BRUSSELS – Turkey needs to liberalize its protected farming sector and drop restrictions on EU imports of items like beef as part of long preparations to join the bloc, a European Commission study said yesterday. A significant farm producer, Turkey has traditionally slapped high tariffs on agricultural imports to protect its domestic market. For many sensitive products, particularly in the livestock sector, the duties are prohibitive. Agriculture will be one of the most important issues in Turkey’s preparations for EU accession, said the study, which complained of a great imbalance in bilateral agricultural trade. «The EU has granted Turkey very preferential treatment on market access while Turkey has granted relatively little in return,» said the study, obtained exclusively by Reuters. «Gradual liberalization will be needed if shocks are not to be experienced at accession. Further trade liberalization will, however, be dependent on progress being made with implementing existing concessions, notably on beef,» it said. The EU’s customs union agreement with Turkey, which became operational in 1996, excludes agriculture. Turkey, which would add more than 80 million consumers to the EU25’s total of 452 million, has been seeking EU membership since 1963. The Commission’s study gives a clear indication of the executive’s thinking a week before it is due to issue a report on whether the EU should start entry talks with Ankara. If next week’s recommendation is positive, as expected, EU leaders will decide in December whether to accept the advice and set a date when entry talks would start. On agricultural trade, the only real concessions that Turkey had given the 25-nation bloc were on imports of meat and live animals, the study said. But these had never been used due to an import ban that Ankara had imposed on food safety grounds. «Turkey claims to have imposed the ban for public/animal health reasons but it is not in line with international norms for such measures and it primarily serves market protection objectives,» it said. «As regards Turkish exports to the EU, the situation is very different. Roughly 70 percent of Turkish agricultural exports to the EU enter duty-free, while fruits, vegetables and tobacco enter the EU practically free of charge,» it added. Turkey’s livestock sector, generally small-scale family farms, would also need improvements to meet the EU’s strict veterinary standards, the study said. «Nearly all major contagious and transmissible terrestrial animal diseases are endemic in Turkey and special measures will therefore be necessary in the field of animal health,» it said. In EU terms, Turkey would be a major cereals producer on accession, although yields were low by the bloc’s standards. But it would become the EU’s top vegetable producer and number three for fruit, after Italy and Spain. Turkey is also the world’s largest exporter of hazelnuts. It would add 39 million hectares to the EU’s farmland, or some 23 percent of the farmland of the current members.