Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Force Feeding Morocco : EU and US Free Trade Schemes
This article from the English language version of Le Monde Diplomatique explains some the logic behind the Free trade agreements Morocco has gone into with the EU and the US and what they will mean for the average and working-poor farmer. Also, think about what it will mean for the quality and overall healthiness of Moroccan food.
Social and ecological cost of Morocco’s agribusiness policy
Why Morocco’s Food is not Secure
by Cécile Raimbeau
In 1996, in the wake of the Euro-Mediterranean Conference in Barcelona, Morocco signed a partnership agreement with the European Union which came into effect in 2000. It’s officially based on the principle of reciprocity. It specifies free access to EU markets for Moroccan manufactured goods in exchange for Morocco progressively dismantling its tariff scheme for European industrial goods. The liberalisation of the market in services is a key part of the mechanism, which aims to establish a free-trade zone by 2012. “When the agreement on services has been signed, we will have taken an important step forward,” said Bruno Dethomas, head of the EU delegation, at the close of the first phase of negotiations in Rabat in late February.
For the moment, Moroccan agricultural goods imported into the EU are subject to reduced or zero-rated customs duty and minimal entry tariffs, though subject to strict quotas and time limits. “While reciprocity is being imposed for industrial goods, an exception is being made for agriculture,” observes Professor Najib Akesbi, an economist at the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinarian Institute. “In other words, free trade where Morocco hasn’t much chance of competing with Europe and protectionism where it’s competitive.”
Morocco’s agreement with the United States is resolutely free trade, including in the area of agriculture. It was ratified in January 2005, triggering a countdown that will lead to the opening of the Moroccan market to more competitive, subsidised American products. The agreement was concluded after 13 months of negotiations behind closed doors, which put paid to any public or parliamentary debate. Civil society organisations’ call for a rally in support of freedom of information provoked a crackdown by the authorities.
And yet, pursuing a free trade policy risks increasing the country’s food dependence, hitting the country’s poorest peasants hardest. The cereal sector is set to decline progressively in the face of European and American competition, not least as a result of agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch’s “Green Morocco” plan, announced in April 2008, which has set the policy for the next 10 years and prioritises export crops such as tomatoes and strawberries.
The first phase of the plan, which targets “the aggressive development of high-value-added, high-productivity agriculture” depends on the construction of a “modern agricultural sector”. This is made difficult by the problem of land availability and its division in very small parcels. It aims to aggregate land holdings under a system in which small- and medium-sized farmers are linked by contract to “high-performance operators”. Though described as innovative, the system more closely resembles a feudal system, according to Professor Akesbi.
It’s true that the second phase of the plan provides for support for small-scale agriculture. But with just one-seventh of the funding of the first phase, there’s a risk it will amount to no more than a few social investments schemes to enable the 70% of peasants with very small landholdings to keep their heads above water. As for the challenge of water resource management, the proposed response is privatisation throughout large irrigated areas.