Turkish-African trade to increase to $30 billion

December 16, 2012, Sunday/ 15:14:00 / ANKARA

Turkey’s membership in the African Development Bank is expected to be endorsed by Parliament in the coming weeks -- a step analysts believe will greatly boost Turkey’s economic ties with African countries.

“This is a very important step that will clear the way for Turkish contractors in Africa,” said Tamer Taşkın, coordinating head of the Africa Business Councils of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK). Noting that Africa with its 54 countries offers enormous opportunities for businesspeople, “We expect the draft to be endorsed at the earliest possible time,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.

Turkey’s membership will pave the way for Turkish companies to acquire more contracts in Africa because in projects financially supported by the African Development Bank, only those firms whose country of origin is a member of the bank can bid for the tender. It is for this reason that up until now some Turkish companies barely managed to garner a share of such big infrastructure and transportation projects because they were awarded to the subsidiary of another foreign firm that met the bank’s criteria.

Turkey’s trade volume with the continent stands nearly at $20 billion, but Taşkın is confident that when Turkey’s membership enters into effect, this figure may well reach $30 billion in a couple of years. Most African countries desperately need investments in infrastructure. Not only roads, but also new school buildings, hospitals, railroads and ports, but they lack the resources to finance such projects.

“In most African countries, the officials just tell you, ‘Find the necessary financing and [you’ll] get the project’,” noted Taşkın, who has recently visited seven countries in Africa. His observation regarding roads is striking: “Other than the [tarred] main roads, you only see dirt roads in most of Africa.”

By promising to contribute a certain amount of money to the bank, Turkey will acquire the status of non-regional member, and this will pave the way for Turkish contractors to gain a larger share of the projects in Africa. Turkey’s membership is also expected to boost not only exports to Africa, but also investments by Turkish companies.

Most of the economic relations Turkish companies have with Africa are simply on a trade level. “With Turkey’s membership, fixed investments should also be expected to increase, which would in turn positively influence Turkey’s trade with the continent,” commented Ufuk Tepebaş, an analyst on Africa who will start lecturing at Bahçeşehir University next semester.

Some time ago, a Chinese firm that went into partnership with a Turkish company won a railway contract in Ethiopia involving the construction of more than 5,000 kilometers of railway. “If Turkey had been a member of the bank at that time, then the Turkish company would also have had the opportunity to bid independently in the tender,” Tepebaş, said.

In January, the foreign ministers of Turkey and some countries of the African Union will gather in Addis Ababa, and Turkey’s membership in the bank will be finalized. In the same review conference, the date of the upcoming Turkey-Africa summit to be held in an African country in 2013 is also expected to be determined.

Nevertheless despite considerable efforts to strengthen its ties with Africa, there is still much Turkey must do. Most of the Turkish media, instead of having representatives in some African countries, get their stories regarding the continent from foreign news agencies. “Turkey’s main shortcoming is the fact that the Turkish public doesn’t know Africa well enough, and there is not much interest at present,” Numan Hazar, a former diplomat who is also the author of a book on Africa titled “Küreselleşme Sürecinde Afrika ve Türkiye-Afrika İlişkileri” (Relations between Africa and Turkey in the Globalization Process), noted to Sunday’s Zaman.

Turkey started an initiative towards Africa in order to create closer ties with the continent in 1998 as part of efforts to diversify its partners in foreign policy. However, the real push came after the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power at the end of 2002. The years 2005 and 2008 stand out as significant periods in the establishment of deeper relations with the continent. The year 2005 was declared “Africa Year” by the Turkish government. In the same year, Turkey was bestowed “observer state” status by the African Union, and Turkey’s ambassador to Nigeria was accredited as the Turkish representative to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In 2008, Turkey was declared a strategic partner in the African Union summit held in Addis Ababa. Turkey’s membership in the African Development Bank was approved in 2008, the year in which the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit was held in İstanbul; however, it took time for Turkey to complete the process and get ready for membership. The summit in İstanbul also included a business forum, and a Turkey-Africa Chamber was formed to promote bilateral economic relations between the two countries. Turkey’s ambassador to Tanzania was accredited as the Turkish representative to the East African Community in June 2010.

Turkey’s Africa initiative also has a political aspect. Hazar, while he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, devised the idea in 1998 that Turkey should strengthen its ties with Africa. He noted that it’s only by creating closer ties with Africa that Turkey can establish its position on certain issues of international policy more easily across African countries.

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