On October 3, 2005, the European Commission began EU accession proceedings with the Republic of Turkey. The process of EU membership is expected to take between ten and fifteen years. Prior to beginning its move towards EU accession, on January 1, 1996, Turkey and the EU formed a customs union. The agreement covers industrial products and processed agricultural goods. The Republic of Turkey adopted the EU’s common external tariff (CCT), resulting in lower duties for imports from third countries, including the United States. The union establishes zero duty rates and no quotas for non-agricultural items of EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) origin. The current import regime is organized in five chapters that list more than 20,000 items, identified with 12 digit harmonized tariff system numbers.
The Government of Turkey (GOT) estimates that as a result of its accession to the European Customs Union, the average duty rate for imports from the European Union and EFTA countries has dropped from approximately ten percent to zero. For products imported from third countries, including the United States, the average duty rate has dropped from ten percent to approximately 4.1 percent. Turkey has reserved some exempted categories for sensitive products with tariffs on these items generally much higher than the CCT. Some agricultural goods will remain protected by steep tariffs. When the European Union applies further Uruguay Round reductions, Turkey's average rates for third countries (including the U.S.) will be lowered to 3.5 percent.
Turkey is a member of GATT/WTO and regulates its customs in line with GATT requirements. While generally in compliance with the WTO agreement, Turkey often fails to notify the WTO of changes to import requirements. Applications of non-tariff barriers, such as implementing a reference price system and not issuing control certificates on occasion, continues from time to time and poses problems for imports of agricultural products. For instance, Turkey has not provided any control certificates for beef for years. The United States initiated a case against Turkey under the WTO in November 2005 regarding Turkey’s regulations concerning the importation of rice. The panel discussions of this dispute are underway. Turkey maintains high import duties on agricultural products, while consistent with WTO obligations it is not considered consistent with the spirit of the WTO agreement.