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Sahara : Phosphate protests in New Zealand to turn to compromise

Kiwi organizations protesting against a cargo ship carrying phosphate rock sourced in Western Sahara are ready to turn to a compromise. Trade unionists are asking for a «clamorous and pragmatic action» and are open to discuss an agreement with the importing company.

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Kiwi company Ravensdown Fertilizer is not taking lightly the threats of a pro-Polisario organization against a ship carrying 51,000 tons of phosphate rock sourced in Western Sahara and expected to arrive to New Zealand in December.

The fertilizer firm has announced that it is «working to stave off possible action against the cargo ship Federal Crimson, headed to the Ports of Napier, Lyttelton and then on to Dunedin», reports local online newspaper New Zealand Herald.

Ravensdown spokesman Gareth Richards said that the company is «open to the idea of discussing the issue with stakeholders and had initiated discussion with the unions», who are planning to protest against the arrival of the cargo from Phosboucraa, an OCP subsidiary in the Sahara.

«Ravensdown acknowledges the right to protest, despite our perspectives being different. For example, the trade is legal, complies with UN expectations and welcomed by the Saharawi who are employed at the Phosboucraa mine», Richards said.

Protesting against phosphate rock cargos from the Sahara

The spokesman stressed that his company «typically imported three ships a year of rock from [Morocco] and this had not changed». «Our policy is to encourage the UN to take all efforts towards a political solution of the dispute, do what we can to explore additional sources of phosphate rock and continue to encourage OCP to do what it can for the local people», he added.

Earlier in November, the head of Phosboucraa published a column in a New Zealand newspaper, refuting the accusations of pro-Polisario activists. The article recalled the integration of Sahara products in the amended version of the agricultural agreement and the conclusion of the fisheries agreement in 2019 with the European Union.

Phosboucraa ensures that «OCP does not receive any» of its dividends and that «all profits are reinvested in the region to maintain and develop its activities and support the local community».

Ravensdown’s reaction comes after the Rail and Maritime Transport Union announced that it will besiege the ship in question. «We believe that an orderly, peaceful protest in this manner would appease those committed to more radical, disruptive tactics», the trade union said.

«To us it seems a relatively mild and pragmatic way to exercise a fundamental democratic right without risking undue disruption», Rail and Maritime Transport Union South Island organizer John Kerr said.

In July, the Polisario Front threatened to take legal action in New Zealand against companies like Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients because they continue to buy phosphate from the Sahara. A spokesman from the company explained that «buying phosphate mined in Western Sahara by the company Phosboucraa was in full compliance with international, national and local laws and regulations, including UN provisions for trade with non-self-governing territories». 

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