The big international capital is reluctant to fully enter Western Sahara | International

Distribution of butane bottles last year in Dakhla, Western Sahara.
Distribution of butane bottles last year in Dakhla, Western Sahara.

Morocco has been rolling out a red carpet for decades for all foreign capital wishing to invest in Western Sahara. Whoever arrives is free from taxes and bureaucratic obstacles. But the trade and fisheries agreements between Morocco and the European Union run the risk of being definitively annulled by European justice. And the Polisario Front warned this Sunday that foreign companies that contribute to the “looting” of this territory must cease their activity “immediately.” The ambassador to Algeria of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Abdelkader Taleb, told this newspaper by phone that his organization has the means to know who is “profiting” with the resources of Western Sahara and is willing to prevent it.

The majority of Spanish investors in Western Sahara are small businessmen, according to various sources consulted by this newspaper. The ambassador clarifies that the size of the companies does not matter. “The important thing is that these adventurous businessmen are accomplices of plunder,” says Taleb, who warns that his organization will use “all legal means” to enforce the law in Western Sahara. And it specifies: “We also have the right to use armed struggle, like all colonized people. Morocco has benefited to enrich itself from the ceasefire decreed in 1991. We are no longer going to allow it to continue doing so. Neither Morocco nor complicit foreign companies ”.

An international observer who is closely familiar with foreign investment in Morocco informed this newspaper that some medium and large-sized companies have consulted Spanish officials about the possibility of investing in Western Sahara. “But they have done it in an exploratory way and none have ended up being launched. Those in Western Sahara are actually Moroccan companies headed by a Spaniard. I think there should be no Spanish company as such, with the parent company in Spain and its subsidiary there ”, he adds.

A Spanish businessman living in Western Sahara indicates on condition of anonymity that the option of founding a Moroccan company implies many advantages for the foreign investor when hiring staff. And he adds that, due to the fact that he is settled in Western Sahara, he is exempt from paying the VAT (Taxe Valeur Ajoutée), the equivalent of VAT. “We are not even obliged to make the income tax return. However, making the statement can be useful when requesting a loan. And if it pays you, then there is an office in Agadir where they exonerate you ”.

“Land of opportunities”

The aforementioned businessman relates that he arrived after the 2008 crisis in Spain and that since then things have been going very well for him. “And I owe that to Morocco. Here they did not ask me for any kind of alignment with their politics, nor have I heard that they have asked anyone ”. This investor is convinced that Western Sahara is a “land of opportunity”. “For a European company it is enough to copy what was already working in Europe 15 years ago. You bring it to Western Sahara, and you are going to earn money, for sure ”.

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The facilities granted by Morocco to invest in Western Sahara have so far failed to attract medium or large Spanish investors. The aforementioned businessman acknowledges this fact and provides several explanations: “Capital is fearful, by definition. Furthermore, in Spain the Polisario Front is highly regarded. And bringing people here is not easy. It is another culture and it is far from your country. You can’t easily have a beer here after work. “

The businessman cites the case of a Spanish investor who wants to partner with a Moroccan to trade in fishmeal. “The man is trying to bring two technicians from Spain to Dakhla. To convince them, he intends to rent them apartments in Gran Canarias. So they can go out for at least a week every month ”.

The General Court of the European Union issued two judgments on September 29 ordering the annulment of the trade and fishing agreements between Morocco and the EU, as claimed by the Polisario Front. The court argued that the products of a country that the international community does not recognize as part of Morocco cannot be traded. And it adds the obligation to consult the Polisario Front as a representative of the Saharawi people.

The ambassadors of the 27 member countries decided last week to appeal the sentences before the Court of Justice of the EU, the highest European judicial body. This body can study the resource for one or two years. Meanwhile, trade and fisheries agreements will remain in force. The Polisario Front continues to maintain the “state of war”.

Today no one is sure that the European court of justice will not definitively annul the trade and fisheries agreements with the EU. But it is something that does not enter the head of the aforementioned Spanish businessman living in Western Sahara: “Not even the Sahrawis that I know here give importance to the sentence,” he concludes.

This investor prefers to think about “the opportunities” that he sees on the way back. As an obvious example, he cites the construction of the large logistics port of Dakhla Atlantique, 70 kilometers north of Dakhla, which is scheduled to start next year. “More than 2,000 people will come to work here. The Polisario warning is nothing more than a toast to the sun ”, he predicts.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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