Saudi Arabia and Turkey … the secret of the number “zero” and the diplomatic movement


Six months have passed since the unofficial commercial boycott of Turkish products imported by Saudi Arabia, during which the numbers changed upside down and its effects were reversed on the ground, which is confirmed by recent data issued by the Turkish Exporters Association.

Data indicate that Turkey’s exports to Saudi Arabia have completely dried up last April, as the Daily Sabah newspaper, which is close to the Turkish government, reported in its English version that “Turkey’s exports to Saudi Arabia reach almost zero in April.”

Turkish exports also remained at an all-time low, declining by 94.4 percent year on year to $ 11.25 million. According to the “Turkish Exporters Association” (TIM), exports have decreased from about 201 million dollars (1.67 billion Turkish liras) a year ago.

The above may reflect, in large part, the nature of Saudi-Turkish relations, which have not been without tension and quasi-estrangement since 2018. This was compounded by the step taken by Saudi businessmen last year, who agreed to an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods, in response to what They called it “Ankara’s hostility”.

This boycott, despite Riyadh’s disavowal of it, observers and experts confirmed that it was prompted by it in response to Ankara’s foreign policy.

On the other hand, the latter had a similar position, as it committed itself not to escalation to goals that might fall within the framework of “not pouring oil on the fire,” a matter that kept this issue a source of controversy by Saudi businessmen on the one hand and businessmen of affected Turkish companies on the other hand.

‘Diplomatic movement’

From the language of numbers and trade that reveal the size of the gap between the two countries to the language of politics, the scene may look somewhat different, especially in light of the diplomatic movement with which Ankara has been pushing, for months, in order to normalize its troubled relations with Riyadh.

And between April 15 and May 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made two phone calls with the King, Salman bin Abdulaziz, and the latter came with information that filtered about the intention of the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşolu, to make a visit to Saudi Arabia, next week.

Sources close to the Turkish government told Al-Hurra that the visit is scheduled for May 11th, “but it may change depending on the changing circumstances.”

The sources added that “the decline in the percentage of Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia to unprecedented levels will not primarily affect the two sides, nor will it affect the new alliances that the push is moving towards.”

“Exports play a negative economic role, but it is not significant.” The sources added that “the volume of trade exchange in the past is important, but it did not exceed five billion dollars, which is a small number if we look at the volume of trade exchange between Turkey and Germany, for example (12 billion dollars on the basis of annual)”.

In contrast to the Turkish push towards Egypt, there are no clear objectives that Ankara wants regarding re-normalizing its relations with Riyadh, meaning that the details of the “road map” to push towards reforming relations are not yet defined.

What adds to the ambiguity is the absence of a clear Saudi position, despite the positive signs emanating from the Saudi monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Signs are still being met with hostile politics, for not ending the commercial boycott on the one hand, and for pressuring Turkey to make concessions that are described as “painful”.

This hostile policy is reflected in the official media of Riyadh and others that receive support from it, and is also reflected by analysts, Saudi experts and other businessmen on social media sites on an ongoing basis.

“Two files for discussion”

Tensions increased between Riyadh and Ankara, after the assassination of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, on October 2, 2018, and the firm Turkish stance demanding that those responsible be brought to justice.

But this file, Ankara had shown an unprecedented turn in it, and in a noticeable change in its tone, the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, welcomed, for the first time, the trial conducted by Saudi Arabia, which last year sentenced eight persons accused of killing Khashoggi between 7 and 20 years in prison.

“They have a court that conducted trials. They made a decision, and therefore we respect that decision,” Kalin told Reuters, in late April. He also called on Riyadh, in the context of his speech, to end the “boycott,” a sign that bore economic and political intentions, according to observers.

There is information coming out from Ankara, revealed by sources close to the Turkish government, in the past three days, according to which Cavusoglu’s visit will focus first on the recent Saudi orders to close 8 Turkish schools operating in Riyadh and other provinces, coinciding with the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

These orders include Turkish International Schools in Riyadh, Jeddah, Tabuk, Dammam, Taif, Abha, Makkah and Madinah, and they were announced seven days ago, according to the semi-official Anadolu Agency.

In addition to the aforementioned file, Cavusoglu is scheduled to discuss with politicians in Saudi Arabia steps to normalize relations, and a set of pending issues, whether political or those related to the Saudi boycott on Turkish products.

Where does “boycott” move?

There are more than 200 Turkish companies operating in Saudi Arabia, and Riyadh is the second Gulf country after Qatar and the seventh country in the world in terms of the volume of work carried out by Turkish contractors in it.

Turkey plunged to 67th in terms of exports to the Kingdom, from 11th place, in February of last year, according to recent data that showed that China is still in the lead.

