Kuwaiti Emir in Turkey, bilateral ties getting stronger

As Kuwait’s emir pays a two-day visit to Turkey, Ankara’s ambassador to the Gulf country said a number of agreements are expected to be signed by the two states whose relations date back almost 200 years.

Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah arrived late Monday in Ankara, where he was welcomed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s ambassador to Kuwait, Murat Tamer, stressed the strong commercial relations and close friendship between the two countries.

Noting that around 5,500-6,000 Kuwaitis had bought properties, Tamer underlined that “Kuwaiti settlement areas” had been established.

“The Kuwaiti people go everywhere in Turkey,” he said, especially highlighting the northwestern provinces of Istanbul, Bursa, Sakarya and Adapazari.

Economic ties

The number of Kuwaiti tourists has risen from 20,000 in 2009 to 230,000 since, according to the ambassador who noted that 270,000 others travel to various parts of the world via Istanbul.

In 2013, Turkish construction group STFA won a $488 million contract to built a port in Kuwait — which Tamer described as being bigger than any construction agreement at the time for Turkish firms.

“As of 2016, Turkish construction services rose to $6.5 billion,” he underlined.

Meanwhile, another Turkish construction company Limak won a contract to build a new terminal at Kuwait International Airport.

“This was Kuwait’s biggest tender outside the oil sector. For Turkey and Turkish contractors, it was the biggest contract that they won alone,” he added.

According to Tamer, the bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Kuwait stands at around $700-880 million outside of contracting services.

“We need to take this [figure] further,” he stressed, underlining that Turkish markets are not represented enough despite “intense” demand for the country’s products. According to Development Minister Lutfi Elvan, who recently visited Kuwait, economic ties are developing rapidly, with Turkish contractors now carrying out some $6.3 billion worth of projects in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

Elvan highlighted the Kuwait International Airport project, which is being conducted by Turkey’s Limak Holding. In 2015, Limak won the tender for construction of a new terminal at the airport for a total cost of $4.3 billion — the largest tender won abroad in a single package by Turkish contractors. Limak Holding Chairman Nihat Özdemir said recently that the company hoped to complete the new terminal within four years — two years ahead of schedule.

Tamer noted the negative effect of fighting in Iraq and Syria on trade, particularly in the export of vegetables, fruits and dairy products.

“Transport via air is difficult. Sea transportation is not preferred because it lasts for two months,” he added.

Tamer referred to the defense industry as another area of cooperation between the two countries, which hold joint military exercises.

Turkey sold 80 armored personnel carriers and 12 anti-riot water cannon vehicles — or TOMAs — to Kuwait, which has expressed interest in cooperating with Turkey in pilot training, the envoy said.

Strong bonds

Tamer described relations between the countries as having gained momentum in recent years as the Kuwaiti emir visited Turkey two times last year.

“It is not just a cliché, they are really two friendly countries,” he said.

The ambassador highlighted their support for each other at international platforms as well as Kuwait’s “serious support” on the refugee issue in Turkey, which hosts around 3 million people from war-torn Syria.

Tamer also emphasized Kuwaiti support after last year’s July 15 coup attempt, which martyred 249 people and injured 2,193 others.

“[Kuwait] didn’t just say ‘we are supporting you’ but they also asked ‘What can we do for you?’ [after the attempt],” he added.

During the emir’s visit, Turkey and Kuwait are also due to sign three deals to help Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

“Kuwait will make some donations to the projects for Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, Kilis, and Sanliurfa,” Tamer said, referring to provinces in the southeast.

Kuwait is also seeking a deal with Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs on education to combat extremist movements, according to the envoy.

The Kuwaiti emir met Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and on Wednesday will be awarded a state order by President Erdogan.