Difficult foreign policy, regional woes hit Turkish exports to ME

ISTANBUL: With Turkish truck drivers already having been forced to give up the route to countries on the Arabian Peninsula due to the civil war in Syria, Egypt’s recent decision not to renew a roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro) agreement for their merchandise has become another nail in the coffin of Turkey’s economic ties with the region.

After the Syrian border with Turkey was essentially closed to Turkish transportation firms following the onset of war, Turkish officials signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in April 2012 with Egypt, establishing a three-year transit-trade route that would allow trucks to reach Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. However, in October 2014, Egypt announced that it had decided not to renew the Ro-Ro agreement with Turkey, citing worsening relations between the countries. The agreement will expire on April 23, and Turkish officials have yet to take concrete steps to solve the problem.

With Turkish exports to Middle Eastern countries already strained by political woes, exporters are deeply troubled by this recent news. Turkish exporters have already suffered from transportation costs that are five times higher due to the closure of the Syrian border, and economic relations between Turkey and the Middle East may take a further toll in the near future due to increasing tension.

Turkish trucks, which had previously reached Saudi Arabia in a single day by crossing through Syria, are currently carried by Ro-Ro ships to Egypt’s Port Said, then proceed to the port of Adabiya on the Red Sea coast to take another Ro-Ro ship to Saudi Arabia’s port in Duba. Apart from wasted time and the insufficient availability of Ro-Ro ships, this alternate route costs transportation firms dearly.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Abdurrahim Kilic, a board member at the Istanbul-based International Transporters Association (UND), stressed that Turkish firms have already suffered as a result of the war in Syria and added: ”The MoU between Turkey and Egypt will expire on April 23. Egypt declared that the agreement will not be renewed in a notice to [Turkey’s Foreign Ministry]. As far as I know, the Turkish ministry has not taken any action yet. Using the Suez Canal is very costly and the ministry also discourages [Turkish firms] from using it. If Egypt does not renew the agreement, this route will also probably be closed.”

Highlighting the insufficient capacity of Ro-Ro ships, Kilic said: ”Only one voyage is scheduled every five days and one ship carries at most 135 vehicles. Previously, over 200 trucks crossed the border in that time.”

Ibrahim Guler, the chairman of Hatay Ro-Ro AS., said a 10-day round-trip journey was extended to almost a month after the war: ”Considering customs procedures, the discharge of loads and reloading, as well as return travel, a single trip lasts almost a month. If a new agreement is not signed in April, exporters can expect serious difficulties.”

Ebubekir Koran, Adana