President of the International Freighters Association of Turkey [UND], Engin Ozmen, spoke on the state of trade via Syria. Ozmen says that most [Turkish] drivers have family in Syria and are not worried about driving through that country. Unfortunately however, when the Syrians - in retaliation to Turkish sanctions - tripled custom fees three times and doubled diesel fuel prices, trade began to dwindle. 300 Turkish companies and 1,500 trucks are set for some rough times ahead.
But sometimes hardships may open up new horizons - as was the case with the crisis between [Bulgaria and Turkey] some years ago. In response to a [deterioration in relations], Turkey established sea trade routes. Now, every year 200,000 trucks go to Trieste, Italy by sea instead of driving through Bulgaria.
The [International Freighters] Association expects a 12 percent reduction in direct exports to Syria. It has also noted another 6% reduction in trade to the Gulf countries that would have passed through Syria. Until the recent crisis, around 50,000 Turkish trucks passed through Syria every year. The Association, in cooperation with the Minister of Economy, is working out alternative trade routes. First is the establishment of a ferry connection between Mersin in Turkey and Alexandria in Egypt. This route would entail driving 700km to the Red Sea [through Egypt], and then another ferry connection to the Arabian Peninsula. This route would be the more secure option, but it is also more expensive. As for the other [potential] trade route, contact is ongoing with officials in Baghdad [to try to work out a way] to reach Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia via Iraqi territory - a cheaper alternative.
Recognizing a rapid shift in world production and trade leadership towards the East, Ozmen’s dream is the creation of a Southern Silk Road connecting China, Pakistan and Iran to Turkey and the port of Mersin. From there, goods could travel to the US and Europe. Will the US agree to such a project involving Iran? Ozmen notes that, sometimes, trade trumps politics.
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