Turkey and Israel to boost trade relations

Voicing their support for a boost in business relations with Israel, Turkey called for a tripling of trade volume between the two countries in the next five years.

“We need to change the perception of the Israeli citizens and the Turkish citizens toward one another and we can do this by maximizing the frequency of meetings,” Mehmet Buyukeksi, chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM), told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “It’s about meeting together, coming together.”

After a very successful first quarter of 2017 – in which Turkish exports to Israel increased by 20% and Israeli exports to Turkey rose by 45% – Buyukeksi expressed his confidence that Israeli-Turkish trade volume could grow from today’s $3.9 billion figure to $10b. within five years time.

By combining their distinct and complementary areas of expertise, Israeli and Turkish business leaders could not only increase trade between countries but also fuel increasingly positive political relations, he explained. Buyukeksi was speaking with the Post while in Israel with the biggest Turkish business delegation to visit in the past decade.

Joining the TIM chairman were some 120 Turkish entrepreneurs and executives, who arrived in Israel to meet with potential business partners and learn about collaboration opportunities. Their visit was coordinated by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, in collaboration with TIM, as well as the Israel-Turkey Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturers Association, the Israel Export Institute, the Israeli and Turkish foreign ministries and the Turkish Embassy in Israel.

“We believe that our two countries have some complementary advantages that can be beneficial for both sides,” Buyukeksi said. “Turkey has a big and young population, where industry is also very important. From the Israeli side, there are the hi-tech, innovative, breakthrough projects in entrepreneurship, and they are all complementary to one another.”

Not only should Israeli and Turkish businessmen and businesswomen be selling their goods to one another, but they should also be initiating joint ventures in third-party countries, according to Buyukeksi. “We believe that we have a huge potential together, and we also believe that international relations are optimized by means of business,” he said.

All in all, the volume of trade between Israel and Turkey in 2016 was $3.9b., a 6% decrease compared to $4.1b. in 2015, according to the federation. Exports from Israel to Turkey in 2016 decreased by 24% from 2015, falling from $1.7b. to $1.3b., while imports from Turkey to Israel increased by 6%, growing from $2.4b. to $2.6b. Even with the recent years of political frigidity that plagued Israeli-Turkish relations, entrepreneurs from the two countries conducted business as normal, Buyukeksi stressed. “Actually, in the last five or six years we have increased our mutual trade potential,” he said.

Mouneer Agbariya, consul for economic affairs at the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, echoed Buyukeksi’s sentiments, noting that even in the peak of the political crisis, the private sectors in each country were working together.

Although government collaborations were frozen, bilateral trade was able to reach $5b. in 2014, he explained. Today, as relations continue to thaw, a joint industrial research and development agreement between the two countries is resurfacing, Agbariya said. “Now we are reviving it and exploring ways we can cooperate in technological advancements and share with our Turkish friends,” he added. “But when the political environment is more comfortable, the chances to do wider business will be much more.”

Some particular areas in which Turkish companies are seeking Israeli partners and expertise are the defense, medical, software and smart mobility industries, Buyukeksi said.

Agreeing with Buyukeksi, Agbariya pointed out that in many of these fields there is no trade of goods, but rather an exchange of knowledge. By increasing the frequency of business delegation visits and joining forces to innovate technologies, the countries can work toward achieving the $10b. trade goal, Agbariya said.

As business partners in Israel and Turkey move forward together, they do still face certain challenges, such as difficulties for Turkish businessmen and businesswomen in being granted visas to Israel, Buyukeksi said. In addition, even though there exists a free-trade agreement between the countries, both nations need to lift their high customs fees, as well as remove non-tariff barriers that hinder agricultural trade, he added. While penetrating any market takes a long time, working to increase trade relations would also enable Israel and Turkey to maximize their friendship, according to Buyukeksi.