EU backs US position on Turkey’s inclusion to TTIP

EU backs US position on Turkey’s inclusion to TTIP

A statement issued by Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkır last week that said Turkey might freeze its Customs Union deal with the European Union if the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) does not include Turkey was quite important, showing the government’s determination toward this end.

Bozkır’s urging is a continuation of several other Turkish leaders’ strongly worded criticisms against the EU over the implementation of the Customs Union. The debate between Ankara and Brussels resulted in a report issued by the World Bank in April, recommending the expansion of the deal to agriculture, services, etc. The parties have yet to explore ways to respond to the suggestions made in this report.

As Turkey left local, and most importantly presidential, elections behind with the formation of a new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, these issues, having been shelved for a time, were brought back to the agenda. But it seems Bozkır’s threatening that Turkey could freeze the Customs Union deal received little reaction in Brussels.

“Turkey sees it as political, but it should be aware that it needs to adopt certain economic reforms before asking to join the TTIP. It should also be recalled that this point was also made by the U.S. Secretary of Trade,” a senior European diplomat said recently.

In a visit to Ankara in early October, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker made clear that “it was not the right time to begin talks about including Turkey in the TTIP process with Europe.”

“Let me be clear about the TTIP. Turkey and the U.S. are great allies and nothing is going to change that. And we have a mechanism called the High Level Committee which we use to keep Turkey abreast of the TTIP conversations. But engaging further with the TTIP at this time before the necessary economic reforms are taken doesn’t make sense either for Turkey or the U.S.,” she said during an interview with a group of journalists in Ankara.

The government believes that being left out of the U.S.-EU deal would cost $3 billion to Turkey, so is pushing the EU to add just one article to the TTIP deal for the automatic inclusion of countries that already have a Customs Union deal with Brussels.

Turkey signed the Customs Union deal with Brussels in 1995, believing it would help Turkey’s accession to the EU as a full member. The deal between Ankara and Brussels has not been revised since then, although global trade and commerce conditions have changed drastically over the last two decades. 

Therefore, while on the one hand Turkey is in talks with the EU about expanding the scope of the Customs Union deal, on the other hand it is urging Brussels about the negative consequences of its isolation from the process. This is how Minister Bozkır relates these two things: “We need to reach an agreement on technical matters. Even if we do not suspend our Customs Union deal, we may not apply the deal’s advantages to countries with which the European Union has a separate trade agreement.”

This process is becoming more significant, given the state of Turkey's full EU membership negotiations that have gone nowhere for quite a long time. The EU should prove that it still considers Turkey as a partner and could be a leverage on its democratic improvement by opening negotiation chapters. Turkey, meanwhile, should make clear that it’s ready to launch a dialogue on the economic reforms that would facilitate its inclusion in the TTIP.

Otherwise, Turkey and the EU risk weakening the very political framework associated with Ankara's accession to Brussels. This would drop the EU from Turkey’s near-future vision. Even worse, losing mutual trust between Ankara and Brussels would hinder other key projects, like visa liberalization and the readmission process, as well as potential cooperation in the field of energy, economy and foreign policy.