EU court annuls trade deals with Morocco over Western Sahara consent, affecting tomato imports
A European Union court declared on Wednesday that EU-Morocco trade deals covering farm products and fish were invalid because they were agreed without the consent of the people of Western Sahara.
It is now unclear whether, for example, tomatoes from Morocco were grown in Western Sahara.
The EU and Morocco issued a joint statement saying they would act to ensure continuity of bilateral trade, and a senior Moroccan diplomatic source told Reuters he expected an appeal against what he called an "incoherent" ruling.
Morocco regards Western Sahara as its own territory, but the Algeria-backed Polisario Front movement has sought the region's independence since the end of Spain's colonial rule in 1975.
The Polisario Front challenged two EU-Morocco agreements struck in 2019, both revised after a previous EU court ruling that they were not applicable to Western Sahara. The revisions added the territory and its adjacent waters.
The General Court of the European Union first accepted that the Polisario had the legal capacity to bring proceedings before EU courts, which the respondents had questioned.
It then accepted the Polisario's view that the consent of the people of Western Sahara was required to implement agreements covering the territory and that steps taken by EU authorities could not be regarded as having secured that consent.
However, the court did say its annulment of the agreements would not take effect immediately, but only after the two-month period for lodging an appeal or after an eventual ruling if an appeal was filed.
"There will be an appeal against the court's decision, which is incoherent with EU policies, ideologically motivated and detrimental to the strategic partnership," the senior diplomatic source told Reuters.
In their joint statement, Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said they would "take necessary measures to ensure the legal framework guaranteeing the continuation and stability of trade between the EU and Morocco".
The ruling follows an appeal by the independence organization Polisario and is important for the labeling of fruits and vegetables. Morocco counts Western Sahara as part of its territory and labels products, including tomatoes, as Moroccan.
This makes it unclear whether tomatoes from Morocco have been grown in the disputed area, which is a very sensitive issue, and it also means that the products can be sold more cheaply on the European market.