European-Moroccan pact loosens fish, food trade

Associated Press + More

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — The European Parliament approved on Thursday a new fishing and farming accord with Morocco designed to reduce customs costs and boost trade across the Mediterranean.

The tariff reductions spread over 10 years are expected to increase exports from the EU by 50 percent and raise Moroccan exports by 15 percent. The parliament approved the accord 369 to 225 in a session in Strasbourg, France.

Supporters of the agreement say it will maintain European access to a key market and show European support for Morocco as it undertakes democratic reforms prompted by the Arab Spring uprisings.

"Today's EP consent on the trade agreement with Morocco shows that the European Parliament is serious about improving relations with its southern neighbors," said parliament president Martin Schultz.

However some European farmers and environmental groups say the new accord will hurt family farming in Spain and France as well as Morocco and favor big European food conglomerates.

The approval of the agreement was welcomed by the Moroccan government and Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch said they were satisfied with the vote.

The Moroccan government had warned of dire consequences if the accord wasn't passed, saying that the North African country's whole relationship with the EU would have to be reevaluated if it was defeated.

In December, the European parliament turned down a new fishing accord that allowed European fleets access to Moroccan territorial waters in return for a large annual cash payment.

The parliament declined to renew the agreement because it said it wasn't worth the money and because it also included the coastal waters of the Western Sahara, a territory Morocco formally annexed in 1975, without the rest of the world's recognition.

An alliance of socialist and democratic deputies in the EU parliament welcomed the decision to pass the latest accord, but also said it "did not imply an approval for the illegal occupation of the Western Sahara."

Moroccan economist Najib Akesbi said despite the benefits the accord would have for the economy, it was not entirely a good thing.

"The accord principally helps the Europeans and a minority of industrial cultivators in Morocco who are destroying the natural wealth of the country," he said, adding that Europe's non tariff barriers to Moroccan goods remain in force.

While agriculture employs almost 40 percent of the Moroccan work force, most these are in small family farms that do not export.

Lareger farms, some of which are owned by the country's wealthiest families, would be the main beneficiary of the accord.

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