Turkey seeks to form working group for U.S. free trade deal

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By: Emre Peker / The Wall Street Journal

Turkey’s prime minister will seek to form a working group to draft a free-trade agreement with the U.S. during a state visit in May, marking an effort to counter an increasingly onerous customs deal with the European Union, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said Tuesday.

The push by Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes amid discussions to revise or annul the country’s 1996 customs union with the EU, widely seen as a precursor to Turkey’s entry to the bloc. Turkey’s accession talks finally started in 2005, but have been frozen for almost three years amid political disagreements and the region’s debt crisis.

Turkey also seeks to establish a working group with Japan as Ankara pushes for a free-trade agreement between the two countries, Mr. Caglayan told a gathering of businessmen in Istanbul.

Turkey is also pushing for an FTA with India, he said, noting that Ankara had just struck a deal with South Korea.

The number of Turkey’s free-trade deals has declined to 19 from 29 following the EU’s enlargement to 27 countries in the past decade, Mr. Caglayan said.

Ankara is pushing for FTAs with 10 capitals to counter EU deals, which are binding for Turkey under the customs union, even though Turkish officials don’t get a say in the negotiations.

Mr. Erdogan will meet President Barack Obama starting May 15, and striking a free-trade agreement will be a top agenda item on his agenda, Mr. Caglayan said. Turkish-U.S. trade is valued at about $20 billion annually, with U.S. firms making up about 75% of the sales, according to Mr. Caglayan.

This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

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