Responsible trade needs informed discussion
Recent coverage of phosphate rock shipments to New Zealand has at times been selective and misleading – and it is important to restate the facts for the sake of an informed debate, writes Mr. Maoulainine Maoulainine, Chairman of the Board of Phosboucraa – the phosphate mining company operating in the Southern provinces of Morocco known as Western Sahara.
Much of the focus on the trade in phosphate relates to the geo-political status of Western Sahara and the benefits to the local Saharawi population – the first is complex, and the debate on the second usually overlooks most of the evidence.
A state-owned company, Morocco’s OCP Group is the world’s largest supplier of phosphate rock, phosphoric acid and phosphate fertiliser, supplying raw and made-to-order products to more than 160 countries. OCP has been a partner to New Zealand’s two fertiliser cooperatives, Ballance Agri Nutrients and Ravensdown, for almost 40 years.
Only about two per cent of Morocco’s reserves are located in Western Sahara where most of New Zealand’s phosphate rock comes from – chosen because of its suitability to New Zealand’s specific climatic and soil conditions.
OCP’s operations in the region are run by its wholly-owned subsidiary Phosboucraa and consist of a mine at Boucraa some 100 km inland from the export facility at Laayoune.
OCP is the largest private employer in Western Sahara, employing almost 2,200 people – 75 % of whom are local Saharawi across all levels including senior management with others employed at other OCP sites and facilities.
In addition, Phosboucraa engages over 50 local contractors who in turn employ over 700 people from the region.
The United Nations has classified Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory – one of 17 worldwide, including Tokelau which is administered by New Zealand. Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda are others, administered by the United Kingdom. Non-self-governing territories are territories whose final political status has not yet been determined under international law.
Western Sahara in the only one of these territories that is physically part of its administering country and has deep historical, cultural and political ties going back centuries.
The political status of the region is currently subject to a negotiation process led by the Secretary-General of the United Nations under the auspices of the UN Security Council.
The United Nations has also developed a doctrine which allows and encourages trade and investment in these territories to promote economic development and provide opportunities for the local population.
Contrary to assertions of critics, trade with the territory is not only legal, it is encouraged by the international community, including the UN and the EU, because they understand the impact that sustainable economic and social development will have on the region.
Earlier this year, the European Union, with the support of the European Parliament, the European Commission and its 28 Member States, approved the application of Morocco-Europe trade preferences to goods originating from Western Sahara.
OCP Group ensures all its operations and activities meet and exceed all relevant international, national and internal standards, including those established by the United Nations.
Phosboucraa exports less than 2 million tonnes of phosphate rock annually. OCP takes no dividends from Phosboucraa, and independent audits confirm that all of Phosboucraa’s profits are systematically reinvested locally within the region to maintain and expand operations and to support the local community.
Phosboucraa is currently in the middle of a NZ $3 billion development programme to expand the value of its operations from exporting phosphate rock to producing phosphoric acid and finished fertiliser products.
These investments will have significant positive spill over into the local community with an estimated direct and indirect impact on the region’s economy of NZ $5.6 billion and the creation of more than 5,000 new jobs by 2022.
The Phosboucraa Foundation was established in 2014 to administer Phosboucraa’s corporate responsibility and sustainability programmes in the region.
The Foundation invests in social infrastructure supporting its employees and the broader local community through education, training and access to healthcare.
Activities include improving public health through improving access to facilities and health professionals that has helped more than 40,000 people in five years.
The Foundation has established a school for 700 preschool and primary school children as well as learning centres in Laayoune and Dakhla to improve employment opportunities, focusing on youth and women.
It also has a range of animal health and agricultural development programmes – including a research partnership with Massey University.
OCP has also begun an ambitious programme to construct a new university town near Laayoune that will house 30,000 people and a world-class scientific research facility specialising in biotechnology, water and renewable energy, along with an experimental farm dedicated to Saharan agriculture.
Phosboucraa is a responsible company that acknowledges and exceeds international legal standards – not only because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do. Our customers, including those in China, India, Japan, Brazil and New Zealand, have seen this reality first-hand.
It would be unjust for anyone to deny the territory, its local population and its future generations of livelihoods, economic development and the promise of a better tomorrow while the world seeks a determination of its final political status.
Mr. Maoulainine Maoulainine, is a Sahrawi who spent his entire career with OCP Group and Phosboucraa starting as a junior engineer and rising to CEO of Phosboucraa and now Chairman of the Board.