Economic relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia unaffected by differences in foreign policy

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the leading countries in the Middle East, with a combined Gross Domestic Product of almost USD 1.4 trillion, an export volume of USD 540 billion and a population of 105 million. For decades, the two states have attempted to developed economic relations based on mutual respect, and although have had some minor disagreements in regards to foreign policy, Turkish Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has still stated that “Turkey sees its friend Saudi Arabia as one of the most important countries in the region.”

In 2008, trade volume between Turkey and Saudi Arabia exceeded USD 5 billion, however by 2009, after the global economic crisis and a fall in iron-steel exports, trade between the two states had decreased to USD 3 billion. Nonetheless, by 2010, bilateral trade volume started to increase, and by the end of the year was back up to USD 4.65 billion. Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia are mainly made up of clothing, textiles, iron, steel, automotive, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products, while around 80 per cent of Turkish imports from Saudi Arabia are composed of oil.

Turkish trade centres, which have aimed to increase bilateral trade volume and develop joint investment projects in Saudi Arabia, are operational in Riyadh and Jeddah, while well-known Turkish construction companies have been successfully operating in Saudi Arabia for many years. There have also been many agreements made between the two states in order to secure good bilateral mechanisms for economic cooperation, with one being the Turkish-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission (JEC), which was set up in accordance with Article Five of the Economic Technical Cooperation Agreement of 1974, to secure tighter relations between Turkish and Saudi Arabian business communities.

In 2004, the JEC held its 8th session in Jeddah, where the Turkish delegation was headed by Kemal Unakıtan, the former Minister of Finance in Turkey, while the Saudi Arabian delegation was headed by Dr. Hashim Bin Abdullah, Minister of trade and Industry in Saudi Arabia. The session reflected the mutual understanding shared between both countries, and their genuine desire to further develop existing commercial and economic cooperation.

Since the 2004 session, both states have aimed to; develop diversification of trade, encourage their customs administrations to establish direct contacts in order to improve and facilitate commercial transactions, encourage reciprocal visits between the business communities, exchange experiences regarding the policies of the World Trade Organisation and encourage their private sector companies to explore the possibilities of developing joint investment projects.

However, since the 2011 Arab Spring, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have had slight disagreements in foreign policy with regards to the status of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East. While Turkey supports the brotherhood, Saudi considers it a threat and has invested billions of dollars in aid to Egypt since the coup of the organisation’s leader, Mohamed Morsi. Nonetheless, economic relations between the two states have not been affected by this and have managed, for the most part, to remain intact.

In 2013, Turkish deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdağ, and Saudi Arabian Minister of transportation, Jubarah bin Eid Al-Suraiseri, signed the Mixed Economy Commission Protocol in order to enhance economic relations between the two states. During a speech at the signing ceremony, Bozdağ said “we want to increase trade and economic relations to the highest level between Turkey and Saudi Arabia” which was certainly seen in 2014, when exports to Saudi Arabia from Turkey reached an all time high of USD 311.37 million.