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EU commission study concludes that future EU-Morocco fisheries agreement is ”vitally important”

A recent study commissioned by the EU underlines the ‘vital importance’ of the bloc signing a new fisheries agreement with Morocco

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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by Martin Banks

Publication of the study comes just ahead of a key court decision on the issue later this month.

On 27 February, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule on a legal opinion that seeks to invalidate the existing EU-Morocco Fishery agreement.

The ECJ has been required to intervene after one of its advisors last month said the agreement "violates" the rights of people from "Western Sahara".

Advocate general Melchior Wathelet said that by concluding the existing agreement, the EU "was in breach of its obligation to respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination."

Wathelet’s opinion came in response to British-based campaigners who said the UK was wrong to uphold the EU-Morocco fisheries deal. Britain asked the ECJ for advice but a European Parliament insider said,"The UK NGO's initiative  seems to be a lobbying effort and it's every unusual for the ECJ to take a lobbying effort with clear political motives seriously."

While not binding on the ECJ, such legal opinions are regularly adopted by the court in most cases.

However, the opinion of the Belgian-born Wathelet flies directly in the face of the demands of the European Commission which has requested the opening of negotiations with Morocco for a new agreement.

The Commission says it recommended this on the basis of a recent, independent evaluation study which highlights the "positive balance sheet" of the current four-year agreement for both the EU and Morocco.

The study, copies of which have been seen by this website, emphasizes the positive impact of the agreement, highlighting the clauses supporting economic development and benefiting the local population.

The report was commissioned by the Commission’s DG MARE directorate and authored by Benoit Caillart, Christophe Breuil, Vincent Defaux and Christelle Le Grand.

The four authors say the need for such agreements could be all the more important once the UK exits the EU and the implications this could involve in the sphere of fishing rights.

The study concludes: "For the EU, the need is to keep an instrument supporting in-depth cooperation with an important player in ocean governance. 

For Morocco, there is a need to establish partnerships for the implementation of its sectoral policies for fisheries and for Blue Growth. For EU shipowners, there is still a need for fishing opportunities in the Morocco fishing zone. This need could even increase given Brexit."

About 120 vessels from 11 EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and the UK) are concerned.

The fishing sector in Morocco accounts for 2% of GDP, with exports of fisheries products representing 9% of total national exports, the study points out.

Catches of EU vessels in the Morocco fishing zone amounted to 83, 000 tonnes per year on average for a value close to €80 million.

The authors state that the agreement is "coherent with other EU initiatives" and considered to be "efficient" and with a "good return on investment for the EU."

In 2017, both the EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella and the Moroccan Minister for Agriculture and Sea Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch expressed their desire to renew the deal, saying it was "essential for both parties."

A Commission spokesman told this website, "The DG MARE study underlines the positive impact of the current protocol in terms of sustainable fishing and its contribution to the socioeconomic interests of the fisheries sectors both in the EU and in Morocco."

The spokesman pointed to the economic benefits to both sides, saying about 200 seamen are employed on board EU vessels fishing in Moroccan waters.

According to the study commissioned by the EU, 75% of the socio-economic benefits of the current protocol, such as creation of hundreds of new jobs and improvement of working conditions of tens of thousands of people, are enjoyed by people living in Southern provinces, also known as Western Sahara.

The Mixed Hispano-Moroccan Commission of Fishing Professionals said the EU-Morocco agreement was "positive for both parties and essential for advance in the sustainable management of fisheries resources."

It says that between 2014 and 2016, the fisheries agreement generated 1,000 work contracts.

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