Unknown Frontier: Turkey, TTIP, and the EU Customs Union
On Thursday, February 5, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkir for a roundtable discussion on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its impact on Turkey’s EU Customs Union. The conversation was moderated by GMF’s Transatlantic Academy Fellow Sir Michael Leigh.
Approaching the eighth round of negotiations, both the United States and Europe continue to emphasize the benefits of TTIP. However, for non-Member States or for those whose EU candidacy has yet to come to fruition, such as Turkey, this agreement is of particular concern. Since the implementation of the final phase of the EC-Turkish Customs Union in 1995, Minister Bozkir highlighted how the Turkish economy has grown substantially and now ranks sixth in terms of trade with the EU. Apart from micro-states such as Andorra and San Marino, Turkey is the only country to have entered into such an agreement prior to EU membership, which it has actively sought since submitting its application in 1959. Thus, Turkey’s economic horizons remain vulnerable to the final outcome of the U.S.-European TTIP negotiations.
Minister Bozkir illustrated the evolution of EU-Turkish relations over the last 50 years, emphasizing how important the relationship is for both parties and suggesting that “if there is no mutual interest, then relations would come to an end.” By aligning itself more closely with the EU, Turkey will gain greater “economic stability, food security, and [become] more democratic,” Minister Bozkir explained. He pointed to new economic markets, a ready, educated, and able workforce, energy resources, and military assistance as benefits the EU could reap from a closer relationship with Turkey. “Both sides should feel that this membership should become a reality,” Minister Bozkir ventured, as the only way Turkey’s EU membership will be achieved. “We need each other more than ever,” he noted.
The conversation then turned to TTIP and the ramifications it may pose for Turkey’s domestic economy. With the implementation of the EU Customs Union, Turkey “paid a price, but it was worth it,” Minister Bozkir commented. Since then, Turkey has restructured its economy and witnessed immense growth, as well as signed several bilateral trade agreements that have further broadened its economy. For Turkey to avoid a damaging blow to its economy, he underscored that TTIP must be signed with a provision that includes Turkey. Turkey is currently in the process of upgrading the EU Customs Union to include three additional sectors and Minister Bozkir hopes that fears can be averted by including an article in this Customs Union renegotiation that pertains to TTIP and its inclusion of Turkey.
Turning to the audience, Minister Bozkir fielded questions across a range of topics. Those in attendance inquired about his current trip to Washington and the responsiveness of U.S. policymakers, the results of recent meetings between President Barack Obama and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the ongoing turmoil in Syria and across the Middle East, the potential for industry-specific free trade agreements, the status of various chapters in the EU accession process, domestic press freedom, and the Cypriot negotiations. The event was attended by roughly 60 government, academia, and think tank representatives, as well as interested media.