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EU Parliament approves disputed Morocco farm trade deal

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(STRASBOURG) - The European Parliament on Thursday approved a controversial agricultural and fisheries trade agreement with Morocco that has angered French and Spanish farmers.

The deal backed by the European Commission will immediately lift tariffs on 55 percent of Moroccan farm exports to the 27-nation European Union compared with 33 percent today.

Morocco will in return eliminate tariffs on 70 percent of agricultural imports from the EU within 10 years, compared to 1.0 percent now, under the agreement which was approved in a 369-225 vote.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz acknowledged that "this was not an easy vote" but that its approval showed that MEPs were "serious about improving relations with its southern neighbours".

"Morocco and the European Commission must now help dispelling the concerns of many of my colleagues on the agreement, especially for what concerns the rights of farmers, combating fraud, environmental protection and food safety standards," Schulz said.

Green MEP Jose Bove, the legislation's lead negotiator, warned that the deal was "unbalanced", noting that European farmers could not compete with Moroccan workers who get paid five euros ($6.50) a day.

The agreement "will put European producers in an unbearable competition situation without helping a balanced development in Morocco", the French farmer said.

In Rabat, Moroccan Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the agreement will "breathe a new dynamic into the country's economic and agricultural development".

Farming counts for 13 percent of Morrocco's gross domestic output and for the first time since 2000, the sector suffered job losses last year.

European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos insisted that safeguards were put in place to protect European farms, stressing that tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, garlic, clementines and strawberries were excluded from the deal.

The deal was denounced by left- and right-wing parties in Spain, with farmers throwing 200 kilogrammes (400 pounds) of tomatoes at the European Parliament's offices in Madrid on Tuesday.

And on Thursday a Spanish farmers's group said it would turn to the EU's Court of Justice for a ruling on the EU-Morocco deal.

The industry's main lobby group COAG said it was a "blow" for Spanish farmers.

The COAG said in a statement it would not "stand by idly when the EU abandons (producers) to their fate".

"The COAG will appeal to the European court of justice," Andres Gongora, who is in charge of the umbrella group's fresh fruit and vegetable branch, told AFP.

"This is our last resort," he said. No date has been set for the appeal.

Further information, European Parliament:

Adopted text will be available here (click on 16.02.2012)
Legislative observatory file on EU-Morocco trade liberalization agreement
Adopted text on participation of Morocco in Union programmes will be available here
Legislative observatory file on principles for the participation of Morocco in Union programmes

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