A senior Turkish business official on Saturday called for a swift solution to the European Union visa issue, which has triggered public outcry and prompted Ankara to vow countermeasures.
Turkish nationals have been complaining of lengthy processing times and a growing number of EU visa rejections since last year, in a row that frustrated Ankara, which called the efforts “deliberate.”
The issue has reached “serious dimensions” for the Turkish businesspeople and traders, said Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, chair of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkiye (TOBB).
“The visa issue has recently reached serious dimensions for the business world, and transport quotas have also negatively affected bilateral trade,” Hisarcıklıoğlu told an event in the Aegean province of Izmir.
“We need to find an urgent solution to the issues of visa and transport quotas.”
Turkish officials have called for a swift solution, lower fees, permits for multi-visa entries and “fairer” evaluation standards for people like academicians and businesspeople in terms of economic and educational activities.
Turkiye and the bloc enjoy good trade ties and decades of migration, however, relations are strained over multiple issues, including the prolonged process of modernization and expansion of the scope of the current customs union agreement and EU policies on refugees from Syria.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Schengen states received more than 900,000 visa applications annually from Turkiye, but that figure dropped to around 270,000 in 2021.
Citizens from all Schengen countries are exempt from visas when visiting Turkiye, most for up to 90 days, and some can enter with only their ID cards, according to Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry website.
Hisarcıklıoğlu said they always consider relations with the EU as a priority.
He stressed that the customs union deal, a modernization of which would comprehensively shake up economic relations between the sides, has been the most important tool for the transformation of Turkiye’s production capacity.
The host of disagreements between Ankara and Brussels over recent years has been stalling the negotiations for the update of the agreement. A deeper 1990s-era trade agreement would be expanded to services, farm goods and public procurement.
The modernization would bring Turkiye fully into the internal market of the world’s largest trading bloc, allowing almost all goods and services to flow unhindered.
“The accession negotiations have further expanded and deepened Turkiye’s transformation process. The accession process has stalled in recent years. As the Turkish business world, we are not happy about this situation. If we take into account the current problems that our countries are facing, the need to revive relations is obvious,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said.
Bilateral trade surged fourfold in the last quarter century, he noted, stating that the exchange of goods between Turkiye and the EU reached about $196 billion as of 2022.
“Companies support the updating of the customs union. The European Union’s enterprises also support the cooperation between the EU and Turkiye on the Green Deal and the single digital market. There is a very favorable environment for Turkiye and the EU to further advance their economic relations,” Hisarcıklıoğlu noted.
Turkiye is the only non-EU country with a customs union agreement with the bloc. The deal was struck in 1995. In its Dec. 21, 2016 assessment, the European Commission proposed revamping the deal.
The current customs union agreement only covers a limited range of industrial products and excludes agriculture, public procurement, e-commerce and services.