The Failed Coup in Turkey: an Opportunity to Strengthen the Economic Relations Between Turkey and the GCC

Turkey has exceeded the apprehension phase of the failed coup which occurred on the evening of the 15th of June. The elected government was able to act wisely and to regain control in a matter of hours. Yet the repercussions of the coup on Turkey and on its international relations still remain. The US-Turkish tensions escalated, where Turkey stated more than once that it was concerned by how the United States reacted after the coup. Similarly European foreign ministers have expressed their worry regarding the measures taken by Turkey after the coup.

Although the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union (EU) was slim before the coup, the picture became clearer after a number of statements from European officials following the coup. For example, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern clearly stated that Turkey’s membership negotiations are “no more than fiction”, this was proceeded by similar statements from other officials. Similarly the current high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, stated that Turkey cannot become a member of the EU if it decides to apply the death penalty. This came after the Turkish leadership stated after the coup that it might bring back the death penalty.

What are the benefits to Turkey of joining the EU? Accession to the European Union reduces barriers to trade, capital flows, and movement of people. Turkey joined the European Customs Union in 1995, the Customs Union eliminates tariffs and quantitative barriers to trade in industrial goods, but does not include services and agricultural products (with the exception of processed agricultural products). Since most of Turkey’s exports to the EU are machinery, transport equipment, and manufactured goods, Turkey has benefited greatly from the Customs Union; today Turkey has become the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner. Since the EU and Turkey already trade freely, the promotion of trade between Turkey and the EU is not the main reason for its accession to the EU. The major advantage of Turkey’s accession to the EU is to improve the economic institutions in Turkey. Since the reforms required from Turkey before it can join the EU are expected to increase Turkey’s economic growth.

During the past few years Turkey was able to undertake reforms and introduce successful policies that led to rapid economic growth. Turkey’s goal as announced in its 2023 vision is to become one of the ten largest economies in the World and to increase its annual exports to US $ 500 billion, and in light of the increased tensions between Turkey and its most important allies in the West, the GCC countries can benefit from this through strengthening its economic ties with Turkey. Strengthening Turkey-GCC relations may be the best alternatives to Turkey instead of joining the EU. A GCC-Turkey free trade agreement can bring to Turkey some of the economic benefits it had hoped to acquire from joining the EU.

There is a great complementarity between the Turkish economy and the economy of the Gulf States and therefore encouraging trade between them will accelerate growth for both parties. Turkey has adopted the same policy as East Asian countries “export-oriented manufacturing”, therefore Turkey needs to secure energy sources to feed its growing number of firms. Given that Turkey currently imports about 90% of its energy needs, and that the oil and gas reserves in the GCC countries are among the largest in the world, there is considerable scope for cooperation in this area.

Since achieving food security is extremely important for the GCC countries they can take advantage of the fact that Turkey is the seventh largest producer of food and agricultural commodities in the world. Turkey is currently exporting about 1800 types of agricultural products its aims to raise its agricultural exports to US $ 40 billion by 2023, therefore the GCC could be the main destination for these exports.

There is also considerable scope for a GCC-Turkey cooperation in the military field. In recent year, Turkey has experienced a remarkable growth in the arms industry. As a result, the past few years have seen a boom in Turkey’s exports of various weapons and military equipment including explosives and missiles to about 30 countries among them are the United States, Switzerland, Philippines and Saudi Arabia. Turkey also started aspiring military projects such as producing drones and fighter jets. Despite the large increase in Saudi imports of Turkish weapons, there is still a large potential for further cooperation especially in light of the convergence of strategic interests between the GCC and Turkey. With the rapid advancements in its weapons industry, Turkey today is able to compete with other countries and to be a main provider of military equipment to the Gulf States.

Today Turkey is looking for strategic allies to strengthen its economy and this explains the remarkable development in the Turkish-Russian relations. After the escalation of tensions between the two countries, Turkey apologized for shooting down the Russian aircraft and both countries started moving towards improving relations. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the 9th of August. In spite of the great rapprochement between Turkey and Russia recently, the different political orientations between the two countries, especially regarding Syria and the political tensions between the two countries in recent history suggests that Russia is unlikely to be an important Turkish ally.

Throughout its history, Turkey has always been characterized by its Islamic identity and it cultural convergence with the Arab world. In the era of Ataturk, the Turkish government aimed to remove this identity and break the historical ties with the Arabic and Islamic world, so Turkey started converging with Europe even culturally, nevertheless Turkey quickly returned to its Islamic identity. Today what unites Turkey and the GCC is more than what brings Turkey and the European Union together, or what brings Turkey and Russia together, Turkey and the GCC share the same religion as well as other factors that unite them such as cultural and historical ties and strategic interests, therefore the GCC is the best ally for Turkey.

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