Ruling would slow Moroccan exports to EU in case brought by independentist Polisario Front

 The European Union’s general court on Wednesday annulled the 27-country bloc’s approval of agriculture and fishing agreements that allow Morocco to export goods from Western Sahara.

The ruling could damage the EU’s relationship with Morocco, although the court said the effects of the 2019 agreements would be maintained over a certain period “to preserve the European Union’s external action and legal certainty over its international commitments.”

The EU is Morocco’s leading trade partner and the biggest foreign investor in the North African kingdom, according to the bloc.

The case was brought to the court by the Polisario Front, the movement seeking Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco. The movement challenged decisions by the European Council, the body that acts on behalf of EU member countries.

In its findings, the court determined that the Polisario Front was “recognized internationally as a representative of the people of Western Sahara,” and that the EU did not ensure it secured the consent of the Saharawi people before sealing the agreements with Morocco.

In a joint statement, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and Morocco’s minister of foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita, said they will take measures “to ensure the legal framework which guarantees the continuation and stability of trade relations.”

Oubi Bachir, the Polisario representative to the EU, celebrated “a great victory for the desert cause” in a message posted on Twitter.

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 considers the vast, mineral-rich Western Sahara its “southern provinces” and rejects any actions it regards as a threat to its territorial integrity. The territory’s status is one of the most sensitive topics in the North African kingdom.

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