By Hamdi Firat Buyuk
Turkish exports to Balkan countries rose by 22 per cent in the first five month of this year and earned the country almost 4 billion US dollars .
The data from Turkey’s Exporters’ Assembly, TIM, were collected by Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu and reported on June 16.
The main export destinations in the region include Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, plus other nearby countries such as Slovakia, Greece and Slovenia.
“These figures are the results of increasing political relations between governments and several trade agreements between Turkey and the region, which aimed to increase trade volume [but] Turkey should have reached these figures long ago,” Gozde Kilic-Yasin, an expert on Turkey-Balkan relations in Ankara, told BIRN.
She called the figures somewhat surprising, given Turkey’s currently poor economic environment.
Over this period, Turkey exported most to Bulgaria, selling goods worth 1.1 billion US dollars. Greece and Slovenia followed, with exports worth 839 and 587 US million dollars respectively.
Serbia bought Turkish goods worth 367 million US dollars.
“Balkan countries, especially Serbia, have made great efforts to attract Turkish investments in recent years. Developing Turkish-Serbian political relations has also helped,” Kilic-Yasin noted.
However, she added, Turkey’s growing ties with Serbia had upset many people in half-Muslim Bosnia, where the Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] community expected much more of Turkey.
“Bosnian people are criticising this situation; they believe Turkish investments should have been much higher in Bosnia, given the fraternal political relations between the two countries,” she said.
Turkey sold goods to Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia for 179, 159, 123 and 164 million US dollars respectively over the period in question.
Exports to Slovakia, Croatia and Montenegro earned Turkey 211, 190 and 27 billion US dollars respectively.
The highest increase in Turkish exports was to Croatia – of 47 per cent. Exports to Bosnia, Serbia and Slovakia rose by 36 to 37 per cent each.
Exports to Bulgaria rose by only 3.7 per cent. However, even this small increase is still significant, as the total volume of Bulgaria-Turkey trade is well ahead of other countries in the region.
Turkish exports to the Balkans increased rapidly, experts say, because of its political engagement and economic strategy in the region, but also because of the fall in the Turkish lira, which made Turkish products cheaper to buy.
“This situation encouraged Turkish businesses to export because Turkish products are now a lot cheaper, and the Balkans are the best location for them because of already existing political relations and ease in trade as well as the low cost of logistics. They see a great opportunity in these circumstances,” Kilic-Yasin explained.
“When we look at the cities that export most to the Balkans, we see Istanbul, Manisa, Izmir and Kocaeli – cities that are home to many Turkish citizens of Balkan origins whose ancestors had to leave their Balkan homelands,” she observed.
Turkey has become an increasingly important actor in the Balkans in recent decades, and its foreign policy activities, socio-cultural and media projects as well as economic investments have all grown rapidly in the region. However, Turkish economic power still lags far behind that of other major players in the region.