Hosted by the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO), the gathering of hundreds of chambers of commerce from 23 Mediterranean nations discussed the region’s growing economic and geostrategic importance, as well as the sweeping political changes seen in Mediterranean countries affected by the Arab Spring.
That new demand for political reform and transparency is key to the long-term economic prosperity of the region, said Gül in a written statement to the conference. Even though the Mediterranean has countries with vast historical and cultural differences, the president said that the roadmap to continued economic development is a common one of better accountability in government, stating, “the legitimate and shared expectation of the region’s people are governments which respect human rights, preserve the rule of law and provide accountability and transparency.”
Most Arab Spring countries presently face a harsh economic outlook as they seek foreign assistance for economies plagued by months of strikes, declining tourism numbers, low foreign investment and subsidies for rising oil and food prices. Late last month, members of the G8 agreed to step up aid to Arab Spring reformers Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.
Meanwhile, Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı underscored other economically costly problems in the region, stating that political conflicts in the Mediterranean “do not just affect countries in this region, but the whole world.” The minister also underscored Turkey’s continued support for the 2004 UN plan on reunifying northern and southern Cyprus, long the region’s thorniest issue. Speaking on the 2004 referendum, which the Turkish north approved but the Greek south rejected, Yazıcı said, “If [Southern Cyprus] had also said ‘yes,’ we’re of the opinion that we would be seeing a peaceful Eastern Mediterranean.”
The failure to reach a lasting agreement over Cyprus, the minister said, has left the Turkish north politically and economically isolated, and heavily dependent on aid from the Turkish mainland.
Other key issues mentioned by Yazıcı were a need to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the growing danger of Islamophobia in Europe.
Yazıcı reported to conference-goers that the 23 ASCAME countries last year registered $1.63 trillion in total exports, or 11 percent of the world’s $15 trillion total exports. ASCAME countries in the same year imported roughly $2 trillion in goods. Of Turkey’s $135 million in total exports last year, 27 percent was to ASCAME countries, Yazıcı said.