ANKARA: New EU chapter, new page in Turco-Franco trade ties?

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
June 17 2012

New EU chapter, new page in Turco-Franco trade ties?

17 June 2012 / ERGÄ°N HAVA , Ä°STANBUL

There is no doubt that EU candidate Turkey and one of the union’s `big
guys,’ France, have wasted a great deal of time going due to certain
political tensions.

This was mostly caused by the latter’s provocations on such sensitive
issues as EU accession and the claimed Armenian `genocide,’ with
Turkey overreacting to such.

Maybe the fiercest opponent to Turkey’s full membership in the EU,
former French President Nicolas Sarkozy played an important role in
maintaining relations with Turkey on a knife-edge. His government’s
vetoes on opening some key EU accession chapters was a headache for
Turkey, not to mention raising the so-called genocide issue. Following
his replacement by new President François Hollande, hopes for a better
understanding with France have flourished on the Turkish side.
Politicians from both sides have recently released statements to
decrease the tension. More importantly, now that the reopening of the
Economic and Monetary Policy chapter as part Turkey’s EU accession bid
is at hand, observers argue Turkey and France could find a doorway to
remedy economic relations that have long been under the shadow of past
political tensions.

Bilateral trade between Turkey and France exceeded $11 billion in
2011. Turkey sold 12.5 percent more goods to France last year over
2010, while it received 12.9 percent more imported goods from France
in the same period. Trade between the two partners dropped by 3.6
percent in the first quarter of 2012, when compared to the same
quarter of 2011. However, it increased by 2.7 percent in the first
quarter of this year over the preceding quarter to reach 3.13 billion
euros. France remains the fifth-largest buyer of Turkish products. One
of the critical points Turkey hit when reacting against France was on
the tender front. There has always been speculation that the Turkish
government might move to overturn critical tenders — that French
companies could win — due to recent tension with France. France’s
Constitutional Council in March overturned a controversial law that
would have criminalized denying that 1.5 million Armenians perished in
a systematic genocide campaign during the Ottoman Empire. The
cancellation of an earlier contract that granted Amsterdam-based
digital security firm Gemalto N.V. a 7.5 million euro tender to
provide the electronic chips used in Turkish passports in May was the
latest example of this.

The Economic and Monetary Policy chapter — which is expected to be
reopened on June 18 — was blocked by Sarkozy five years ago due to
his popular objection to Turkey’s EU accession. The new chapter — if
successfully opened — means a strong step towards full Turkish
membership in the EU. However, it has to happen before July 1, when
Greek Cyprus assumes the term presidency. Strongly objecting to the EU
decision to accept Greek Cyprus as the sole representative of the
island without recognizing the Turkish presence there, the Turkish
government is expected to `freeze’ negotiations for membership with
the EU during the six-month Greek Cyprus presidency. According to
Cengiz Aktar, the anticipated approval of the economic chapter by the
new French president can add momentum to Turkey’s membership bid.
`Hollande has never stated he was against opening chapters with
Turkey, and at the end of the day, he has no benefit in doing so. ¦
This new chapter could bring about an unprecedented rapprochement
between Turkey and its strongest objector — for the longest time —
in the EU,’ he indicated.

`The French private sector continues its investments in Turkey, and
trade is increasing. What we need is a signal from politicians on both
sides to trigger further incentives for new investments and trade in
both markets,’ Seyfettin Gürsel told Sunday’s Zaman. Five chapters,
including the economic chapter, under negotiation are being blocked by
France. The remaining four are chapters on agricultural and rural
development, regional politics, financial and budgetary issues and
public institutions. `These five chapters should be opened before
healthy trade relations can be established with France as well as the
EU,’ Gürsel indicated. There are around 1,000 French-owned businesses
in Turkey with a total investment size of around $9 billion, while
Turkish companies in France total 400 with $500 million of investment
volume.

Turkish-French Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Zeynep NecipoÄ?lu told
Sunday’s Zaman that Hollande made it clear during his campaign that he
would not oppose Turkey’s entry. `So we can safely assume that the
relationship between France and Turkey will improve, which in turn
will have an important impact on businesses in both countries. I
expect the economic relationship to improve considerably during the
Hollande mandate.’ With regard to tenders, NecipoÄ?lu said she expects
a milder approach from Hollande, who will consider the relationship
between the countries and its importance to both of them. `As a
result, the cancellation of contracts on shaky pretexts should be a
thing of the past.’

`Hollande has strong commitments to regain dynamism in French markets,
and Turkey remains a key trade partner here. France will likely
benefit from ever-growing Turkish markets,’ Ä°brahim Ã-ztürk told
Sunday’s Zaman. At the end of the day, he continued, one should note
that despite all the political rage on stage, France is one of the few
EU countries to offer the best opportunities for Turkish businessmen.
`The next step should be discussing the Turkish manufacturing
industry’s integration with EU markets,’ he added.

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