* EU is candidate country Turkey's top trade partner
* Post-coup purge has overshadowed EU-Turkey talks
* Commission links expanded customs pact to human rights
By Robin Emmott and Alissa de Carbonnel
BRUSSELS, Dec 21 The European Commission
proposed on Wednesday an expansion of its customs union with
Turkey to include services and most agricultural goods despite
increased political tensions with Ankara since an attempted
military coup in July.
The Commission, in a positive gesture after months of
criticism of Ankara, said it had asked EU governments to endorse
its bid to revamp a limited 1996 accord that eliminated tariffs
on trade in industrial goods and processed farm products.
The customs union was long seen as a precursor to eventual
EU membership for Turkey, but accession talks launched in 2005
moved very slowly amid concerns over human rights and other
issues. Those concerns have increased sharply since Turkey's
large-scale purges of state institutions following the failed
coup, prompting calls for the membership talks to be frozen.
One EU official cast the plans for an updated trade deal,
which will include sustainable development policies and public
procurement, as a way to retain influence over a geopolitically
important candidate country and neighbour.
Under the deal, the EU envisages an annual increase of its
exports to Turkey, its fifth largest trading partner, worth 27
billion euros ($28.21 billion) and a rise in Turkish exports to
the bloc of 5 billion euros, particularly useful as Turkey's
economy slows. The EU is Turkey's largest trading partner.
However, the deal is likely to face some resistance in EU
member states and the European Parliament, which called last
month for a halt in Turkey's membership talks over the post-coup
The Commission has also tied any deal on an expanded customs
union to respect for democracy and human rights - a sensitive
issue for Ankara, which says the EU showed a lack of solidarity
after the coup. It says the purges are needed to root out
supporters of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric it blames for the coup.
Turkey has long sought to extend its free trade ties with
the world's biggest trading bloc and had sought to be included
in talks on an EU-U.S. trade deal, but Brussels negotiators felt
that would make already complex talks even more difficult.
Turkey has complained that trade deals the EU signs with
other countries fail to consider Turkish interests because the
customs union means more goods flow into Turkey free of tariffs.
The Council of Europe, a leading rights organisation with 47
member states including Turkey, said more than 125,000 Turks
have been dismissed from work, as of Dec. 9, and almost 40,000
people arrested over suspected support for the coup.
($1 = 0.9572 euros)
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by