January 29, 2023


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In Morocco, phosphates in the diplomatic service

Published on Sunday, December 04, 2022 at 1:24 pm.

Morocco, the leading African phosphate exporter, is taking advantage of its first natural resource to rally diplomatic support for its position on the critical issue of Western Sahara, according to analysts.

After disruptions related to the war in Ukraine, a country occupied by Russia, the kingdom posted record revenues for the second year in a row from phosphate exports, benefiting from higher prices of this mineral important for food security in Africa.

“It is a strategic mineral because it is important for global food security,” Abdelrahim Handouf, an expert on agricultural policies, told AFP. In the face of population growth, he says, fertilizers are “a very effective way to increase farm production.”

Morocco is the world’s second largest phosphate producer after China and holds 70% of world reserves.

Phosphate rocks have been mined in Morocco and Western Sahara since 1921, providing 8% of national production. Rabat controls almost 80% of the Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

Morocco represents 31% of the world phosphate market, according to the Office of Cherifian Phosphate (OCP), the public company that holds the monopoly on its exploitation.

OCP aims to record a turnover of over 130 billion dirhams (about 11.5 billion euros) in 2022, a year-on-year growth of 56%.

– “Geopolitical Tensions” –

Fertilizer prices for Russia, the world’s largest exporter, have risen due to Western sanctions against Moscow and higher prices for the natural gas needed to produce them.

But already before the invasion of Ukraine in February, demand exploded after the Covid-19 pandemic, fueled by export restrictions imposed by China and demand from India, a major global importer that has exhausted its stocks. According to Mounir Halim, an expert in the field.

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OCP has quadrupled its production capacity to 12 million tonnes annually between 2008 and 2021 and is targeting 15 million by the end of 2023.

The group presented an investment plan of 11.5 billion euros on Saturday to “provide all its industrial equipment + with green energy + by 2027” and to achieve carbon neutrality before 2040.

Morocco increased its phosphate exports by 66% year-on-year to more than 8.5 billion euros at the end of September, the foreign exchange office said.

But international production remains low and “geopolitical tensions could impose new supply constraints in the short term”, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization noted.

– “The Victorious Joker” –

In this context, phosphates have become a tool for Morocco to settle the ongoing conflict in Western Sahara against the Sahrawi separatists of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

Fertilizers are the “joker winner of Moroccan diplomacy”, while the OCP has become its “economic arm”, the local press analysed.

According to media reports, Morocco has returned 50,000 tonnes of fertilizer sent to Peru after the country restored its ties with the separatist self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

“Morocco is using its economic weapons in a practical way,” admits Tajeddine El Husseini, professor of international relations, who can have a “political impact.”

With Brazil and Japan, OCP is increasing its international presence, especially on the African continent with 12 subsidiaries established in 16 countries.

He inaugurated a composting plant in Nigeria and signed an agreement to set up another in Ethiopia.

The public company plans to allocate 4 million tons of fertilizers by 2023 to “support food security in Africa.” Also, after exporting 500,000 tons of phosphates to African countries free of charge or at preferential rates this year.

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“Morocco has launched economic cooperation projects over the years with many African countries, particularly those hostile to it on the Sahara issue,” said political commentator Noufal Boumri.

“It’s a way to get closer, and these countries can change their position in the future.”