Algeria freezes trade ties with Spain

Decision comes after friendship treaty broken over Spain's new position on the Western Sahara

4 min
Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Pedro Sanchez in an archive image

MadridThe relationship between Spain and Algeria is worsening two and a half months after Spain's shift in position on Western Sahara. The North African country has gone a step further this Wednesday in its protest with a double move: on the one hand, it has announced it was suspending of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation with Spain, an agreement signed on October 8, 2002 by former President José María Aznar, which establishes the legal framework for bilateral relations between the two countries. Shortly thereafter, it ordered all banking operations related to imports and exports to and from Spain to be frozen as of this Thursday, according to a statement from the Professional Association of Banks and Financial Establishments (ABEF) reported by the Efe news agency. Before learning of this latest development, Spain had not considered relations to be broken, had "reaffirmed" the friendship treaty and had guaranteed the continuity of Algerian gas supplies.

"The Spanish authorities have launched a campaign to justify the position they have adopted on Western Sahara, a violation of legal, moral and political obligations the Kingdom of Spain has as administrator of the territory", sources in the Algerian government presidency told Efe news agency, who consider it "unjustifiable" that the Spanish government reversed its position on Western Sahara in March, accepting Morocco's proposal for autonomy. On March 19 the North African country had already withdrawn its ambassador to Spain after Morocco published extracts from the Spanish president's letter to King Mohammed VI, in which he expressed support for Morocco. At the time, Algeria spoke of "second historical betrayal", in a reference to the agreement signed on November 14, 1975 by which Spain ceded the administration of Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania, contravening its commitment to call a referendum of self-determination in the region.

During his appearance this Wednesday in Congress – to give explanations, precisely, on the new relationship with Morocco – Sánchez himself admitted that the Spanish state's shift in the conflict over Western Sahara is "contaminating and intoxicating relations between two strategic partners for Spain such as Morocco and Algeria". "We have to do everything in our power to contribute to a solution," he added. In fact, the Spanish president admitted that Spain is "directly involved" in the Saharawi conflict. This is precisely what his coalition and investiture partners reproach him when Sánchez justifies his change in position by comparing it with that of other European countries such as Germany or France. It is precisely because Spain was a colonising power that its change in position in the conflict takes on even more relevance. In the Spanish parliament, the Socialists once again received no support. And the PP has already requested the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, appear in Parliament. Cs joined the request, and also demanded explanations from Minister of Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera

A gesture with immediate consequences

But what does the suspension of the friendship treaty mean? It is one more sign of Algeria's discomfort with Spain, but it can also translate into tangible consequences in trade relations between the two countries or in the control of migratory flows. "Algeria is not the commercial partner Morocco is, but it is an important economic partner due to hydrocarbons," notes Isaías Barreñada, professor of international law at the Complutense University of Madrid. For the time being, Algeria has frozen banking operations for imports and exports, according to the ABEF's announcement, which communicates Ministry of Finance notifications to Algerian banks. Before this move was made public, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Luis Albares, has tried to send a message of calm and, in statements to the media after learning of the suspension of the treaty, had assured that the country presided by Abdelmadjid Tebboune had given "guarantees at the highest level" in matters such as gas or migrations.

"There is no problem with Algeria in relation to the energy supply," Pedro Sánchez had insisted this morning. This issue has been on the table since the crisis broke out. "Relations are through contractual partnerships between companies and I do not want to generate speculation," defended Ribera, who hoped that the relationship with Algiers "can be redirected." Gas company Naturgy guaranteed a few days ago that the contract with the Algerian gas company Sonatrach would remain in force. "The contract we have with Sonatrach has two parts, one is the price contract and the other is the quantity contract. This one is long-term and we have not been told that it is under suspicion or will be reviewed at any time," said Naturgy's chairman, Francisco Reynés. "In other words, the decision taken by the Algerian government regarding its interpretation of the Moroccan problem does not necessarily affect the supply contract, which is valid until 2032 and which the parties are willing to renew," he added.

Albares reiterated his will to have "the best relations with Algeria [...], based on mutual respect and cooperation and on everything that is mutually beneficial for our peoples". From the Spanish government, in fact, they assure that they maintain the validity of the treaty and put special emphasis on the part of the preamble that defends the principles of "international law" and, specifically, the "principles of sovereign equality of states, of non-interference in internal affairs and of respect for the inalienable right of peoples to dispose". "The government of Spain considers Algeria a neighbouring and friendly country and reiterates its full availability to continue to maintain and develop the special cooperation", ministry sources added. However, if one party breaks the treaty, the text will be a dead letter.