Farming seen as a potential headache for Turkey-EU ties

ANKARA – If Turkey gets the go-ahead Friday to launch membership negotiations with the European Union, the toughest part of future talks is expected to be over the country’s farming sector, experts say. The agricultural sector employs some 40 percent of the country’s work force, but its share of GDP is only about 12 percent and falling, compared with 35 percent in 1970, 22 percent in 1980 and 16 percent in 1995. «Adapting Turkish farming to the (EU’s) common agricultural policy will be extremely painful,» predicts economist Eser Karakas. «There are 8 million people working the farming sector in Turkey – more than in the entire European Union combined,» where the figure is about 6.5 million. Farmland covers 34 percent of Turkey but there are huge regional disparities, with the country’s south and west using efficient, state-of-the-art methods, while the center, east and north remain traditional, not to say backward. Poland’s farming negotiations with the EU were also a problem and, to profit from the Polish experience, the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture has hired Warsaw’s former deputy farming minister Jerzy Plewa as an adviser. EU Farming Commissioner Franz Fischler, a staunch opponent of Turkish entry into the EU, recently estimated the cost of integrating Turkish agriculture at 11.3 billion euros ($15 billion) – again, higher than the combined figure for the 10 new countries that joined the EU on May 1. He drew up a list of the problems expected to arise once the talks start, and cited as an example the case of cereals, whose domestic prices in Turkey are 30 percent higher than in the EU. The opposite goes for other products, however, such as fruits and hazelnuts, whose domestic prices are much lower than in Europe. «The only way to make Turkish farming more profitable,» Karakas said, «is to reduce employment in the farming sector from the current 8 million to about two or 2.5 million.» But this is a likely blueprint for social disaster for an already relatively poor nation of 70 million plus inhabitants, analysts say. «There is no global policy to help rural populations on the road to urbanization,» noted Ahmet Insel, an economist at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University. «There is no re-education policy and social assistance programs, such as child benefits and family allowances for the needy, are very limited.» The government’s view, he said, is that social problems should be solved the traditional way, with families helping each other out. Turkey’s first exodus from rural to urban areas was in the 1970s and a second wave came 20 years later – mostly easterners fleeing the fighting that accompanied a 15-year uprising by rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The migrants, lacking any professional know-how, coming from the poorest segments of society and driven by hopes of a better life in the big cities, were never really at home with urban mores. «It is going to be a very painful period,» said Cengiz Aktar of Galatasaray University. «Turkey will have to come up with some pretty bright ideas for new jobs because it will be impossible to use this surplus of farm labor in other sectors.» One solution, he suggested, would be to direct that part of the population to organic farming, a sector where they could make a good living by exporting their produce to the EU market, hungry for organic products.