afrol News, 20 January - The French government, Morocco's main ally, has expressed dissatisfaction about Morocco's ongoing free trade negotiation with the United States. A US-Moroccan free trade agreement would be "incompatible" with Morocco's deepening trade ties with the European Union, which also are set to end up in a free trade zone by 2010.
During an April 2002 visit to the US, Moroccan King Mohammed VI was presented an unforeseen offer by President George Bush; the first US free trade agreement with an African country. Washington has a history of close ties with Rabat, and these have even been intensified with the "war against terrorism" and the new US support for Morocco's claims over Western Sahara. To seal the excellent political relationships, the US President opted for closer economic ties.
A US commission has already crossed the Atlantic, travelling to Morocco to establish the basis for the foreseen treaty, which is foreseen to be elaborated step by step. Last week, preparations were stepped up as a team of 30 Moroccan negotiators started on a four-day meeting with US counterparts to study the needs for legislative changes. The talks were reported to cover everything from customs cooperation to social issues.
Only 25 kilometres north of Morocco lays the European continent and Morocco indeed has a common land border with the EU around the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Morocco lays claims to these two exclaves; just one example of the troubled connections to the EU, in particular Spain. Later, there are fishing rights, immigration, treatment of immigrants, human rights and above all, Europe's majority sympathies towards independence for Western Sahara.
EU-Moroccan relations are complicated and closer ties to the only super power seem a logical resource. But then, there is trade. Almost two-thirds of Morocco's trade is with Europe and the interdependence is growing. US-Moroccan trade is modest in size.
Morocco signed the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with the EU in 1996, easing trade barriers with Europe and giving Morocco access to certain EU development funds. Within the so-called "Barcelona Process" of regional cooperation across the Mediterranean Sea, by 2010 there is to be established a gigantic free trade zone from Sweden in the north to Morocco in the south-west and Turkey and Egypt in the south-east. Within this framework, Morocco has already signed free trade agreements with several North African countries.
But a Moroccan free trade agreement with countries outside the Euro-Mediterranean region would jeopardise this, EU politicians hold. US items would slip freely into the EU and North Africa, avoiding the taxation that is foreseen in the common Euro-Mediterranean market.
France's external trade minister, François Loos, on a recent journey to Morocco was not denying he was disappointed with Morocco's ongoing negotiations with the US. "One can talk about anything, but one cannot aspire for two compatible things that are not compatible," said Mr Loos in Rabat.
Although the seeming EU-US fight to obtain the better trade deal with Morocco initially may have sounded a joyful situation for Rabat, warnings were rapidly articulated. Moroccan businesses, highly dependent on EU markets rushed to maintain a positive dialogue with the EU on the Euro-Mediterranean free trade zone.
The French Minister became very clear when in Rabat. While he was asked to comment on the difficult question of quota negotiations for agricultural product, Mr Loos returned to the US-Moroccan negotiations. "If one thinks that such constraints would disappear while working with the United States, it needs to be said that one should stop deceiving one self." The message from Morocco's closest friend within the EU was totally clear; go with the US or go with the EU.