Britain says it will start talks with Turkiye on new free trade deal 

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is embarking on a three-day tour of the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia the first stop, followed by high-level meetings in Qatar and the UAE.

Accompanied by several ministers and businesspeople, Erdogan’s visit aims to strengthen ties with the region while addressing international and regional issues of common concern, including Syria, Libya, Palestine, and Iraq.

“Economic concerns will be the top priority of Erdogan's Gulf visit,” said Robert Mogielnicki, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, highlighting the significance of attracting foreign investments and strategic partnerships.

Mogielnicki acknowledged that building closer economic and trade ties will be a gradual process with uncertain returns on investment, despite potential investment announcements or memoranda of understanding arising from this visit. 

Erdogan’s itinerary includes meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Additionally, three economic forums will be held in Jeddah, Doha and Abu Dhabi.

The visit is expected to result in several bilateral agreements across a wide range of sectors, including energy, pharmaceuticals, technology, food, logistics, agriculture, and petrochemicals.

Passing through a period of economic turmoil, Turkiye’s urgent need to attract foreign direct investment and boost its international currency reserves is closely tied to this visit.

Erdogan has turned to investors in the Gulf in search of external resources before November when the country faces several debt repayments. 

Exploring new economic partnerships is an important determinant factor of this new foreign policy approach.

Aylin Unver Noi, Professor at Halic University in Istanbul

Prof. Aylin Unver Noi from Halic University in Istanbul noted that various factors, such as the Abraham Accords, the change in the US administration, the 2021 AlUla agreement, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the earthquakes in southeastern Turkiye, have contributed to the normalization of relations among regional actors.

Unver Noi emphasized the significance of economic issues in the new foreign policy approach of Turkiye and the Gulf countries.

“Exploring new economic partnerships is an important determinant factor of this new foreign policy approaches,” she told Arab News.

“Last month, met with 80 Turkish contractors to discuss $50 billion worth of potential projects in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Recently, Turkish Minister of Treasury and Finance Mehmet Simsek visited Saudi Arabia, accompanied by Turkiye’s newly appointed Central Bank governor, Hafize Gaye Erkan.

Turkish companies have signed various agreements with Saudi counterparts in engineering consultancy, construction, and real estate development, indicating the potential for increased collaboration. 

Ahead of Erdogan’s trip, vice-president Cevdet Yilmaz, a well-regarded technocrat who was tasked with preparing the country’s medium-term economic plan, said on Sunday that there will be more capital inflows to Turkey after this visit. 

At the Saudi-Turkish Business Forum held in Istanbul July 12, opportunities for Turkish-Saudi investments, particularly in areas like urban development, smart cities, and real estate were discussed.

Saudi Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing Majed Al-Hogail invited Turkish companies to invest in the Kingdom’s real estate sector and attend the Cityscape Global real estate expo in Riyadh in September.

Bilateral trade between Turkiye and Saudi Arabia amounted to $6.5 billion last year and reached $3.4 billion in the first half of this year.

The short-term bilateral trade target is $10 billion, with a long-term goal of $30 billion. Erdogan’s previous visit to Saudi Arabia was reciprocated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the Turkish capital, Ankara.

On his way back to Turkiye from NATO’s annual summit in the Lithuanian capital, Erdogan repeated last week his expectation to boost his country’s ties with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE during his visit to the region.

“During our visit, we will find the opportunity to directly follow up on the support these countries will deliver to Turkiye,” he said on Thursday.

“During my past contacts, they’ve already expressed that they were willing to make serious investments in Turkiye,” he said.

For Hakan Akbas, senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group, a commercial diplomacy firm advising global investors including from the Gulf region into Turkiye, Erdogan has recently prioritized rebuilding positive relations with Turkiye’s regional neighbors to attract much needed economic support for the Turkish economy leading up to two crucial elections in May.

“Over the past two years, Turkiye has normalized relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and aggressively courted Gulf investments to buoy its struggling economy,” he told Arab News.

Ankara “has also sought to improve relations with Israel — with (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Ankara — and Egypt — by restoring ties by appointing ambassadors — although caution and prudence will remain with both countries,” he said.

According to Akbas, Saudi Arabia, as part of its Vision 2030 strategy, is pursuing “check-book diplomacy” with Ankara that will include more swap lines with the Turkish Central Bank, investing in state-owned assets under the Turkish Wealth Fund, and investing in publicly listed export-driven enterprises whose share prices are at all time lows and mega real estate projects such as Canal Istanbul.

“As a result of Erdogan’s visit, bilateral trade and Saudi tourism flows to Turkiye will increase. There will also be new deals for military and defense equipment procurement as the Saudi government will want to diversify suppliers beyond the US,” Akbas said.

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