MEPs will be battling it out this afternoon over a controversial EU agreement with Morocco to liberalise trade in agriculture and fisheries. Supporters praise it as a chance to strengthen relations and stimulate the economy, but critics have dismissed it as a threat to small farmers. As MEPs prepare to debate it today and vote on it on Thursday, we gave two members on opposite sides of the issue the chance to explain why they feel so strongly about it.
The agreement already proved divisive when it was still being discussed by parliamentary committees. Although the International Trade Committee called for the agreement to be supported, French Green MEP José Bové, who is responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, recommended turning it down to prevent it coming into force. Fellow committee member Cristiana Muscardini, an Italian Christian-Democrat, was one of those in favour. In addition two other committees were consulted on the issue: the committee for Agricultural and Rural Development was against, while the Fisheries one was in favour.
The political groups backing the agreement (EPP, ALDE, S&D and ECR) have tabled a resolution, which takes on board some of the concerns of those who oppose it.
We talked to Mr Bové and Ms Muscardini about the agreement
Why do you think the Parliament should approve/reject this agreement?
MEP Muscardini: This agreement represents a chance for Europe concretely to support the development of Euro-Mediterranean countries starting with Morocco, which has lately undertaken democratic reforms. It represents an open door towards the neighbouring countries which have been through the Arab Spring revolution. By approving this important agreement, the Union will start boosting the economic reforms necessary to create better, safer and fair trade areas in the Mediterranean.
MEP Bové: The parliament should speak out against this new liberalisation agreement as it will have disastrous consequences for family farming in both Morocco, where they account for 20% of all employment, and in EU countries in the south, especially in Spain and France. This agreement will permanently reduce Morocco's capacity to increase its food autonomy. It will expose consumers in this country to speculation on the world markets for agricultural products.
Who will benefit from the agreement between EU and Morocco?
MEP Muscardini: This agreement would benefit both Morocco, by developing its agricultural sector through boosting exports and imports from Europe, and of course the EU, which will open its market to Mediterranean areas affected by the Arab revolutions, and which need investments and economic support to entrench democracy. European farmers would be able to trade and export their products into euro-med markets. Safeguard clauses will provide guarantees in the case of overloaded markets.
MEP Bové: Instead of helping Moroccan farmers, the agreement will increase exports from the EU by 50% and from Morocco by 15%. Things are also very clear when you look at who will benefit. European companies that export cereals and powdered milk are waiting for this agreement to be signed. Large European companies involved in processed food will equally benefit from it. In Morocco some companies producing fruits and vegetables for exports will see their sales increase. So a handful of big companies on both sides of the Mediterranean will profit from it at the expense of family farming.
What will be the effect of a possible approval/rejection of the agreement on EU-Morocco relations?
MEP Muscardini: If the Parliament rejects the agreement, the Union will lose an opportunity to become a vital and key player in the Euro Mediterranean area. The agriculture agreement underlines our responsibility towards a country, our neighbour, which should be considered as an important door to Mediterranean markets.
MEP Bové: Rejecting this agreement would make it possible to start up new negotiations on a new basis. But more generally speaking, I think this would be a strong signal to the Commission that it needs to change the way it involves the Parliament, especially during discussions earlier in the process. It should produce concrete and serious impact assessments on the economic, social, environmental and budget consequences of the agreements it is negotiating. It is no longer acceptable that the Parliament can only approve or turn down an agreement. The upcoming discussions for an agreement with MERCOSUR will be an early opportunity to see if the message got through.