More than 50 chambers and exchanges from Turkey and EU members will work together on 19 projects as part of the Turkey-EU Business Dialogue (TEBD) project. The TEBD project to promote the integration of the European Union and Turkish business communities and ensure greater awareness of business opportunities between Turkey and the EU was launched in September last year by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (EUROCHAMBRES). Yesterday's event was a kick-off activity to involve Turkish and European Chambers working together on joint projects.
The initiative will have several focuses, including digitalization, higher value-added agricultural production, women entrepreneurs, international networks and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), TOBB Chairman and EUROCHAMBRES Vice President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu said at the TEBD meeting in Istanbul.
As part of the TEBD, the EU provided 2.5 million euros ($2.8 million) in grants for 19 projects, he noted.
"There were around 100 applications from Turkey for this project, 19 projects were accepted from 26 provinces and one other county," Hisarcıklıoğlu noted.
He added that they have been trying to further increase the brand value of chamber and commodity exchanges since 2001. "We are working to make chamber and commodity exchanges in Turkey a service base for companies. The EU has provided us around 16 million euros in this process."
The project will involve a partnership between 28 chambers and commodity exchanges from Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Belgium with 30 of their Turkish counterparts.
The TOBB chairman said that besides providing support to service capacities of chambers and commodity exchanges, these projects would also contribute to Turkey's EU accession process. "From the east to the west, we are showing the EU's vision through our country. We know that we need more dialogue. Therefore, we see this project as a really important one that will bring closer the real actors of Turkey-EU integration," said Hisarcıklıoğlu.
On the other hand, Gabriel Munera Vinals, deputy head of the EU delegation to Turkey, said with the project, collaboration on various issues will be made, ranging from energy efficiency to hazelnut production, providing high-added value, and from innovation to women entrepreneurship.
He indicated that the bloc held such initiatives in high regard and supported the TEBD's projects.
Stressing that these initiatives will provide opportunities for both Turkey and EU to overcome some challenges by bringing Turkey-EU business worlds closer together, Vinals indicated that the initiatives were an important step on behalf of the business community toward improving economic integration between Turkey and the EU.
He noted that the country continued to be the EU's fifth largest trade partner, adding that it was also an investment base for the European businesses. On the other hand, the EU is Turkey's largest trade partner as around 50 percent of the country's exports are made to the bloc.
According to data from the European Statistical Office (Eurostat), Turkey's imports from the EU fell to 77 billion euros in 2018 from 84.8 billion euros in 2017. Its exports to the bloc last year increased to 76.1 billion euros, up from 69.8 billion euros in 2017. As a result, Turkey's trade deficit with the EU, which was 15 billion euros in 2017, dropped to just 1.2 billion euros last year.
In January this year, Turkey posted a surplus of 1.79 billion euros in its trade with the bloc. The EU's statistical body said that Turkey's imports from the EU fell to 5 billion euros in the first month of the year, down from 7.7 billion euros in January 2018. On the other hand, the country's exports to the union increase slightly to 6.8 billion euros, from 6.5 billion euros in the same period last year.
"The EU has provided two-thirds of foreign investments made in Turkey over the last 10 years. Investments from Turkey to EU are also increasing with each year," said Vinals.
The TEBD, established by the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry as well as TOBB, aims to strengthen understanding between the Turkish Chambers and their counterparts in the EU.
Modernization of customs union
Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı, who heads the Department of the European Union, drew attention to the progress Turkey has made in the criteria for the visa liberalization with the EU. "Turkey fulfilled 66 out of 72 criteria required for visa liberalization. We have a four-and-a-half year non-election period. We will deliver the requirements of the six remaining criteria and pave the way for the Turkish people and the business world," Kaymakcı said.
The deputy foreign minister also drew attention to the necessity of updating the customs union. "Turkey is one of the largest trade partners of the EU, and the customs union has played a huge part in boosting the bilateral trade," he said.
Turkey and the European Union celebrated the 24th anniversary of the customs union inked between the two parties on March 6, 1995. The customs union entered into force on Jan. 1, 1996 in accordance with the Association Council's decision on March 6, 1995 following negotiations between Turkey and the EU.
With the update, it is planned to expand the nature and range of products in the customs union to cover agricultural, services and public procurement areas and to protect Turkey from harm in the free trade agreements to be signed by the EU with third countries.
Initiatives to update the customs union were launched in 2014. Following high-level political and technical negotiations with the EU in 2014-2015, the agreement on the content of the negotiations became official on May 12, 2015. While negotiations to update the customs union should have started by 2017 according to the agreement, no official steps have been taken.
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