Turkey raises concerns about EU third-party free trade agreements

ISTANBUL - Turkey’s Minister for Economy, Nihat Zeybekci has raised concerns about the effect of third party European Union (EU) trade agreements on Turkey.

Zeybekci said, on Friday, that whenever the EU signs a free trade agreement with third parties, the countries in question are automatically entitled to a free circulation of goods, both within the EU and Turkey - whereas Turkey is not.

"This is neither acceptable nor sustainable," he told reporters after a meeting with EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on the Customs Union.

Zeybekci said that negotiations have resumed on the Customs Union agreement with the EU, which has been created with an expectation of full membership in the short term.

The Economy Minister suggested that in the event that the EU signs a free trade agreement with major economies, such as the U.S., Canada or India, it would have a tremendously negative effect on the economy of Turkey, and such damage would be impossible to compensate for.

"No third country should be able to be a party to such agreement. We think it is unacceptable," he said.

Zeybekci added that the EU Trade Commissioner and the accompanying delegation agree that the Customs Union needs to be upgraded, modernized, and made more acceptable and sustainable.

"We decided to set up a committee and technical team to start working right away. We believe that there will be positive developments," Zeybekci said, referring to their goal of ensuring that Turkey automatically becomes party to FTAs signed between the EU and third party countries.

"If we fail to ensure the signing of a parallel agreement whenever the EU signs a free trade agreement with a third party, we want to be able to prevent that third party from being automatically entitled to free circulation rights within Turkey. We want to prevent it until a parallel agreement is signed," he said.

Zeybekci said that they also discussed the recently resolved transit pass row with Bulgaria, where Turkish trucks were kept waiting for 12 days in February at Turkey`s Kapikule border gate by Bulgarian authorities.

"We see this as a de facto suspension of the Customs Trade Agreement," he said, referring to an article within the agreement that states that free circulation of goods within the scope of the Customs Union agreement may not be hindered, restricted or subjected to quotas within the EU member countries.

"We will keep monitoring the situation, and take legal action if necessary," the minister councluded.

The dispute over transit passes for trucks travelling between Turkey and Bulgaria was solved on Feb 13, after Bulgaria decided to issue around 100,000 passes.

Turkey and Bulgaria closed the border at the beginning of February, after Sofia approved only 5,000 of the 125,000 transit permits requested by Turkish trucks at the beginning of the year.

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