Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Alparis told reporters Thursday that the Spanish government will “vigorously defend” its national interests in light of Algeria’s decision to cancel a 20-year-old friendship and cooperation treaty and ban all trade with Spain except gas.
Alparis told reporters that Spain monitors gas flows from Algeria, its largest supplier and represents about half of its total imports, which the minister said had not been affected so far by the diplomatic dispute between the two countries due to Madrid’s position on the Western Sahara issue.
The Association of Algerian Banks said on Wednesday that payments to and from Spain had been halted due to the suspension of the treaty, which, according to Algerian sources, affects all aspects of trade except for gas supplies.
“We are analyzing the scope and consequences of that measure at the national and European levels in a calm and constructive way but also firmly in defense of Spain and the interests of Spanish citizens and Spanish companies,” Alparis told reporters.
Spain’s exports to Algeria include iron and steel, machinery, paper products, fuel and plastics, while its services include construction, banking and insurance. Spanish energy companies such as Naturgy, Repsol and KPSA have contracts with Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach.
On Thursday, Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said she was confident that Algeria’s state-owned gas company Sonatrach would honor its commercial contracts to supply natural gas to Spanish facilities despite the diplomatic row.
“We do not believe that (contracts) can be unilaterally violated by a decision of the Algerian government,” she said in an interview with Spanish radio station Onda Cero. Ribera acknowledged that the dispute comes at a delicate time, as gas supply contracts are currently undergoing a price review process.
And the importance of gas supplies from North Africa to Europe increased this year in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Spain infuriated Algeria in March when it backed a Moroccan plan to offer autonomy to Western Sahara. Algeria supports the Polisario Front, which seeks complete independence in the region, which Morocco considers part of its territory and controls most of it.
Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco last year after conflict in Western Sahara flared up again in 2020, three decades after a ceasefire went into effect.
Algeria also decided last year not to extend an agreement to export gas through a pipeline that passes through Morocco to Spain, which constituted almost all Moroccan gas supplies. Algeria supplies Spain with gas via an undersea pipeline and by ship.
Its treaty with Spain also obligated the two parties to cooperate in controlling migration flows, which makes its suspension a potential problem for Spain in this file and may represent a problem for the European Union and NATO as well.
Spain will host the next NATO summit, during which it will seek to include the military alliance’s new political road map “hybrid threats” such as irregular migration to the north, Alparis told Reuters on Wednesday.
Spain’s shift to support Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara issue ended a dispute between Madrid and Rabat last year related to the disputed region as well as mass migration.