Play nice if you want our agri-trade: EU hangs food security threat over Turkey

“The Commission made it clear that talks could stop if it does not play by the rules of the game,” a source told EURACTIV. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Turkey must play by the rules if it hopes to strengthen its agricultural relations with the EU in order to bolster its food security in light of the Ukraine war, member states have stressed ahead of a high-level meeting this week.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski will meet with Turkish Agricultural Minister, Vahit Kirişçi, for their first high-level agricultural dialogue in Ankara on 11-12 May.

While the agenda is not yet finalised, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that the main themes of the meeting will revolve around food security and strengthening agri-trade relations between the EU and Turkey.

This has taken on renewed importance in light of the Ukraine war in the hope of finding solutions for Turkey’s heavy reliance on Russia.

Turkey is the third-largest importer of wheat in the world, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, importing primarily from Russia ($1.66 billion), Ukraine ($208 million), Canada ($104 million), and Germany ($100 million).

The meeting will also focus on the upcoming review of the financial assistance provided to Turkey to help improve its agricultural and rural development.

But several member states have warned that if Turkey hopes to strengthen its ties with the EU, it must toe the line.

During a Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting preparing the work for the gathering of agriculture ministers on 24 May, several member states stressed the importance of these dialogues being conditional on Turkey’s behaviour and the need for the Commission to keep a tough stance to safeguard both EU and member states’ interests.

This push was mainly spearheaded by Greece and Cyprus, who have notoriously strained relations with neighbouring Turkey. However, sources say that Poland also took to the floor to express certain concerns over ensuring Turkey complies with EU standards on certification and veterinary standards.

There have previously been a number of issues related to live cattle exports from the EU to Turkey, as well as organic exports and labelling on products originating from Turkey.

In 2020, Turkish authorities rejected 800 cattle carried by the Lebanon-flagged ship Karim Allah, and 1,800 cattle on the other, Togo-flagged, Elbeik livestock carrier over suspicions of the bluetongue virus.

Although an outbreak amongst the bovines was not confirmed, the two ships had been stranded at sea for months as they were not allowed to dock at any port after the Turkish refusal, ending their journey in Spain, where the government ordered the slaughter of the unwanted animals.

According to a source inside the meeting, the Commission representative present during the SCA meeting agreed with the sentiment, saying that they hope to keep the dialogue going but will warn this is “reversible” if Turkey does not play nice.

“The Commission made it clear that talks could stop if it does not play by the rules of the game,” the source told EURACTIV.

Agriculture is a 'crucial security policy' for EU, says Commission

Agriculture has become a key security policy for the EU in light of the war in Ukraine, according to the EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who placed the sector alongside the likes of energy.

However, asked about the upcoming talks, a Commission spokesperson took a more cautious stance, explaining that it was “not possible to anticipate how far the Commissioner’s demands will go” ahead of the meeting.

“We’re not sure at the moment exactly what the trade aspects will look like,” the spokesperson told EURACTIV.

According to the Agricensus Export Dashboard, Russia supplied 7.72 million megatonnes (mt) of wheat to Turkey in 2020, accounting for 75% of total imports, with 5.1 mt exported between January and September of 2021.

Meanwhile, Europe is the second-biggest supplier of high-protein wheat to Turkey, with 1.33 million mt shipped in 2020, most commonly sourced from Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

Turkey is now paying a heavy price for its dependency on Ukrainian and Russian wheat, with the wheat exports from the two agricultural powerhouses almost grinding to a halt. This has also sparked further concerns in Turkey about skyrocketing inflation.

Sources say that no concrete decisions are expected to come from this meeting, but that it is instead a continuation of efforts to strengthen ties between the two.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]

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