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Davutoğlu proposes regional trade alliance at TAC meeting

Today’s Zaman, Turkey

Davutoğlu proposes regional trade alliance at TAC meeting

11 June 2010

Turkey aims to create a free trade zone without visa restrictions with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum (TAC), which began in İstanbul on Thursday.

“We want a vehicle to be able to leave Turkey and reach Morocco without stopping at any border gates,” he said, adding that the government would announce a declaration in the afternoon to form a free trade zone between Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

The Third Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the TAC and the fifth meeting of the TAC Economic Forum kicked off with the participation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in İstanbul. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Finance Minister Şimşek and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa were among the participants in the opening session. Twenty-one countries are participating in the foreign ministers’ meeting.

In the opening ceremony Şimşek said free trade agreements (FTAs) between Turkey and Arab countries will not only develop economies but also contribute to peace. Recalling that trade between Turkey and Arab countries jumped fourfold between 2002 and 2009, Şimşek said current figures are still below the desired level. “We should allocate more resources to research and development (R&D) and investments in infrastructure as well as to training a qualified labor force; this is the key to achieving long-term stability,” Şimşek said. Mentioning the opportunities offered to foreign investors in the Turkish market, Şimşek said international organizations had forecast that Turkey would grow by around 6-7 percent this year over 2009.

Moussa pointed out that Arab countries should develop financial interests with Turkey. He said commercial relations between Turkey and the Arab world should be enhanced, recalling that Turkey’s trade volume with Arab markets reached TL 40 billion in 2008, but recorded a decline under the impact of the 2009 global credit crisis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said at the meeting that Turkey and the Arab nations could establish an integrated economic structure. “This partnership will foster power for Arabs and Turkey in economic and political platforms and in the international arena against challenges in the region,” Hariri explained.

‘Turkey, Arab countries could establish barter bank’

Also speaking at the meeting, Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Chairman Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu said Turkey and the Arab world could jointly establish a barter bank.

“The Arab world, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, with a population of around 350 million people has a special place in the heart of the Turkish business world,” Hisarcıklıoğlu explained. He underlined that there are responsibilities all parties should shoulder in achieving and maintaining such a positive picture and that Turkey and Arab countries could establish a strong banking system and create a joint barter bank. “Accordingly, we can reduce the dependence of Turkish and Arabic businesspeople on foreign banks. We can keep the financial resources of the region in the region,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said.

Another prominent step, he argued, would be the modernization of the transportation network between the countries in the region. Also touching upon the importance of lifting obstacles to mutual trade, Hisarcıklıoğlu said they expected the ongoing negotiations on FTAs with Lebanon and the Gulf Cooperation Council to be finalized soon.

Once these two agreements are signed, a vast potential for free trade between the eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf will emerge, Hisarcıklıoğlu said and added that Arab companies and investment funds are welcome to make more investments in Turkey than currently. “Let us work together to turn our region into a land of peace and stability,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and integration between Turkey and the Arab nations.