An unofficial embargo imposed by Riyadh on Turkish goods is undermining Turkey’s exports not only to the kingdom and but also to other Gulf and Arab countries, according to data released by the Turkish Exporters Assembly (Türkiye İhracatçılar Meclisi, or TİM).
For more than a year, a number of Saudi and Turkish traders have stressed that Saudi Arabia has been enforcing an informal boycott of imports from Turkey. In October Saudi authorities started calling on their citizens to “boycott everything Turkish” following a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing some Gulf countries of pursuing policies that were destabilizing the region. The Saudi move seems to have been followed by unofficial boycott campaigns in other Arab countries.
According to TİM statistics, Saudi Arabia is the country’s 15th biggest export market, with sales led by carpets, textiles, chemicals, grains, furniture and steel amounting to $2.02 billion in the first nine months of the year, a drop of 16.1 percent compared to the same period of 2019.
Similarly, the exports of Turkish goods to Gulf and other Arab countries decreased in the January-August 2020 period compared to the same period last year, TİM figures revealed. Turkey’s exports to the United Arab Emirates (-16.92 percent), Bahrain (-17.71 percent), Kuwait (-4.18 percent), Algeria (-29.26 percent), Morocco (-13.68 percent), Iraq (-7.29 percent), Lebanon (-36.06 percent), Egypt (-11.89 percent) and Jordan (-10.89 percent) showed a marked decrease in 2020 over the previous year.
While some of the decline can be attributed to the pandemic, TİM statistics show that the Saudi boycott campaign might result in a sharp decline of Turkish exports to Arab countries.
Last week Turkey’s leading business groups and associations urged Saudi Arabia to take action as Turkish firms are encountering growing problems in the kingdom. “This issue has gone beyond bilateral economic relations and become a problem for global supply chains,” said the joint statement that was signed by industry leaders, exporters, contractors and unions.
“The boycott of everything Turkish, whether on the level of import, investment or tourism, is the responsibility of every Saudi — trader and consumer — in response to the continued hostility of the Turkish government to our leadership, our country and our citizens,” the head of Saudi Arabia’s Chamber of Commerce, Ajlan Al Ajlan, wrote on Twitter.
Saudi Prince Abdulrahman Bin Musa’ad has also joined calls to boycott Turkish imports, retweeting Erdoğan’s remarks and writing, “Therefore, I call for a full popular boycott of Turkish products …”
“Any official or unofficial initiative to block trade between the two countries will have negative repercussions on our trade relations and be detrimental to the economies of both countries,” Turkish business groups, including the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), TIM and the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), said in a statement following the messages from Saudi officials.
“We deeply regret the discriminatory treatment that our companies face in Saudi Arabia. … We expect Saudi authorities to take concrete initiatives to resolve the problems,” said the business groups.
Financial Times (FT) reported on Monday that the de facto Saudi ban on Turkish products has hit the international fashion scene and that Spanish fashion brand Mango was reconsidering their Turkish suppliers due to the boycott. According to the report, Saudi Arabia has “banned all imports for made in Turkey products,” an employee at Mango told Turkish suppliers in an email and that the Spanish company is “looking into alternatives to the slowing down of custom processes for products of Turkish origin in Saudi Arabia.”
The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul put a spotlight on the deteriorating relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Since the eruption of the Arab Spring, however, relations between the two countries have gradually, but systematically, deteriorated. During the Arab revolutions, Turkey supported the Muslim Brotherhood as a political movement in various Arab countries and armed and funded radical jihadist groups. However, the leadership of Saudi Arabia is opposed to the brotherhood and sees it as a threat to their own domestic stability.
The watershed moment in Turkish-Saudi relations really came in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, joined by Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and took a number of punitive measures against the emirate, including imposing a total blockade. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood along with several other militant Islamist groups in the region. Turkey then came to the aid of Qatar, transporting goods there that had been disrupted by the Saudi Arabia-imposed sanctions. Turkey also increased its military cooperation with Qatar by adding to the number of troops it maintains in the country.
Turkey has condemned last month’s US-brokered deals signed by the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel.