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Turkey, Arab countries seek stronger economic ties

Friday, June 9, 2006


ISTANBUL - TDN with wires



Approximately 700 businessmen from Turkey and the Arab countries gathered here on Thursday for the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum to focus on ways to increase economic cooperation.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan and his Lebanese counterpart, Fuad Siniora, participated in the opening session of the gathering, which also included Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh among representatives from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar.


The forum will feature several round-table discussions on a wide variety of subjects, including how Turkey's eventual membership in the European Union would affect the trade volume between Arab countries and Europe.


"The more trade there is, the more prosperous and peaceful the world will be," Erdoðan said in his inaugural speech. Stating that economic and trade cooperation with Arab countries was of special importance, Erdoðan said, “We are not only friends, we are at the same time brothers.”


“We have to ask this question of ourselves: Do these countries and these people who share the same civilization trade with each other at the same level?


“I think the mutual interaction stemming from trade and investment will contribute to stability, development and welfare in our region. We are determined to support every step in this direction. Our geographic location, history, and humanitarian and cultural ties plus our economic commitments, business and investments all serve as a suitable ground for this purpose,” he said. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh called for more investment in Iraq to help rebuild the battered country, urging better regional economic cooperation.


"The reality is that the Arab world is one of the few remaining regions to have failed to capitalize on the full potential of regional cooperation and trade," Saleh said. He added that the new Iraqi government was determined to develop economic ties with the outside world.


"Economic isolation is not an option. This was the policy of the totalitarian Baath regime and certainly it is not an option for the new democratic Iraq," Saleh said. "In Iraq we're determined to finish the job of economic restructuring, strengthening our democratic institutions and defeating terrorism."


Saleh pointed out that Iraq was in dire need of restructuring the oil industry "in a fundamental manner" and has plans to produce an average of 4.3 million barrels a day by 2010.


"Some of us think that is ... a conservative estimate and that we can do better," Saleh said. "Our infrastructure is in a sorry state."


"We're unable to exploit our oil wealth because of debilitated pumping stations and poor pipeline capacity," he said, adding that similar structural problems also affect every sector, from religious tourism to agriculture.


Saleh called on Turkey in particular to help in getting an Iraqi-Turkish oil pipeline, which often comes insurgent attack on the Iraqi side, to work at its optimal capacity of 1.5 million barrels a day.


"Oil flows have been sporadic since late March 2003; Iraq and Turkey must work together to get the pipeline working at full capacity as a matter of urgency," Saleh said without elaborating.


It was not clear what kind of help Saleh was seeking from Turkey since the attacks that halt the flow of oil occur on the Iraqi side of the border, where Turkey has no control. The pipeline runs from Iraq's Kirkuk oil fields to Turkey's Mediterranean oil terminal of Ceyhan.


Saleh also asked Turkey to urgently work on a new water-sharing agreement over the transboundary Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Turkey maintains that it is allowing enough water to run through Syria and Iraq.


"The rivers are precious shared natural resources that are critical to revitalizing Iraq's agricultural sector and reclaiming the marshlands," he said. "In this context, we need to reach a water-sharing accord with Turkey."


Rona Yircali, head of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), an influential nongovernmental economic organization, told the forum that the trade volume between Turkey and the Arab countries had reached $17 billion in 2005.


"Energy projects worth $130 billion (102 billion euros) that are planned to be undertaken in Turkey in the next 10 years create new opportunities for the Arab world," he noted.


Mainly Muslim Turkey is very keen on luring Arab investment, especially from the Gulf countries, amid a spectacular economic recovery from two major financial crises in 1999 and 2001.


Last year Dubai International Properties, a leading property developer based in the United Arab Emirates, agreed to invest $5 billion in projects in Istanbul, a sprawling metropolis of over 12 million people.

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