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UK group loses legal challenge over Morocco trade agreement

Dec 5 (Reuters) – A campaign group lost a legal challenge on Monday to Britain’s post-Brexit trade arrangements with Morocco over goods from the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The Western Sahara Campaign UK (WSCUK) has taken legal action over regulations made by Britain’s Treasury following the October 2019 “association agreement”, designed to replicate Morocco’s agreement with the European Union.

The group argued at London’s High Court that regulations that extended the preferential rate of import duties to goods from Western Sahara, an area Morocco considers its own, were illegal.

Judge Sara Cockerill rejected WSCUK’s argument that products originating in Western Sahara should only benefit from preferential tariffs if they were produced with the consent of the people of Western Sahara.

She said in a written ruling on Monday that the group’s interpretation of the agreement between the United Kingdom and Morocco would mean that “the agreement cannot be used at all in respect of products originating in Western Sahara”.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We welcome today’s ruling. We will continue to work closely with Morocco to maximize [the] 2.7 billion pounds worth of trade between our countries.”

Erin Alcock, a solicitor at Leigh Day who represented WSCUK, said her client was “disappointed with the court’s decision”.

The ruling follows a long-running dispute over the territory of Western Sahara, which has become part of Morocco and Algeria’s regional rivalry in North Africa.

Algeria supports the Polisario Front’s independence movement for the disputed territory, which has announced the resumption of its armed struggle against Morocco in 2020.

Reporting by Sam Tobin. Editing by Andrew MacAskill

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