Supply of Moroccan fruit & veg has been safeguarded, as a legal suit against trade between the Northern African nation and the UK has been rejected.
Campaigners had taken the government to the High Court over a post-Brexit trade agreement with Morocco, arguing it was negotiated without the consent of people from the Western Sahara territory, a heavily disputed region of the country.
But a judge has now permanently ruled that the case against the UK Morocco Association Agreement, a deal first concluded in 2019, cannot be further appealed.
The ruling has removed a potential risk of disruption to the import of Moroccan goods, which UK supermarkets heavily rely on.
Recent trade figures showed the UK imported more than £400m of fruit and vegetables from Morocco, making up a third of all imports from the African nation.
Fruit & veg accounts for a third (£409m) of all UK goods imported from Morocco
Trade between the two countries grew almost 50% year on year to Q4 2022.
“We are delighted that good sense and fairness has prevailed, and the UK Morocco Association Agreement has been again upheld as fully compliant with the legal status of Sahara region,” said Chakib Alj, president of Morocco’s leading business group, the General Confederation of Enterprises in Morocco (CGEM).
“This clearly recognises the vital role that businesses in Morocco, who have invested in the Sahara region, play in driving up the quality of life for local people and in supplying the UK with quality produce.
“We are now entering a new era of relations for the UK and Morocco that will drive prosperity to the benefit of all parties.”
The UK Morocco Association Agreement was signed to protect trade between the two countries after Britain left the EU.
A legal challenge against the deal was first brought against the now defunct Department for International Trade by the Western Sahara Campaign UK group last year.
The activist group alleges Morocco is unlawfully occupying Western Sahara, sourcing and trading local resources without consent.
However, the High Court decided last week there was insufficient basis for a judicial review of the agreement.
The chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Morocco, Heather Wheeler MP, said: “We are delighted that the UK Morocco Association Agreement has been further strengthened by this news.
“Trade between the UK and Morocco plays a vital role in supporting UK consumers by keeping supermarket shelves well stocked with high-quality food produce at fair prices, whilst giving UK businesses the chance to grow their exports.”
She praised UK-Morocco relations as a “great post-Brexit success story”, and that the court’s decision not to grant any appeal “gives us the certainty now to look forward and to grow our bilateral relationship still further, both economically and politically”.
A government spokesperson also said the UK was going to “continue to work closely with Morocco to maximise the £2.7bn worth of trade between our countries”.
Although it is unclear how exactly a different outcome would have affected Moroccan imports, government figures from 2019 estimated there would have been a £78m increase in tariffs paid, across imports and exports, if the association agreement had not been struck.
At the time, trade between the two countries was also substantially lower.
The two nations are set to jointly undertake a review of bilateral agriculture trade later this year, with the UK hoping to expand international trade to strengthen food security.
Earlier this year, Britain’s growing dependence on Moroccan fresh produce came to light when an unexpected winter storm in Northern Africa decimated crops, resulting in widespread shelf gaps across UK supermarkets.
By Maria Gonçalves 6 June 2023