, when there was no legal framework before 2019, to obtain an extension to the waters of Western Sahara". The French lawyer for the Polisario Front sees proof that "if there is an extension to a territory, it is because there is no sovereignty!".
The Moroccan Parliament voted in January 2020 to integrate the waters of Western Sahara to its maritime borders. The maritime border used to stop at Tarfaya, here it extends from Tangier to Lagouira (La Guera). The MPs took the opportunity to create an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles off the Moroccan coast. Two unilateral decisions and not in accordance with international law. Especially since this EEZ comes to bite on the waters of the Spanish Canary Islands. "The objective of Morocco is to go further in its struggle to appropriate Western Sahara (...) and to have access to a part of the seabed where there is enormous potential," wrote the nationalist formation Coalition Canaria on its website.
In November 2020, Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal decided to negotiate fisheries agreements with the EU27. To be continued...


Continuation of structuring projects by Morocco

Following the presentation of the new map of Morocco including Western Sahara, the U.S. ambassador announced the creation of a consulate in Dakhla. It will be primarily economic and intended to encourage and support U.S. investment in this region, "for the benefit of the inhabitants of the southern provinces," said the Moroccan government in its statement. And will strengthen the diplomatic corps already present in Laayoune and the large fishing port of Dakhla. While the first opened at the end of 2019, the number of Consulates has accelerated since January 2020 with successive arrivals throughout the year in the two cities of representations of the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Eswatini (former Swaziland), Zambia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain.  
As of mid-December 2020, Morocco had sixteen consulates in Western Sahara, while Jordan is about to open one in Laayoune.
On November 7, 2020, to mark the 45th anniversary of the Green March, Mohammed VI presented his economic development project for the "Great Moroccan South". The King of Morocco wants to make "its southern provinces" an economic base oriented towards West Africa and intends to launch a hundred construction sites whose funding has been incorporated into the finance law 2021. Mohammed VI in fact brings back to the forefront his strategy called "New development model for the southern provinces" already unveiled in 2015. At the time, it was based on a budget of €7.4 billion over ten years.
The latest version highlights a desire to better exploit its maritime potential. "The South Atlantic coast of the kingdom will constitute a maritime interface of economic integration and a focus of continental and international influence," recently launched the King of Morocco. On the program, a new port, Dakhla Atlantic, destined to become the hub of the south of the country. A counterpart to Tangier Med on the Mediterranean coast. Located in Ntireft (40 km north of Dakhka) and linked to Casablanca, Tangier and Las Palmas, it will benefit from an investment of 10 billion dirhams (900 000 €) with an industrial zone of 270 hectares including a free zone of 13 hectares.
The King will also pursue structuring projects. After setting up a university hospital, a faculty of medicine and a City of Trades and Skills in Laayoune, he also wants to develop an expressway between Tiznit and Dakhia and to launch a tourist industry. To do this, he plans to build on his Azur 2020 Plan, announced in 2001. It provided for the creation from scratch of six seaside resorts to which have been added since three others including those of Dakhla and Chbika both located in Western Sahara.


Towards the absence of extensions of fisheries agreements in Western Sahara

Politics and economics are never far away... This anecdote proves it. In September 2018, the Polisario Front filed a complaint against the Breton company Chancerelle for "war crimes". The cannery, better known under its brand Connétable (sardines), had taken over its Moroccan counterpart Belma in 2002 and invested in a new factory in Laayoune. Gilles Devers had denounced "the creation of jobs for the Moroccan population, for a hundred people" and described this act as "transfer of population in an occupied zone". The French Polisario Front lawyer also accused Chancerelle of "deception on the origin of the product. It is Sahrawi fish and we are organizing to make it Moroccan fish".
"The complaint is still on standby," he told today. "A hearing date should be set for the first quarter of 2021." On his desk in Lyon is a new file presented before the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights. His client, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (recognized by this court, since it is a member of the African Union - AU - from which it emanates) is suing this institution against five African countries for having renounced to help the Sahrawis by accepting Morocco's membership in the AU (see box below). This case could be just a trial gallop. "We will arrive in European law at the cancellation of the 2019 agreements (see part 1 of this investigation). The lack of extension of the fisheries agreements to the waters of Western Sahara will weaken large companies, banks and fishermen, especially Spanish," said the Lyon lawyer. Better, "after this position of the EU, we will take out our list of about thirty companies, including Chanterelle, to file a complaint," he reveals. Gilles Devers estimates at € 1 billion per year the damage suffered (theft of fishing rights, theft of the right of association, theft of phosphate ...) by the Saharawi people because of the activity of these companies on its soil. This is the amount of the invoice for compensation that he intends to present to the European Commission. "This agreement serves to plunder the resources of Western Sahara. The money collected by Morocco goes to the Royal House and to finance the colonization", he says.
"The question of the ownership of the waters will be even more important with the Brexit and the willingness of Great Britain to no longer let European Union boats fish in their area". 95% of fishing in Morocco is carried out in Saharawi waters, according to the lawyer. This "decisive battle", as he calls it, could, in his own words, "stop all European funding for colonization and the companies present will no longer be able to export to European territory".


The AU wants to reconcile SADR and Morocco reintegrated among its members
After leaving the African Union (AU) in 1984 to protest the admission of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Morocco changed its policy by rejoining the AU on January 31, 2017. It intends to better influence the decisions of this institution, including those concerning Western Sahara, hitherto dictated by the Algerians and Sahrawis, according to Moroccan authorities.

"One of the founding principles of the African Union is the respect of borders inherited from colonialism, and the right of peoples to self-determination, this is what this organization has again recalled, during the meeting of December 6, 2020. In addition, the African Union has called on the two member states (SADR and Morocco) to resolve their conflict through negotiations and put this conflict again on the agenda of its peace and security council," said Mohamed Ould Cherif.



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