DS: Does this aim contradict with the regulations of the Customs Union?
Zeybekci: It doesn't. We will improve and realize co-operation with other organization, while preserving the Customs Union Agreement with the EU. There are certain sensitivities regarding transporting products to Russia as well as the EU, but we can overcome these and persuade both parties.
DS: What are the latest developments in negotiations regarding updating the Customs Union agreement with the EU?
Zeybekci: We published a joint declaration with EU Commissioner Cecilia Malström in Brussels in May 2015. We talked about three essential issues. Firstly, Turkey had to be allowed to participate in the Customs Union the decision-making mechanisms. Secondly, Turkey was to be a party in FTA negotiated by the EU, as well as similar agreements with a third-party. The third was to expand the Customs Union to cover the service sector, agriculture, public procurement and investments, as it currently only covers the industrial sector. We reached a consensus on these demands. The technical negotiations will commence in 2017. We concluded our impact assessments and now the EU is working on their own assessments. We hope that this process will be concluded in the autumn.
DS: How long will it take to conclude the negotiations?
Zeybekci: We aim to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible, at the latest by 2018. Unfortunately, with the EU we had to extensively discuss immigrants and visa-free travel. We missed certain points regarding the Customs Union. Updating the Customs Union means full economic integration with the EU, without the need for full political integration. Therefore, if this is achieved, Turkish corporations will benefit from the existing advantages for EU member countries. This will give us the opportunity to increase the exports to the EU significantly, which will constitute between 65 percent to 70 percent of our total exports. We need to achieve full economic integration with the EU.
DS: After President Erdoğan's visit to Moscow, you announced that you want to use the Turkish Lira (TL) and the Ruble in trade between Turkey and Russia. What are the most recent developments on this subject? Do you aim for similar cooperation with other countries?
Zeybekci: This was a previously-discussed matter. Both leaders instructed their respective cabinets to realize this. Unfortunately, we were not able to materialize this idea. Now this matter was discussed again, and we are trying to put the plan into action. Working with my counterpart, we have achieved a certain level of completion in technical aspects for a joint Turkish-Russian investment fund. If we have a foreign trade volume of $24 billion, why shouldn't we realize the half of the trade in Ruble and TL?
DS: The Ruble is a newly convertible and volatile currency. Doesn't this pose a risk for Turkey?
Zeybekci: We are currently using the Ruble in bilateral trade. We are aiming to use TL for at least one-third of the trade, while they use Ruble. If Russian tourists in Turkey were able to pay with Rubles, this would be wonderful. We are trying to formulate a solution.