Polisario movement hails "great victory" after EU's top court canceled two trade deals with Morocco, related to agricultural products and fish from the disputed Western Sahara territory.
The EU's top court has canceled two trade deals with Morocco, for agricultural products and fish from the disputed Western Sahara, after a case brought by the Polisario movement.
The court "annuls the (European) Council decisions concerning, first, the agreement between the European Union and Morocco amending the tariff preferences granted by the European Union to products of Moroccan origin and, second, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement," the EU's Court of Justice said in a statement on Wednesday.
The accords will remain in place for two months in order to "preserve the European Union’s external action and legal certainty over its international commitments", it said.
Consent of the Saharawi people
The court ruled that by extending trade deals with Morocco southwards into the former Spanish colony "without the consent of the people of Western Sahara, the Council infringed the European Union’s obligations in the context of its relations with Morocco under EU and international law".
In its findings, the court also determined that the Polisario Front was "recognised internationally as a representative of the people of Western Sahara."
The European Court of Justice ruled in February 2018 that a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco could not include the waters off Western Sahara.
Morocco views Western Sahara as an integral part of its territory, but the UN views the former Spanish colony as a "non-autonomous territory" and the Polisario, backed by Algeria, has long sought its independence.
Morocco controls around 80 percent of the territory and has offered autonomy, while insisting it must retain sovereignty.
At stake are an overland route to West African markets, rich phosphate resources and Atlantic fisheries along the territory's 1,100-km (680-mile) coastline.
The UN brokered a ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991 and has been calling for a mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict.
EU-Morocco relations at risk
After the court ruling, Morocco and the European Union issued a joint statement underlining that their trade partnership would continue.
"We will take the necessary measure to ensure a legal framework that guarantees the continuation and stability of trade relations between the EU and the Kingdom of Morocco," the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said.
However, a senior Moroccan diplomatic source told Reuters he expected an appeal against what he called an "incoherent" ruling.
The EU is Morocco's leading trade partner and the biggest foreign investor in the North African kingdom, according to the bloc.
On the fishing agreement only, Morocco is set to lose about 52 million euros annually, for four years, in exchange for allowing 128 vessels from 11 European countries fishing in the waters off the western African coast. Ninety-two of those vessels are Spanish.