Turkey seeks to boost trade and economic ties with Africa

Around 1,500 participants from Turkey and 42 African countries, including numerous business representatives and high-level officials, gathered last week at the Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum. Jointly organised by Turkey’s Ministry of Economy and the African Union Commission (AUC), the event provided a platform for dialogue between African business and public sector circles and their Turkish counterparts, with a view to enhancing economic cooperation between the two sides.

Speaking at the forum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emphasised the importance of Turkey-Africa economic and commercial ties for his country. “One of the main constituents of our comprehensive interest in Africa is composed of economic and trade relations,” he said.

Erdoğan, as well as other Turkish officials, thus indicated that Turkey intends to expand and deepen its economic engagement with the African continent, an endeavour that is already underway.

“In this vein, we signed trade and economic cooperation agreements and created mixed economic commission mechanisms with a total of 40 African countries so far. We have embassies in 39 African countries, but this is not enough for us. Our desire is to open embassies across the whole continent,” Erdoğan continued.
A “win-win” cooperation?

Several high-level participants in the forum highlighted the potential for mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the two sides, stressing the importance of long-term engagement over shorter-term approaches.

“We consider this is long-term partnership. One-sided benefit does not exist in our tradition. We will win or lose, be sad or happy together with Africa,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at a gala dinner organised during the forum.

“Africa and Turkey have developed a win-win strategic partnership that creates a framework for cooperation at various levels and on several fronts. [Both sides should] share experiences and exchange ideas. Make Turkey-Africa partnership vibrant. Nurture it,” said Anthony Mothae Maruping, economic affairs commissioner at the AUC.

While Turkish companies and investors wanting to do business on the continent had long been focusing on North Africa, they are now gradually turning towards sub-Saharan Africa to further expand their operations, according to Tamer Taşkın, president of the Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board’s (DEIK) Africa Business Council.

Between 2005 and 2015, Turkey’s total trade volume with the continent increased from US$7 billion to US$ 17.5 billion, indicated Erdoğan. During the same period, total trade flows between Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled and reached US$6.6. Turkish foreign direct investment in Africa also expanded significantly in recent years, reaching US$3.9 billion.

Emphasising that Africa is set to be “the next driving force for the world economy” during the opening session of the forum, Turkey’s Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekci indicated that Turkey’s strategy is to boost two-way trade between his country and African economies, not only exports to Africa.

“It is not only about selling to Africa, it is also about buying from Africa” insisted Zeybekci.

Over the last five-year period, however, Turkey’s trade surplus vis-à-vis Africa has been significant. Therefore, more needs to be done for African economies to reap greater benefits from their economic relations with Turkey and increase their presence on the Turkish market, as underlined by Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives Adan Mohamed at the forum.

“Turkey is an important market for Kenya with huge potential that has been under-utilised over the years. We expect to grow trade volumes tenfold from the current Sh14 billion [Editor’s note: US$138 million] in medium term,” said Mohamed.
Going further

Reflecting on the way forward, Minister of Economy Zeybekci called on Turkey and its African partners to “turn 2017 into a free-trade year,” while participants in the event discussed the possibility of establishing trade and economic partnership agreements.

“Investors […] reiterated their strong intention to initiate joint action to examine possibilities of removing tariffs and other obstacles to trade through potentially concluding Trade and Economic Partnership Agreements that would be based on asymmetrical model enabling African countries to protect their sensitive sectors,” states the declaration adopted at the forum.

As underlined by the AUC’s Maruping, numerous African economies have recently deployed important efforts to build a business-conducive climate. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017, last year saw a record number of reforms undertaken by African countries to upgrade their business environment (see Bridges Africa, 28 October 2016).

“Africa has been improving its investment climate in line with its accelerated, stable and inclusive growth target,” said Maruping, also noting that the enhancement of Turkish-African economic cooperation can make a contribution to the continent’s 2063 Agenda.

Solomon Afework, head of the Pan-African Chambers of Commerce, echoed these comments. “My message to Turkish companies is as follows: ‘Africa is ready to make business with Turkey. Both African countries and businesses are ready to take the required steps,’” he said.

Promising sectors for closer Turkey-Africa economic ties include construction services, food, healthcare, and energy sectors, according to DEIK’s head Cihad Vardan, who indicated that “there are hundreds of projects” that can be undertaken jointly as economic relations between Turkey and the continent develop.

The next edition of the Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum is due to be held in 2018.
ICTSD reporting; “Turkey voices strong economic, trade interest in Africa,” Hürriyet Daily News, 2 November 2016.