Turkey asks WTO to help Syrian refugees through trade

by Reuters
Tuesday, 5 December 2017 15:52 GMT

A Syrian woman shows a document while entering at Turkey's Oncupinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

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More than 3 million Syrians have fled to Turkey

GENEVA, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Turkey has asked the World Trade Organization to back a policy of using trade to improve the livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees, calling their plight "an exceptional situation", a Turkish document submitted to WTO showed on Tuesday.

Turkey has drafted a decision for approval by WTO ministers meeting next week in Buenos Aires, in which all 164 WTO members would agree to help provide jobs for stranded Syrians, since normalisation of conditions in Syria might take years.

The death toll in Syria's six-year war has surpassed 500,000, Turkey said, and over half the country's pre-war population, more than 11 million people, has been forced to flee their homes. More than 3 million of them came to Turkey.

"The Ministerial Conference ... agrees that the Syrian humanitarian crisis is an exceptional situation that justifies a call to engage in relevant consultations within the WTO (and) to explore ways that trade and the WTO can help in alleviating the adverse impact of this crisis," the draft decision said.

"To alleviate the adverse impacts on the countries hosting especially significantly large number of refugees, we call on the international community to ease the financial, economic and social responsibility of the host countries," it said.

Turkey's draft did not explicitly call for a waiver from WTO trade rules, but if it receives the unanimous backing of the WTO membership, it would give Turkey a strong argument for bending the rules to help refugees.

WTO members are not allowed to give more favourable treatment to domestic companies than foreign competitors and they have to offer the same terms of trade to all other countries, unless they have a wide-ranging free-trade agreement.

As an exception to the normal rules, Turkey might ask to be allowed to subsidise exports from Syrian producers or encourage consumption of their goods within Turkey, or it might ask other countries to drop tariffs on imports of such goods.

The draft asked ministers to recognise that the Syrian refugee crisis and migration were "issues that require responsibility sharing".

It asked them to find ways of improving the living conditions of displaced Syrians "through selective policies that will have an enduring effect, aiming to increase the participation of displaced Syrians to social and economic life and to provide employment in host countries".

(Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Larry King)

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