Turkey and the UAE: A history of strong ties

The UAE remains Turkey’s second-largest market in the Middle East and ninth-largest export market overall.

Historically strong ties between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are essential to the economies of not just the two regional actors, but to the region as a whole. Turkey is one of the UAE’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade between the two hitting just over $9 billion in the first eight months of 2012 alone. But differences over the direction of Egypt and other countries affected by the Arab Spring saw that by mid 2013, the meteoric growth that had seen a near 300 per cent rise in mutual economic activity in just three years had slowed. Still, despite this drop in momentum, the UAE remains Turkey’s second-largest market in the Middle East, and ninth-largest export market overall. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) for the first four months of 2015, the last period where solid figures are available, Turkish imports from the UAE were worth $647 million – a slight drop from the year before. Turkish exports for the same period, however, recorded a significant increase, and were worth some $2.159 billion for the same period, compared with $1.883 billion the year before.

Making an impact

Turkish companies remain a fixture in UAE business life, with around 600 registered in the UAE, according to the Turkish embassy. There are fewer UAE firms present in Turkey, but the ones that are there make an impact: Dubai’s Jumeirah Hotels, for instance, is the operator of Istanbul’s iconic, and newly refurbished, Pera Palace Hotel. Some major projects between the two nations in oil and gas and in construction are currently on hold, but signs are hopeful that work may yet commence. Negotiations over a free trade agreement between Turkey and the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which include the UAE, have been ongoing since 2005; any positive move in that direction in the near future would also signal a fresh growth spurt. Dr Theodore Karasik, Senior Advisor, Gulf State Analytics, said that the current slowdown seems surmountable. “Before the current reshifting of the geopolitical order, Turkey and the UAE seem to be on a good solid track of economic ties, especially in the construction sector.”

Finding common ground

When it comes to trade, the decline in the oil price may also help relations warm up. “Turkey is a trillion- dollar-plus economy,” said one UAE-based financial journalist. The UAE; Saudi; Qatar; Turkey; Iraq; Iran – they all need to find some common ground if they want to ride out the oil decline with their economies intact.”