Businessmen from Ceuta and Melilla: Customs are in the interests of both Spain and Morocco

Trade and business representatives from the two autonomous cities hope to see the customs offices promised by the governments in operation despite the state of negotiations


The Spanish-Moroccan working group that met in Madrid at the beginning of June ended its first meeting without much news regarding the customs for Ceuta and Melilla announced in the 7 April roadmap by the two governments. 

These few advances have raised certain misgivings among businessmen in Ceuta and Melilla, according to Enrique Alcoba, president of the Confederation of Businessmen of Melilla, and Joaquín Mollinedo, secretary general of the Ceuta Chamber of Commerce. "The statements made by the President of the Government in Congress give us optimism, but negotiations with Morocco are always difficult", summarises Alcoba in a telephone conversation with Atalayar. 

The installation of a commercial customs post in Ceuta, and the reactivation of the Melilla post, closed in 2018, are two of the most important points of the joint declaration signed between the government of Pedro Sánchez and Morocco. The implementation of the customs posts, to a certain extent, implies Morocco's respect for Spain's sovereignty over the two African places. 

They also imply an interesting source of revenue for both cities, through the collection of taxes on commercial products. Enrique Alcoba recalls that, in 2017, a year before its closure, Melilla's customs office allowed the collection of 40 million euros a year on products entering the African enclave. 

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At that time, according to police sources in Melilla, the customs office was operating on a par with irregular trade, so Alcoba estimates that if a customs office is opened and smuggling is eliminated, the 2017 revenue should be exceeded. "It is estimated that before the pandemic, irregular trade could reach a volume of 60 million," recalls Alcoba, without wanting to predict a hypothetical future. 

"In any case, it is clear to us that Morocco does not want any more atypical trade, nor does Spain. And Europe does not want the image of porter women to be seen any more. We have no faith that all this will come back", comments Enrique Alcoba. The president of the Confederation of Businessmen maintains that the return to normality of the passage of individuals and goods will bring vitality to the region thanks to trade and the transit of people. "And it would be even better if we maintained and boosted Melilla's fiscal benefits by declaring the city a special economic zone," adds Alcoba, ruling out joining the European customs union, a much more complex and less adapted management for Melilla. 

In Ceuta the situation is similar. Joaquín Mollinedo, secretary general of the Ceuta Chamber of Commerce denies having received any information about talks between Spain and Morocco on customs in Ceuta. "For now there is a budget allocated in case infrastructure is needed, but the opening of a border is not trivial," Mollinedo clarifies, "Things will take time. 

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Like Melilla's businessmen, the Ceuta Chamber of Commerce is "very much in favour" of a commercial customs office to allow the regulated and formal transit of Spanish products to Morocco, passing through Ceuta. 

"We have not yet been able to estimate what the impact of customs would be in Ceuta, unlike in Melilla. But we know that it would have a large and positive impact," Mollinedo explains. "Because of our tax system and our legal security, I am sure that many companies would be interested in Ceuta to move their products from Europe to Morocco, as well as in the other direction," the secretary general believes. "It is a very great potential for attracting international companies," he concludes. 

On Monday 13 June, the President of Ceuta, Juan Vivas, once again assured the media that the Spanish and Moroccan governments would comply with the agreement and that Ceuta would have its own customs office in the future.