Monday, 14 February 2022 03:50

Commission’s double standards with Turkey and China

The EU immediately reacted following China’s discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania. However, in the case of the EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement, the EU Commission remains still “passive”, writes Costas Mavrides.

The EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement in 1995 governs bilateral trade relations on a range of imports-exports and free trade. The Agreement is between the EU and Turkey and applies to all Member States.

In 2004, with the accession of ten new Member-States to the EU, Turkey’s legal obligation to extend the Agreement to the new states was formally signed with the Additional Protocol of the EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement (July 2005). However, shortly after, Turkey announced publicly its refusal to implement the Customs Union with the Republic of Cyprus.

Τhe European Council reacting unanimously stated Turkey’s obligation for full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Customs Union Agreement towards all member states. It essentially asked Turkey to recognise the Republic of Cyprus, withdraw any obstacles against free trade or means of transport, and indicate that it is Turkey’s contractual/legal obligation and not just a policy matter or understanding. Due to Turkey’s continuing refusal to comply, in 2006, the EU unanimously decided to freeze eight accession chapters.

Since then, European Parliament and the other institutions have repeatedly called on Turkey to comply, but apart from that, no further actions have been taken by the EU. Still today, Turkey imposes a total trade and economic embargo against the Republic of Cyprus, causing essential trade and financial losses to Cyprus and the EU.

In July 2015, amid the continuing breach of the contractual obligation under the Customs Union Agreement EU-Turkey, I urged the European Commission to act on the gross violations in total defiance of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, there was no action.

On 27 January 2022, the European Commission announced its appeal to the WTO against China for discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania “that appear to be hurting Lithuania and elsewhere the EU”.

In addition, Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the Commission, explained that the EU is determined to act quickly because “as of December 2021, China has started to restrict or impede (de facto) imports and exports” from Lithuania.

If the appeal to the WTO is not successful within 60 days, the EU will appoint a panel of experts to rule on the matter. In the case of Lithuania, the European Commission reacted swiftly, protecting EU interests as expected. In contrast, in the case of Cyprus, the European Commission did not proceed with similar actions against Turkey.

For seventeen years now, Turkey has been refusing to implement the EU-Turkey Customs Union with the Republic of Cyprus, acting to the detriment of the latter and the EU in a blatant manner. On top of that, Turkey’s demand to upgrade EU-Turkey relations has been put on the table.

As the European Council have stated since 2005, Turkey’s obligation towards the EU relating to its Member State Cyprus is contractual. It is also a matter of solidarity based on respect for standard rules and trade legitimacy.

However, primarily, it is about Turkey’s contractual legal obligation towards the EU. The Commission remains still “passive”, leaning in favour of the violator.