Morocco on Wednesday condemned a decision by European lawmakers to scrap a fishing accord that earned the North African kingdom more than euro36 million ($47 million) a year, saying the move has "serious consequences" for its relationship with its largest trading partner.
The European Union parliament voted Wednesday not to extend the deal on the grounds it cost too much, overly exploited fishing stocks and did not sufficiently benefit the people of the Western Sahara, off whose coast most of the fishing occurred. The vote was 326-296, with 58 abstentions.
The legal status of Western Sahara was a major concern. Morocco annexed the region in 1975 and considers it an integral part of its territory, despite a separatist movement seeking independence.
European lawmakers have suggested a new deal should be struck that does not include the waters off Western Sahara. The original deal technically expired in February.
"In addition to the aforementioned economic, ecological, environmental and other shortcomings of the protocol, there are disputed legal issues with regards to the Western Sahara," said the parliament's report on the agreement. "In the case of this agreement, the issue at hand concerns whether or not the agreement directly benefits the Sahrawi people."
In a statement carried by the state news agency, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry called the decision "a regrettable development with serious consequences for cooperation between Morocco and the European Union in fishing."
"(This) is an opportunity for a global reevaluation of Morocco's partnership with the EU," it said.
Cash-strapped Morocco has seen growth slide in the last few years in the face of lower agricultural yields and dropping tourist numbers due to the European economic crisis. Government spending also has increased, raising wages and subsidies to ward off the popular discontent that has swept across the Arab world, ousting longtime leaders.
Morocco did get a note of support from at least one EU diplomat. The bloc's ambassador to Morocco, Eneko Landaburu, said the parliament's vote went against the advice of member states and the European Commission.
"I regret it for our relations with the Kingdom of Morocco," he said in a statement.