The Turkish point of view

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Turkey wants to play a part in the pact but has a few issues to sort out.


The two trade partnerships that the Obama administration is simultaneously pursuing, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are both economic and strategic projects. From an American perspective, the purpose of these partnerships is to try to offset China’s rise as the main Asian and global power of the 21st century.

Thus the TTIP agreement is seen as a way to consolidate the Western alliance and create an economic counterweight in the West to the rising Asian economy. This is a very critical aspect of TTIP, especially if viewed from a Turkish perspective. Ankara is also interested in the positive effects the agreement might have, based on the nature of the treaty and what it might encompass. In other words, Turkey would certainly not wish to be left out of such a gigantic economic project that involves its Atlantic allies.

TTIP is more than just an economic project. If TTIP negotiations are rounded off successfully, the entente between the two economic giants, the US and the EU, will have strategic political overtones as well. In fact some commentators have referred to TTIP as an “economic NATO”. This description is not far off seeing as TTIP could become a major pillar of the Atlantic community. 

The Turkish government views TTIP  along these same lines. The kind of  terminology used would seem to  indicate that Turkey’s elites consider  being included in the TTIP  agreement a way of strengthening  Turkey and its partners’ reciprocal  commitment within the Atlantic  community. It has been estimated  that Turkey’s long-term revenue  would drop by .27% if the agreement  only involves a removal of tariffs. If  non-tariff barriers are also removed,  the drop would be closer to 2.5%.  Yet the more pertinent issue is Turkey’s  place in the Atlantic community  The TTIP negotiations started at a  time when Turkey, as substantiated by  a recent World Bank report, was  seeing diminishing returns from its  customs union agreement with the  EU. It has been 20 years since the  agreement was signed and it has  served Turkey well. Yet with the  proliferation of the free trade  agreements signed by the EU with  third parties some of Turkey’s  advantages have been eroded. 

The new free trade agreements  between the Union and third parties  were not automatically extended to  Turkey. Ankara had to negotiate its  own trade agreements with such  countries. At present, countries  competing directly with Turkey over  EU trade, such as Mexico, South  Africa, Algeria and most importantly  South Korea — all of which have free  trade agreements with the EU, have  not signed agreements with Turkey. 

The World Bank’s report  recommended that the customs union  be extended to services and include  special provisions for agriculture.  Turkey expected to be granted the  right to join TTIP, arguing that it was  entitled to do so as a result of the  customs union. Then, when this  route looked unlikely, it also tried to  engineer a free trade agreement with  the United States. At this point, the  EU and the US have not yet agreed on  whether TTIP will be open to the  accession of third countries. 

Reaching a free trade agreement  with the United States did not prove  any simpler. The economic positives  and negatives of the potential  agreement were outweighed by  political obstacles that thwarted its  chances. The current climate in the  US Congress makes it very unlikely  that the US administration would  support or approve a free trade  agreement with Turkey.

Presently the inauspicious political  climate rules out any moves towards  Turkey’s inclusion in the TTIP  negotiations or the chance of coming  up with a formula that would grant Turkey a place in the final agreement.  All the more so since the existing,  negatively charged political  atmosphere between Ankara and  Brussels inhibits a reasonable and  solution-oriented dialogue between  the partners. 

This is unfortunate on several levels.  Turkey’s geopolitical importance for  the Atlantic alliance is not going to  diminish considerably any time soon.  Its prospective membership in the  European Union was also  instrumental in shifting Turkey  towards becoming a bona fide  member of the Atlantic community  and a stakeholder in its economic  system and its values. 

The gradual eclipse of the EU project  due to deteriorating relations between  the ruling AKP in Turkey and major  powers within the Union stalled  Turkey’s reform process. If Turkey  could be a party to TTIP or its  inclusion could be secured even  conditionally, this may help kick start  the reform process. A revitalized  reform process would then put the  Turkish business community and civil  society back in play, just as they were  at the peak of Turkey’s passions for  EU membership. In turn, this would  lead to a new wave of reforms. 

These reforms would not be limited  to the economic realm. Currently  much of the ill-feeling nurtured  towards Turkey in some European or  American circles or the excuse that’s  often quoted for not fully engaging  with Ankara is a result of the  country’s considerable democratic  shortcomings. Once Turkey returns  to the virtuous path of building a  liberal political order, its concerns  would — or at least should — get a  more sympathetic welcome in  Brussels and Washington. 

In the meantime, there are a number  of things that Turkey must do before  TTIP is finalized. As Sinan Ülgen,  chairman of the Istanbul-based  Center for Economics and Foreign  Policy Studies, suggested in a  meticulously argued paper, those  countries that have close economic  ties with either the US or the EU  must focus on making TTIP an  agreement that will not harm their  interests. For countries such as  Turkey, Norway, Mexico and Canada,  Ülgen offers these suggestions: help  design an accession process that can  resist politicization; promote the  principle of mutual equivalence to  eliminate non-tariff barriers;  encourage the design of a flexible  dispute settlement mechanism; and  form a TTIP caucus or a joint  platform to directly interact with  Washington and Brussels. 

Turkey should be included in TTIP  both for its economic prospects and to  consolidate its place once and for all  in the Atlantic community. In light of  the economic and political  developments that have taken place  over the course of the last few years,  achieving this goal ought to be a  priority not just for Ankara but for  Brussels and Washington as well.  

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