12/3/2008

Trade with the Middle East soars as relationships thaw

The Financial Times - A quiet but seismic shift in Turkey's foreign policy towards the Middle East is driving an export diversification policy to wean the country off its European Union dependency, with considerable success. After decades of steering resolutely westward, under the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Ankara is rediscovering the Islamic world and better diplomatic ties with Iran, Syria and the Gulf states are rapidly being converted into commercial capital. With sleek new airport terminals in Doha and Cairo, water infrastructure projects in Jordan, the Anatolia-based furniture chain Istikbal spreading across Gulf malls and popular Turkish TV sitcoms airing to millions of viewers, Turkish business is fast making its mark on the region. The numbers tell a striking story. The EU is still Turkey's largest trading partner, accounting for half of all exports, but that is down from about 56 per cent when the AKP first took office in 2002. Meanwhile, exports to the Middle East are soaring, jumping 92 percent in the first eight months of the year, compared with a 19 percent EU increase. Within that group, exports to Kuwait went up 177 percent, Qatar 203 percent and the United Arab Emirates, 210 percent. President Abdullah Gul famously said he wants Middle Eastern investors to feel that Turkey is their "second home". "When political will is expressed, the rest [trade] follows," he said on a trip to Doha this year.