- Spain and Morocco hold their first summit in eight years
- Relations long strained by the issue of illegal immigration
- Expected to sign up to 20 trade and investment agreements
RABAT, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Spain and Morocco have agreed to put aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to mend a relationship marred by frequent disputes over migration and the territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed up to 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million) .
“We have agreed to a pledge of mutual respect, whereby in our speech and in our political practice, we will avoid anything that we know offends the other party, particularly in relation to our respective spheres of sovereignty,” he said. Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spanish enclaves in Africa, the dispute between Morocco and the rebels over Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants into Spain each year via Morocco.
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Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs checkpoint in Ceuta.
Madrid says this reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has made no public statement indicating that its long-held position that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after reversing the former Spanish colonial master’s four-decade policy on Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between neighbors has forced Sanchez’s socialists into awkward positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a European Parliament resolution calling on Morocco to improve its press freedom record. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involves “swallowing a toad”.
Spain’s U-turn on Western Sahara has angered Polisario Front ally Algeria, which has suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut off the flow of natural gas even as forging closer gas ties with Italy.
Spanish exports to Algeria fell 41% to 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion) in the January-November 2022 period compared to the previous year, according to the Ministry of Industry . Its exports to Morocco increased by 27% to 10.8 billion euros over the same period.
Spain expects to get a significant share of the 45 billion euros that Morocco is expected to invest by 2050 in improving infrastructure, a Spanish government source said.
Spanish companies are well placed to win concessions in key sectors of Rabat’s development plan, such as water sanitation and renewable energy, the person said.
Public rail operators Renfe and Adif are working with their Moroccan counterpart to develop new train lines, which could represent 6 billion euros in turnover.
Spain is discussing how to remove Morocco from the gray list of money laundering countries, another government source said. A delegation from the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, visited Morocco last month and is expected to announce later this month its decision to withdraw or not Morocco from the list.
Thursday in Rabat, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch welcomed Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as “the most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara conflict, but did not reference to an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.
A joint statement makes no mention of Spanish enclaves in Morocco, although it reiterates Spain’s new position on Western Sahara. Morocco said it expected Spain’s upcoming European Union presidency to mean it could act as a broker for better relations with the bloc.
The two countries have agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of illegal migrants.
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Reporting by Belén Carreño and Ahmed Eljechtimi; Written by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Gareth Jones, Aislinn Laing, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis
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