Turkey and the EU decided in May 2015 to revise the framework and the scope of their customs union with the aim of resolving problems encountered in its current state, as well as adapting it to changing trends in the world economy.
Following this decision, the European Commission started to conduct consultations with various stakeholders and launched its impact assessment for the revision of the Turkey-EU Customs Union. The potential impacts of the attempt to upgrade the customs union will be evaluated mainly within economic, social and environmental perspectives and also in regards to SMEs, consumers and human rights. These impact assessments also give the opportunity for European as well as Turkish stakeholders to share their views and concerns regarding upcoming negotiations.
In EU decision-making, these impact assessments constitute an important instrument for trade policy, especially in terms of helping negotiators to better determine their position before the launch of the negotiations. The consultation process carried out to complement these impacts assessments ensures the engagement and close cooperation of all relevant stakeholders. As a matter of fact, in EU’s latest trade and investment strategy, the importance of conducting impact assessments for every new attempt to reinforce trade relations have been highlighted as they enable “the formulation of sound, transparent and evident-based trade policies.”
Within the revision’s preparatory stage, the European Commission launched an online public consultation to evaluate the future Turkey-EU trade and economic relations on March 24, 2015. This public opinion is not only open to stakeholders from the EU and Turkey but also to those from other countries including EFTA countries, the U.S. and Canada. The results obtained from this consultation will be assessed in the impact assessments and thus would contribute to strengthen negotiators’ position during the negotiation process. In line with the principle of transparency, the report in question will be published afterwards on the European Commission’s website.
This survey requires participants to assess the current trade and economic relations, and to point out which topics should be covered during the revision of the customs union. Besides this general assessment, the survey also presents questions covering a wide range of trade related topics such as customs procedures, tariffs, rules of origin, non-tariff measures, trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights and geographical indications, public procurement, competition policy and sustainable development.
In addition to all these, the commission also seeks to assess the impact of a further trade liberalization between Turkey and the EU on their consumers regarding a wide range issues such as price, choice, quality and sustainability of goods and services; consumer rights and the availability of information. The commission also aims to determine the current obstacles encountered by SMEs in Turkey-EU trade and economic relations. Through these questions, it can be understood that the protection of consumers’ interest and the enhancement of SMEs’ competitiveness represent an important priority for the European side.
The EU also gives priority on economic growth that respects human rights and that ensure a high level of labor and environmental standards. Thus, the EU aims to promote sustainable developments and human rights in all its trade agreements including the revision of the Turkey-EU Customs Union. In this respect, the survey also seeks to determine the impact of further Turkey-EU trade liberalization regarding employment, labor standards, social protection, poverty reduction as well as the rights of Turkish and Europeans to enjoy favorable work conditions, to access to social security and to have adequate standards of living. Likewise, regarding the environment, the commission asks whether environmental quality, natural resources, climate change and the greening of Turkish economy and the EU could be also affected or not and to what extent by further trade liberalization between both parties.
This online public consultation, which will be open until June 9, 2016, presents not only a great opportunity for the Turkish business community to raise their concerns regarding the scope and the way of functioning of the Turkey-EU Customs Union, but also to express their views, for the first time, on issues such as consumer protection, SMEs, sustainable development and human rights, which seem to be viewed as of secondary importance and thus mostly neglected in Turkey.
Selen Akses is senior researcher at the Economic Development Foundation (IKV).