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The crisis with Algeria leaves trade at a minimum and leads the Government to seek solutions for companies

The Executive analyzes with Brussels the possibility of providing some type of aid to alleviate the impact.

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The crisis with Algeria leaves trade at a minimum and leads the Government to seek solutions for companies

The Executive analyzes with Brussels the possibility of providing some type of aid to alleviate the impact


One year after the Algerian ambassador in Spain was called for consultations in response to the government's support for the Moroccan autonomy plan for the Sahara, Algiers does not slacken its pulse. With exports reduced to a minimum, Spanish companies with interests in the Maghreb country are being the biggest losers, hence why the Executive is seeing with Brussels the possibility of offering them some kind of help.

Less than 48 hours after Morocco released the content of the letter from the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, to King Mohamed VI in which he argued that the autonomy plan was "the most serious, credible and realistic basis" to resolve the conflict in the Sahara, Algiers withdrew its ambassador in Madrid, without having returned.

Three months later, after verifying that the Government was not going to back down on what Algeria defined as the "second historical betrayal" of the Sahrawis, despite criticism from both his partners and the opposition, the Algerian President, Abdelmayid Tebune, He went one step further, suspending the Treaty of Friendship.

This gesture was accompanied by the announcement by the Professional Association of Banks and Financial Entities (Abef) of the freezing of banking operations related to exports and imports with Spain. The measure was later reversed, at least publicly, although businessmen have continued to complain about problems in their transactions and operations.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, acknowledged at the beginning of the year that there were still problems with some commercial operations and that when this happened the Government notified the European Commission, since commercial powers are ceded to Brussels.

The day after Algiers put the Friendship Treaty on hold, it was Albares himself who traveled to Brussels to discuss with the European Commission the implications of the measure at both a national and European level and whether it was possible to carry out some kind of of action based on the existing agreement between the bloc and the North African country.

To date, however, Brussels has not taken any action, although the European Commission has made it clear that they will not sit idly by in the face of "any type of measure applied against a Member State" and ensure that the problems detected by Spain they are transferred immediately to Algiers.

Meanwhile, the Government insists on the outstretched hand towards Algeria and repeats over and over again that it is a reliable supplier and that it always complies with its contracts. Likewise, both Sánchez and Albares have made clear their desire to have the best of relations with Algeria, on the same level as that which exists with other neighboring countries, including Morocco, "based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and non-interference in internal affairs".

However, the consequences of the crisis at the commercial level are more than palpable. Exports suffered a general drop in all sectors as of June, when the restrictive measures began, reaching 93% last December, according to official data from Customs and published by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.

The last month of 2022 there were only 10.8 million euros of exports, compared to the average of 169 million per month that was registered between January and May.

By contrast, imports from Algeria have increased by 59% during 2022, driven mainly by high energy prices. Algeria is the main supplier of natural gas, although in the last year it has been surpassed in a few months by other countries. According to the latest data from Enagás, in February Algerian gas imports accounted for 23.5% of the total.

The direct consequence of this fall in exports and the increase in imports is the fourth largest bilateral deficit that Spain has with another country, up to 6,575 million euros, according to official data.

In this context, sources from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism have indicated to Europa Press that the Government is in contact with the European Commission to see if it is possible to call for aid for the affected companies, which would in no case be State aid, although they have not provided more details about what they would consist of.

A spokesman for the European Commission consulted by Europa Press has pointed out that it is the Member States that have to evaluate "if a specific measure implies State aid", in which case they must notify Brussels for evaluation before any concession, although without confirm whether there are indeed ongoing contacts on this issue.

Meanwhile, although the Government has indicated on more than one occasion that it does not need the mediation of third parties to resolve this crisis, the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, tried to break a spear in favor of Spain during his visit to earlier this week to Algeria, where he met, among others, President Tebune.

The head of European diplomacy encouraged "finding a solution" to the "commercial obstacles introduced since June 2022 to commercial exchanges with Spain", stressing that this is in the "common interest" of Brussels and Algiers since 56% of the Algeria's exports and 43% of imports are to the EU.

However, Algeria has been inflexible up to now and, although it has maintained the gas supply to Spain at all times, something to which its president publicly committed, it has chosen to strengthen ties with other countries such as Italy, with which it has signed an agreement to increase gas exports at a time when Europe is looking for alternative energy sources to Russia.

"There are no news," Tebune said three weeks ago about the relationship with Spain. "Personally, I am very sorry for the state of relations," she assured, stressing that "Algeria is not at the origin" of the crisis but rather the "false step" of the Spanish government with respect to the Sahara. In this sense, he made it clear that the problem is not with the Spanish or with Felipe VI. "We have great respect for the King of Spain and he knows it," he commented.

Thus, the Algerian president proceeded on Thursday to a reshuffle of the Government from which two key pieces in the crisis with Spain have emerged: the Foreign Minister, the veteran Ramtane Lamamra, and the head of Commerce, Kamel Rezig. It remains to be seen now if with his successors there is a step towards a thaw or, on the contrary, Algeria chooses to wait for the year-end elections to bring a new tenant to Moncloa with which to start from scratch.