AMSTERDAM (Reuters)–Strengthening Turkey’s porous south and eastern borders to prevent animal diseases from spreading to Europe is a key challenge in preparing the country’s agriculture for EU membership–a report said on Friday.
The report–prepared by an international group of agriculture economists–is based on the assumption that Turkey would join the EU in 2015–but says the country will need more time to attain food safety standards that would allow it to be part of a single market for animal products.
The risk of disease outbreaks in the EU may increase and food safety and quality may become diluted by embracing a country with a poor record in these areas–unless effective border controls were in place from the moment of accession–the report said.
"Some highly infectious animal diseases that have been virtually eradicated in western and northern Europe remain endemic in Turkey," said the report presented by the Dutch Wageningen University–which was the lead researcher.
"The situation is complicated by the fragmentation of the livestock sector–Turkey’s geographical location and its porous borders to the south and east," said the report–which focuses on the impact of Turkish EU membership on agriculture.
Turkey–which borders Syria–Iraq–Iran–and Armenia to the south and the east–hopes EU leaders will agree at a summit on Dec. 17 to open entry talks in 2005 and eventually join the current 25-member bloc.
The EU has said that agriculture–accounting for half Turkey’s territory and employing a third of its workforce–will be a key issue in its preparations for accession.
Friday’s report said highly infectious diseases including foot-and-mouth and sheep and goat pox had occurred in Turkey virtually each year since 1996. The country was also prone to outbreaks of anthrax and brucellosis–it said.
Economic and political turmoil in the Middle East over the past decade has caused an extension of animal disease epidemics in the region–posing threats to Europe.
The report said Ankara had shown progress in harmonizing veterinary legislation with EU standards but added the infrastructure–administrative capacity and commitment needed for effective law enforcement and border control remained weak.
"Even with effective implementation of the acquis (EU’s set of laws)–it will be many years before Turkey reaches full disease-free status for all the most infectious diseases," the report concluded.
"The greatest challenge for Turkey does not–however–concern policies. It is in fact to develop… effective control of external borders by the time of accession."
It estimated that EU budget paymen’s to Turkey under structural policies–including agriculture–would be between 9.5 billion and 16.6 billion euros in 2015–while Turkey’s budget contribution would be 5.4 billion euros.
Turkey–which would add more than 80 million consumers to the EU-25’s total of 452 million–has been seeking membership since 1963.