European Commission kicks Moroccan phosphates issue into touch

A few months ago, two MEPs raised the issue of the status of Moroccan phosphates imported into Europe, even though the Kingdom extracts them in Western Sahara.

Having been asked in March by Spanish MEPs Carles Puigdemont and Clara Ponsati Obiols about the status of Moroccan phosphates imported into Europe, the European Commission gave a nuanced response earlier this month through its trade commissioner, Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis.

The two MEPs, who identify with the Catalan independence movement, had asked whether the Commission was considering extending “the scope of the regulation on minerals from conflict zones to include imports of phosphates from Western Sahara”. The MEPs were referring in particular to the fact that since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, 50% of European phosphate imports have come from Morocco. For the time being, phosphates are not covered by this regulation, which has been in force since 2021 and is aimed primarily at monitoring the extraction of gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum in the DRC and the Great Lakes region.

Puigdemont and Ponsati Obiols cited the Bou Craa phosphate mine in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Referring to a 2021 report by the Norwegian NGO Western Sahara Resource Watch, they also highlighted the collaboration of Spanish companies with the Moroccan phosphate giant OCP, including the legal consultancy Palacio y Asociados, which is run by former Spanish foreign Ana Palacio.

Dombrovskis did not address these issues head on, although he did announce the regulation on conflict minerals would be reviewed this year. “However, the Commission does not expect this first review to lead to definitive conclusions,” he said, contending that the European Union does not in fact import phosphates from Western Sahara. The Commission does seem willing to add this issue to its dispute with the kingdom at a time when the fisheries agreements between the two parties are currently in troubled waters.

Deals on hold
The two MEPs also raised the sustainable fisheries partnership agreement between Rabat and Brussels, the implementation protocol for which was annulled in 2021 by the General Court of the European Union due to the dispute over Western Sahara.

Dombrovskis noted that the Commission had appealed against the decision of the court. The court’s ruling on the appeal is not expected before 2024. This decision depends on an eventual renewal of the 2019-2013 fisheries protocol between Rabat and the EU, which expired yesterday.

Source: Africa Intelligence