Tour to give momentum to trade with ‘Arab Spring’ nations



Prime Ministar Erdo?an observes his welcome ceremony next to an Egyptian senior official in Cairo, where he addressad an Arab League Foreign Ministers’ Council Meeting.
A three-day visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and a large delegation of Turkish businessmen to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya is expected to boost business relations between Turkey and the so-called Arab Spring nations, helping to reverse declining trade figures, observers said on Tuesday.
Erdo?an, the most popular public figure across the Arab world, started his three-day tour on Tuesday night in Cairo. He was greeted by thousands of Egyptians who had flocked into Cairo airport. The three-day visit will basically concentrate on broadening Turkey’s influence in the Middle East and the Arab world. Erdo?an will also visit Tunisia and Libya, two other countries where popular uprisings have ousted long-standing dictators.
Following his address to an Arab League Foreign Ministers’ Council Meeting, Erdo?an met the Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf in Cairo on Tuesday. Erdo?an and his Egyptian counterpart later signed a joint declaration on establishing a High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.
A delegate of 280 people, including deputies and businessmen from a wide range of sectors such as construction, ready-to-wear, food and health, furniture, communication, defense, finance and cosmetics, left in two separate planes on Tuesday to accompany the PM on his “Arab Spring Tour.” Some of the leading Turkish firms who involved in the tour are Akbank, Arçelik, Taha Group, Limak ?n?aat, Medical Park, Sarar Giyim, Turkcell and TUSA? Engine Industries (TEI).Turkey has gained remarkable opportunities having enacted visa exemption deals, securing free-trade agreements, establishing economic zones and launching economic cooperation programs with Muslim nations in the recent past. The country does not want to lose these advantages and, thus, facilitates transactions between its own businessmen and those of the various countries, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in particular, the three largest trade partners in the region for the EU candidate country.
As the major representative of the business world on Erdo?an’s visit, the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (T?M) brings along a great number of Turkish businessmen from different sectors. In a written statement regarding the PM’s visit, T?M said on Tuesday that the three countries (Egypt, Tunisia and Libya) offered vast investment opportunities to Turkish entrepreneurs and that the union will work hard to encourage businessmen to do business with the region. “The Turkish-owned investments in Egypt provide jobs for more than 50,000 people, and our bilateral trade has exceeded $3 billion. … This current strong cooperation should be improved on the eve of a new era in the region,” the T?M statement read. Among the T?M member businessmen are two entrepreneurs who are expected to make investments with a total volume of $100 million in Egypt in the short run.

Focus will be on protecting current projects

The PM’s tour is critical in the sense that this is the most senior face-to-face contact with the region’s transitional governments since the beginning of clashes while it also represents the beginning for discussions on solving problems of the Turkish businessmen in the region, a senior T?M official told Today’s Zaman. “We should not expect huge amounts of deals inked during these visits. … The businessmen will convey their demands to Erdo?an and the local government representatives. Each country has its own special conditions; Egypt, for instance, will concentrate on easing visa procedures for Turkish businessmen while the visit to Libya will focus on resuming the billion dollar projects belonging to Turkish construction firms in the country,” he explained.

Foreign Economic Relations Board (DE?K) Turkey-Egypt Business Council Chairwoman Zuhal Mansfield says one of the most critical issues that wait to be solved with Egypt is the visa issue. “We will ask the Egyptian authorities to ease visa procedures for Turkish businessmen visiting the country … they could provide visas for three to five years especially for entrepreneurs,” she noted. Recalling that the anticipated total business volume to be created in Africa continent in the next 20 years is around $2.6 trillion, Mansfield said Turkish and Egyptian businessmen could join powers to take as large a share from this cake as they can.

Turkey and Egypt have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Turkey sells products such as automobiles, iron and steel and minerals while it imports food and chemicals from Egypt. Exports to Egypt declined by almost 80 percent in the first eight months compared to the same period in 2010. Mustafa Günay, secretary general of the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) told Today’s Zaman in a phone interview that the confederation is committed to supporting Turkish investments in Egypt and other Muslim countries, adding they expect trade with these countries to start increasing in the months to follow. “We have called on our members to accompany the PM on his visits to the region and many of them are participating in the tour right now. … I think we should, first of all, concentrate on protecting the current investments in these countries and seek new projects if possible.” Günay said TUSKON received many different businessmen from the region who are looking for new trade opportunities with their Turkish counterparts. “There is remarkable potential and the government is aware of this; the coming months will bring new bilateral investments,” he added. The latest big investment in Egypt was made by Turkish company Limak Construction, who won the contract for the reconstruction of Cairo airport, valued at $387 million.

Erdo?an’s next destination is Tunisia. Turkey’s exports to Tunisia experienced the highest increase amongst the three North African countries as Tunisian imports from Turkey surged to $76 million from $30 million in the first eight months of this year. Turkey’s TAV holding company earlier won the tender for the construction of the Enfidha Airport in 2007 and has the operational rights of the airport for 40 years. Bilateral economic and trade relations between the two countries are coordinated through an agreement which was signed in 2005.

Turkey is also eager to resume investments in Libya — Erdo?an’s final destination — where Turkish contractors were involved in 214 building projects worth more than $15 billion before the anti-government protests. Libya received goods worth $146 million in January from Turkey while this number declined to $61 million in August. To date, projects worth $20.5 billion in total have been undertaken by Turkish construction firms in Libya. Following Russia, Libya is the second market in terms of the volume of projects undertaken by Turkish contractors abroad. The number of registered companies operating in Libya by the end of 2009 was 115. These firms operate in construction, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and service sectors in Libya. The major issue will be resumption of Turkish-owned construction projects which had to be suspended amidst domestic clashes.

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