Iranian trucks are normally not authorized to transport goods from Turkey to third countries, as the two countries do not have an agreement on the practice. On the other hand, the number of empty Iranian trucks entering Turkey is claimed to have significantly increased recently.
“The truck is declared to be headed for a third country at Turkish customs, but it is actually loaded in İstanbul or Ankara, and goes, for example, back to Turkmenistan,” Erdal İlhan, vice president of the İstanbul-based International Road Transport Union (UND), told Today's Zaman. Officially, the destination of the truck is written as Iran on paperwork, but the truck heads for Turkmenistan and the destination is rewritten at the Bazargan border gate on the Turkish-Iran border. As per regulations, Iranian trucks entering Turkey to transport goods to Iran are allowed to carry no more than 550 liters of fuel at the entrance. “But some Iranian truck drivers who tell Turkish customs they are passing through Turkey in transit enter Turkey with 1,000 liters of fuel, pick up a load here, and go back to Iran,” İlhan said. In this way, Iranian drivers can return to Iran without having to buy fuel in Turkey, thus gaining a significant edge in profit margin compared to Turkish transporters, who have to pay much more for fuel in Turkey.
The troubles Turkish transporters suffer from have not changed since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent visit to Tehran. Turkish trucks headed for Turkmenistan, for example, need to pay 1,050 euros (approximately $1,350) for a round trip, and the fee is nearly $800 for Tehran-bound trucks, while trucks carrying a Turkmen, Kirghiz or Uzbek license plate pay only $320 for a transit pass.
As a result, Turkish transporters have been losing business to their Iranian counterparts because of the inequality Turkish transporters are “illegally” subjected to by Iran. “Nearly half of the transports from Turkey to Iran are being operated by Iranian trucks. And that figure can only be expected to increase,” Ercan Arslan, chair of the UND Iran-Turkic Republics Working Group, told Today's Zaman. Arslan believes the pressure of international sanctions will increase the efforts of Iranian transporters to gain more business in Turkey. And Iranian transporters have an “unjust” edge over Turkish firms. By not having to pay any fees in Turkey and paying much less for fuel, Iranian transportation firms are offering prices for transportation between Iran and Turkey $2,000 to $3,000 cheaper than that of Turkish firms. And Turkish trucks sometimes have to wait, round-trip, for around 10 days at Iranian border gates, which loses them time and money. “If the trucks could return faster, we could send three trucks to a destination a month instead of one,” İlhan noted.
Turkish transporters feel frustrated in the face of the Iranian attitude towards Turkish trucks. In Iran, Turkish trucks are not allowed to buy fuel at the market price. Instead, they have to pay $0.38 per liter, which is approximately double the market price, even though Turkish trucks already pay a considerable transit fee to Iran. Iranian trucks pay no such fee in Turkey.
“Iran is violating the protocol signed between the two countries by not allowing Turkish trucks to buy fuel at market price,” Arslan said. Furthermore, the amount Turkish trucks are paying as a transit fee is not insignificant. The total figure amounts to nearly $240 million annually, according to Arslan. The Iranian route is important for Turkey as about 90 percent of land transports to the Turkic republics pass through Iran.