Morocco and the EU concluded two days of agriculture free trade talks on 14 January saying that progress had been made but obstacles remained. They hope a deal can be reached next time they meet in February. Brussels and Rabat have been committed since 1995 to a gradual dismantling of trade barriers leading to free trade by 2012, but as in global liberalisation negotiations, the opening up of agricultural markets is particularly contentious. About 300 products are under discussion. Rabat blames the impasse that has existed since 2000 on EU protectionism and reluctance to increase Morocco's export quotas for fresh farm produce, especially for tomatoes. This creates a conflict of interest with Spain, also a major producer and supplier of tomatoes and citrus fruit to the EU. Brussels wants to see acceleration of reform in the Moroccan agricultural sector to allow easier access for EU exports. The North African country's economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which contributes 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 40 per cent of the workforce.
Foreign Trade Minister of France, Morocco's largest trading partner, Francois Loos, warned in Rabat on 15 January that Morocco had to choose between a free trade deal with Europe or with the US. 'You cannot say you want a closer partnership with the EU and at the same time sign a free trade agreement with the US,' he said.