Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embarked on a three-stop tour of Persian Gulf states on Monday, aiming to secure trade and investment opportunities for Turkey’s struggling economy. Erdogan’s first destination was Saudi Arabia, where he was accompanied by a delegation of around 200 businesspeople. Upon arrival in Jeddah, he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Al Salam Palace, where they exchanged pleasantries and attended a welcoming ceremony.
Over the course of his three-day trip, Erdogan will participate in business forums in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The President expressed his intention to enhance cooperation and relations in various fields, particularly focusing on joint investments and commercial initiatives for the future.
This visit comes at a time when the Turkish population is grappling with the effects of sales and fuel tax increases, which the Finance Minister considers necessary to restore fiscal discipline and lower inflation rates. Although official figures show inflation at 38% last month, a significant decrease from its peak of 85% in October, independent economists estimate that the actual rate is closer to 108% as of June.
Turkey’s current account deficit has reached record levels this year, amounting to $37.7 billion in the first five months alone. Erdogan hopes that the Gulf states, known for their oil and gas reserves, can contribute to closing this gap.
In response to criticism regarding Erdogan’s low-interest rate approach and its impact on the cost of living crisis, the Turkish central bank recently implemented a substantial interest rate hike, signaling a shift towards more conventional economic policies. This Gulf tour follows talks held by Turkish officials, including Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, Vice President Cevdet Yilmaz, and central bank Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan, in all three countries.
Ankara Repairs Ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE
Ankara has recently repaired ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE following a decade-long rift. The split emerged due to Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood during the 2011 Arab Spring, which was seen as a threat by some Gulf monarchies.
The relationship deteriorated further when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain boycotted Turkish ally Qatar in 2017. Additionally, the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 strained relations with Riyadh. Despite U.S. intelligence agencies’s conclusion that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, the kingdom denies any involvement.
However, the recent interactions between Ankara and the two Gulf nations demonstrated a significant shift in their dynamics, as they signed several economic agreements.
In an effort to re-engage with estranged regional powers, President Erdogan embarked on diplomatic visits to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed and the UAE’s President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan last year. Notably, President Nahyan even traveled to Istanbul for the final match of soccer’s Champions League a month ago.
To alleviate economic pressures, Turkey has also received substantial financial support from Qatar and the UAE. Currency swap agreements with a total value of approximately $20 billion have been established, while Saudi Arabia deposited $5 billion into Turkey’s Central Bank in March.
Shortly after President Erdogan’s re-election last month, the UAE and Turkey sealed a trade deal that holds the potential to generate $40 billion over the next five years.
President Erdogan is set to meet Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha on Tuesday before heading to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday to meet the UAE leader.