12 March 2014, Washington — Even as U.S. and Moroccan executives meet to discuss strengthening private sector ties between the two countries, advocacy groups are raising concerns about plans by a U.S. energy firm to explore for oil in the contested territory known as Western Sahara.
Government and business leaders from the United States and Morocco are gathering in Rabat this week for the second annual Morocco-U.S. Business Development Conference. The Moroccan government hopes to capitalise on its 2006 free trade agreement with the United States and encourage U.S. investment in the country by presenting it as a gateway to European, Middle Eastern and African markets.
“There’s a lot going on in Morocco, and the question is how can it leverage what it has to attract American investments to Morocco that can then be directed to a European market or south to the African markets,” Jean AbiNader, the executive director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Centre, a non-profit established by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, told IPS.
Morocco has placed a high emphasis on oil and gas exploration in its energy policy. At this week’s conference, participating energy companies, such as Dow Chemical, were given the option to attend sessions on Morocco’s energy sector, highlighting the potential for both renewable and carbon-based investment in the kingdom.
While international investors in renewable energy have long favoured Morocco, enabling the construction of solar plants and wind farms, U.S. and European corporations are also rushing to take advantage of concessions for possible oil reserves, some of which are potentially located in the Western Sahara, which many people view as under Moroccan occupation.
One such firm is the Texas-based Kosmos Energy, which has already begun offshore hydrocarbon exploration in three blocks of Morocco’s AgadirBasin. More controversially, Kosmos now intends to start oil exploration in an area off the Western Saharan coast, known as Cap Boujdour, in October.
Advocacy groups like the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) contest the legality of foreign businesses, like Kosmos, working with the Moroccan government to exploit Western Saharan resources.
“Morocco is not willing to allow the people the right to self-determination today, and the oil industry is becoming an obstacle in terms of putting pressure in Morocco to accept that right,” Erik Hagen, WSRW’s chair, told IPS.