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US reviewing Turkey’s duty-free access to its markets after tariff retaliation

The Azeri Times

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The Trump administration on Friday launched a review of Turkey’s duty-free access to U.S. markets under the Generalized System of Preferences after Ankara imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods in response to American steel and aluminum tariffs.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the review could affect $1.66 billion worth of Turkish imports into the United States that benefited from the GSP program last year, including motor vehicles and parts, jewelry, precious metals and stone products.

A USTR spokeswoman said the review was unrelated to issues surrounding Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for backing a coup attempt in Turkey two years ago – a case that has prompted U.S. sanctions against two Turkish cabinet ministers.

Those incidents have recently helped push U.S.-Turkey relations to their lowest point in decades. The announcement from USTR follows by hours new pledges from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to try to resolve differences between the two NATO allies.

TARIFF RETALIATION

The USTR spokeswoman said the review “focuses on the Turkish government’s compliance with the GSP market access criterion and was prompted by the Turkish government’s recent imposition of unfair and unwarranted tariffs on U.S. goods entering Turkey.”

Turkey retaliated against U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed in March by slapping import duties on $1.78 billion worth of U.S. products, including coal, paper, nuts, whiskey, autos, machinery and petrochemicals.

The Trump administration considers such retaliation illegal under World Trade Organization rules and has launched a WTO challenge to such duties imposed by Turkey, China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

Meanwhile, USTR considers the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to be justified because they were imposed on national security grounds, which it says fall under an exception from WTO rules. But U.S. trading partners argue that the metals tariffs are merely illegal safeguard actions designed to protect U.S. producers.

Turkey is one of 120 countries that participate in the GSP, the oldest and largest U.S. trade preference program. It aims to promote economic development in beneficiary countries and territories by eliminating duties on thousands of products.

Azerbaijan

The US Calls Azeri Government to free All Individuals Imprisoned for Exercising Their Fundamental Freedoms

The Azeri Times

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The US welcomes the release of the opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov from imprisonment in Azerbaijan and calls on the authorities to remove accusations from him, as well as to release all other persons arrested for the implementation of fundamental freedoms.

This was stated by the Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

“The United States welcomes the decision of the Azerbaijani Court of Appeal to release Republican Alternative Party Chairman Ilgar Mammadov, whose conviction and imprisonment for over five years raised serious concerns about the rule of law in Azerbaijan. We call on the government to drop the charges against him, in keeping with its international obligations and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

We urge the Azerbaijani authorities to release all other individuals who have been imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” Nauert said in the statement published on the website of the US Department of State.

According to local human rights defenders, there are at least 150 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

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The United States

US pastor in Turkey appeals for release after key Washington meeting

The Azeri Times

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U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention has caused one of deepest rows ever between Turkey and the U.S., has renewed his appeal to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, in a development that comes a day after Turkish Ambassador to Washington Serdar Kılıç had a meeting with National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Brunson’s lawyer, İsmail Cem Halavurt, filed the demand on Aug. 14 around a week after his previous appeal was rejected by the Turkish court in the western province of İzmir.

The continued detention of Brunson has become a lightning rod in strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., leading the U.S. to slap economic and political sanctions on its NATO ally Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence had threatened Turkeywith more sanctions if Brunson was not released and sent back home.

The recent situation in ties and the Brunson affair were discussed in Washington between Kılıç and Bolton. Although the White House said the meeting took place upon Kılıç’s will, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed that it was arranged by the White House.

“The meeting was scheduled by the White House. Contacts between our ambassador and the White House naturally continue,” he said at a press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Aug. 14.

“There are those who want to resolve this Brunson issue while some others want to prolong it until the November [mid-term] elections in the U.S.,” the minister stated, while complaining about confusion and miscommunication in the Trump administration.

“What our ambassador has told Bolton is clear: There are issues we have been discussing. We have drafted road maps and action plans with regard to these issues. We have updated them once again,” he said.

Kılıç reiterated that threats and sanctions will not help and will only worsen ties between the two countries, Çavuşoğlu noted, saying “relations with Turkey can be improved if the U.S. abandons the language of sanctions and threats.”

The minister said there was no change in the conditions of Brunson, who continues to receive consular access from U.S. diplomatic missions.

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Nunes visits Azerbaijan; was energy security or collusion on the agenda?

The Azeri Times

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A United States congressman is visiting the Caucasus in a show of support for Georgian and Azerbaijani efforts to create alternatives to Russian energy for Europe.

The visit appeared to be a standard congressional visit to the region, with the requisite nods to “energy security” and a visit to the de facto South Ossetia border with Georgia proper. But the fact that the congressman was Devin Nunes, a figure recently notorious in the U.S. for his efforts to shield President Donald Trump from investigations into potential Russian collusion, gave rise to a variety of conspiracy theories.

“Where in The World is Devin Nunes? In Azerbaijan Witness Tampering,” speculated the Daily Kos, a home for the self-styled #resistance to Trump. The allegation was related to the role of Emin Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian pop star who brokered a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians who promised to provide dirt on his competitor in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton.

If that was in fact Nunes’s mission, he didn’t let on. And his cover story was at least consistent with his many colleagues who have made similar trips over the years. In Azerbaijan, he met with President Ilham Aliyev (Agalarov’s ex-father-in-law, incidentally), with whom he discussed “the successful development of the bilateral relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the United States of America in political, economic, energy and security areas,” according to local media.

In Georgia, he met with Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze. “We hope that trade & economic relations w/ US will be in parallel w/ our robust political cooperation,” Bakhtadze tweeted afterwards.

One focus of Nunes’s visit appeared to be the Southern Gas Corridor, meant to transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe in an effort to weaken Russia’s market share. “The only way we’ll ultimately take on Russia is to say, look we’re not going to be reliant on you for our energy,” Nunes told Fox News.

Nunes also took aim at Italian opposition to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which he described as the fruit of Russian propaganda. “One of the challenges that we’re having is that Russian propaganda is actually working in Italy,” Nunes said. “The Italians haven’t been able to sign off on this pipeline yet, which is totally nuts and part of the sophistication of Russia’s propaganda arm.”

Those are words of support sure to win hearts in Baku, but Nunes also has a long record of supporting Armenia. He has signed on to a number of open letters in support of Armenian causes recently, including one asking for an increased U.S. aid package for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the territory currently controlled by Armenian forces that Azerbaijan considers illegitimate. Nunes also signed a letter in April asking Trump to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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