The New Zealand fertiliser industry ensures that all fertiliser products are responsibly sourced and that there are no supply shocks to the New Zealand economy. For example, a world-wide pandemic such as COVID-19 or a natural disaster, can affect supply chains. It's important to ensure the industry can continue to operate in these circumstances.
New Zealand's supply of phosphate rock that is made into phosphate fertiliser, is sourced from a number of countries including China and South Africa. The majority of the rock comes from Western Sahara in North Africa.
New Zealand fertiliser companies conduct their due diligence of all suppliers on dozens of attributes-from health and safety, to corruption, to employee rights, to renewable power and monitor their performance closely. OCP, who operate the Phosbouccra mine in Western Sahara, score highly on a large range of these measures and have been a reliable partner for decades.
Western Sahara is a non-self-governing territory adjacent to Morocco. The UN lists Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, because its final political status has not yet been decided. There are several interested parties involved including Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and an independence group called the Frente Polisario.
Claims of sovereignty have been disputed for over 40 years. Since 1991, the UN has had a mission in Western Sahara charged with preparation of a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco. While the organisation of the referendum has not been possible to date, the UN continues to monitor the situation.
The MINURSO website, which covers the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, provides useful information on the recent history.
We are aware of the current tensions in this region and we are monitoring the situation closely.
Morocco holds approximately 70% of the economically available phosphate reserves in the world with about 50 billion tonnes. Western Sahara holds about 1 billion tonnes of rock reserve, which is similar in size to the reserves in the US.
The rock from Western Sahara is an important part of the blend in superphosphate, because of its physical and chemical properties. There are no other alternatives that offer the same performance. About half a million tonnes of phosphate rock is imported to New Zealand each year and about 70% of that is from Western Sahara.
As the Frente Polisario claim the territory, they believe the export of rock from Western Sahara should stop until the question of sovereignty is resolved.
There are 17 non-self-governing territories worldwide, including Tokelau, which is administered by New Zealand and Gibraltar, which is administered by the UK. The UN has rules around doing business with these territories so that local people receive the benefits of economic development.
There are thousands of Sahawari who live and work in Moroccan-administered Western Sahara. There are also thousands of Sahawari who exist as refugees in extremely poor conditions over the border in Algerian-supported camps.
New Zealand businesses involved in the phosphate supply chain are working together in a co-ordinated way to ensure they comply with specific business and human rights frameworks and guidance when sourcing phosphate from Western Sahara.
Members of the industry visit Western Sahara on a regular basis to evaluate the local supplier's compliance with the UN expectations shown below.
The supplier (Phosboucraa, a subsidiary of OCP) also provide regular updates about employment practices, health and safety, benefits to local people and investment in health, education and social programmes.
The UN has a crucial role to play in facilitating a political solution to the long running dispute. In the face of a political stalemate it is important that the inhabitants have access to economic development, and benefit from the resource.
The industry in New Zealand continues to pursue its due diligence, undertaking regular site visits and inspecting facilities and working conditions on the ground and regularly obtaining information from the supplier on employment and local investment.
The fertiliser industry in New Zealand is operating within UN expectations. We are comfortable both legally and ethically with sourcing phosphate rock from Phosboucraa.
Phosphate rock from the Western Sahara is a strategically crucial input for New Zealand's agricultural production and food exports .
Given that the territory's political status is undecided, the industry has closely followed UN guidance on the issue.
The UN has a clear position about the use of resources in non-self-governing territories. The UN's view is that there should be a clear benefit to the local population from any use of natural resources and the mine at Phosboucraa continues to demonstrate this is the case.
The industry receives on-going challenges from a number of protesters who have concerns on the use of the rock. While all parties seek a solution, the protestors don't appear to consider the risk of ceasing trade to the livelihoods of the Saharawi who are employed by OCP. It is not clear how the loss of jobs in a volatile part of the world would progress the issue of Western Sahara's political status .
The right place to reach any kind of solution for such a complex geopolitical issue is through the UN.
The industry joins others in encouraging all governments, including our own, to push the UN for progress on this stalemate.
New Zealand imports less than a quarter of the phosphate rock produced from the mine at Boucraa. Phosphate rock is exported from Western Sahara to Japan, China, South America and India.
In January 2019, the European Union approved EU-Morocco trade agreements related to agricultural and fisheries products to explicitly extend trade preferences to goods coming from Western Sahara. A key consideration in extending this trade agreement was consideration of the beneficial impact of the trade on Western Sahara, as a contributor to social and economic development through support for creation of infrastructure, employment, extension of health and education services.
Morocco is a stable country in an otherwise volatile region. It is promoted by NZTE as the easiest country to do business with in North Africa. NZ exports to Morocco were worth over $300m across 5 years.