Turkish exporters believe that the political conflict between Turkey and Saudi Arabia harms trade, which prompted the eight largest business groups in Turkey to issue a statement, in which they said that the Saudi authorities have intensified their efforts to prevent Turkish imports, warning that global supply chains are affected by Riyadh’s move.

The groups cited complaints from Saudi companies that the authorities forced them to sign letters committing not to import Turkish goods, and complained about the exclusion of Turkish contractors from major tenders.

And the Turkish newspaper “Sabah” previously reported, on April 19, that Ankara had lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization, due to the boycott campaign, and made it clear that the latter had been informed of Riyadh’s practices that restrict trade between the two countries.

The newspaper quoted Turkish Trade Minister Rohsar Bakca as saying that, since November 15, 2020, Saudi Arabia has suspended a number of imports from Turkey, including egg products, milk, white meat and others, while it has kept many other products suspended in customs.

And the Turkish move to go to the World Trade Organization, economists believe that it will not have any accountability consequences for Riyadh, especially since it has officially denied standing behind the boycott campaign, and thus made this file a means of political pressure to put it on the table in the upcoming talks, if it is followed.

Economic dimensions

In statements to the Al-Hurra website, the Turkish economic consultant, Jalal Bakkar, did not rule out that the Saudi boycott file will be part of the upcoming talks between Riyadh and Ankara.

Bakkar, a resident of Istanbul, says that “there are economic dimensions to the Turkish move, but political changes in the region occur every 7 years on the external level, which is linked to the American administration, and according to its policies for the Middle East.”

The economic consultant explains that Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia are limited to foodstuffs and home furniture, including carpets and silk, while Saudi exports to Turkey are limited to petroleum products, especially since Turkey is a productive country and its economy depends on the raw materials for production.

According to Bakkar, “The Turkish product is important to be disposed of in the Saudi market, because it is a consumer market. But the volume of trade exchange between the two parties does not reflect that there is significant damage or decline from one economy account to another.”

In statements to the Al-Hurra website, the economic consultant believes that the volume of trade exchange between the two countries does not exceed 5 billion dollars, which is a very weak figure in relation to the size of the two countries’ economies.

‘Shame and dash’

Between the boycott and the worsening of relations, and recently the diplomatic movement, Riyadh’s intentions remain “timid” towards the Turkish rush, which is evidenced by the stances it took in recent days to close schools and its constant reluctance to import Turkish products.

The rapid rapprochement between the two countries may prove difficult at the current stage, unlike the rapprochement movements between Ankara and Egypt, which have been at the forefront of foreign policy for months, and culminated two days ago with a visit by a high-ranking Turkish delegation to the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

A researcher on Turkish affairs, Mahmoud Alloush, believes that “reforming relations with Saudi Arabia is a priority in the new Turkish foreign policy. Turkey’s good relationship with Saudi Arabia opens many Arab horizons for it.”

In statements to Al-Hurra, the researcher said, “Ankara seeks to achieve a balance in its regional policy, and this cannot be achieved without restoring relations with the balanced regional powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular, and this is what it is trying to do now.”

In the recent period, we witnessed an exchange of positive speech between the Turks and the Saudis, but that is not enough, according to Alloush.

He points out that “launching a new path requires practical steps at the bilateral level, similar to what Ankara and Cairo are doing. I think there is a real opportunity to launch this path.”

“The ball is in the Saudis’ court”

The Khashoggi crisis had major repercussions on the relationship between the leaderships of the two countries, and it will not be easy to overcome it. The researcher continues, “The Turks said that they respect the Saudi judiciary rulings on this issue and want to turn this page. The ball is in the court of the Saudis now.”

Saudi Arabia wants to open a new page with Turkey, but it is waiting, according to the general scene, before taking a major step in this regard, and is waiting for the clarity of the new Turkish trends, and whether they are serious or just repositioning in the speech.

Saudi Arabia also depends on any move towards Ankara on the results of the Turkish-Egyptian talks. Any progress on the Turkish-Egyptian track will reflect positively on the Turkish-Saudi track, and vice versa.

The researcher Alloush explains that several attempts were made in the past years to repair the relationship between Riyadh and Ankara, but the circumstances were not prepared for that, and the decline in regional polarization in the current stage would help in that.

Alloush added, in the context of his speech to Al-Hurra, that “the region is trying to adapt to the international changes that are imposing on the countries of the region to adopt a new foreign discourse commensurate with the stage. The advent of the Biden administration and the blockage in the horizon of multiple regional conflicts are all factors that push these parties to adjust their policies and adopt a more friendly tone.” Towards others. ”


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