27 Nisan 2011 Çarşamba

Turkish Finance Minister Şimşek voices hope for a region in chaos

Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek says Ankara supports 'open societies' in order to boost trade and investment in the Middle East and North Africa. AA photo.

Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek says Ankara supports 'open societies' in order to boost trade and investment in the Middle East and North Africa. AA photo.
Political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East will “provide stability and prosperity in the long run” by creating open societies and stronger institutions, Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek said Wednesday.

As the uprisings reach its borders, Turkey will support “open societies” in order to boost trade and investment in the region, Şimşek said at the 6th Turkish-Arab Economy Forum.

“Don’t be afraid of your own people,” the minister said, addressing nearly 500 businessmen from 22 Arab nations who attended the event. “What’s happening in the region now will lead to prosperity in the end.”

The change in the region will pave the way for “stronger institutions,” Şimşek said, emphasizing that the Middle East and North Africa will “eventually benefit economically” from the grassroots demand for democratization.
Turkey itself has “benefited from raising the level of fundamental rights” in the country, the finance minister added.

Suggesting that surging oil and gas prices provide “a great opportunity to invest more abroad” for Arab businessmen, Şimşek also expressed a positive outlook on energy costs. “[Arab] capital could flow into Turkey,” he said, noting that such inflows would lay the foundations for better economic integration.

Targets in bilateral trade

“Bilateral trade between Turkey and Arab nations stood at around $6.9 billion eight years ago. As of 2010, it has reached $33.5 billion,” he said.

Taking the floor after Şimşek, Rifat Hisarciklioğlu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges, or TOBB, said the level reached in bilateral trade was not sufficient. “The total import volume of Arab nations stands at around $600 billion,” he said. “Turkey’s annual imports are at around $180 billion, but Arab nations account for only $10 billion of this amount.”

The political instability engulfing the region has, however, taken a toll on Turkish exports. In February this year, exports to North Africa dropped by 19.6 percent compared to a year ago.

Hisarciklioğlu pointed out that Turkey has been working on a new industrial zone in Jenin, the largest town in the northwestern West Bank on Palestinian territory. “We are building up this industrial zone to promote peace through industry and investments,” he said. “Turkey currently is working on the infrastructure of the project.”
Mohammed al-Fatah Naciri, the ambassador of the Arab League, called for an end to the Israeli embargo against Palestinians. He also said economic cooperation between Arab nations and Turkey serves “the common interest of all.”

“Turkish constructors account for almost 40 percent of all projects in Arab countries,” said Hisarciklioğlu, adding that the total volume of such contracts has reached $76 billion. The number of Arab tourists to Turkey has surged thanks to the lifting of visa requirements with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, he added.
“The number of Arab tourists visiting Turkey was at around 250,000 a decade ago. As of 2010, the number stands at 1.8 million,” Minister Şimşek said.

A few of the speakers praised Turkey’s economic success, holding it up as an example for the region. “Turkey’s experience is the best proof yet that correct economic policies can lead to resounding success on the international level,” said Rouf Abou Zaki, the chief executive of Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group, which organized the event along with Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK.

Noting that Turkish investors have penetrated deep into Iraq, the country’s Finance Minister Rafe al-Issawi said those who come first to Iraq “will have the greatest profit.”

Iraq needs investments mainly in electricity generation, said al-Issawi, adding that his ministry would give letters of guarantee for Turkish companies considering such investments. “We also need nearly 3 million new houses,” he said, inviting Turkish construction companies to Iraq.

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