TURKISH REFORM VOTE AIDS PUSH FOR EU CUSTOMS TIE

TURKISH REFORM VOTE AIDS PUSH FOR EU CUSTOMS TIE

A planned customs union between the European Union and Turkey moved closer Monday after the EU responded favorably to the vote by the Ankara Parliament in favor of long-stalled constitutional reforms.

The vote Sunday was an "encouraging sign" for the EU's formal agreement of the customs union, a European Commission official said.The customs union, scheduled to take effect next January, was thrown in doubt after the European Parliament withheld ratification of the accord, pending improvement in Turkey's human rights legislation.

The Parliament is expected to ratify the agreement in the fall, since Turkish MPs have approved most of the constitutional amendments proposed by the prime minister, Tansu Ciller.

The customs union and around $1.2 billion in EU aid and loans for

Ankara were held up for years by Greece in protest at the Turkish invasion of the independent Greek-Turkish Mediterranean island of Cyprus in 1974.

The Athens government dropped its opposition earlier this year after its EU partners agreed an early timetable for EU membership talks with Cyprus.

The EU and the Ankara government view the customs union as a means of anchoring Turkey to the West at a time of rising Islamic militancy in the formally secular republic. It also is a belated sop to Ankara following the rejection in 1989 of its bid to join the 15-nation bloc.

The customs union calls for open access to each other's markets - totalling 430 million consumers - for a broad wrapping of industrial goods and services. Turkey must also adopt most EU rules on commercial and competition policy.

The EU enjoys a large trade surplus with Turkey but the customs union is expected to narrow the gap by disproportionately boosting Turkish exports. According to 1993 statistics, the latest available, the EU's exports to Turkey totalled around $16.25 billion and its imports were only $9.75 billion.