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Exports from Turkey to Saudi Arabia plummet by 92 percent amid unofficial boycott

Drop comes after Riyadh targeted Turkey's economy last year over Turkish indictments related to Jamal Khashoggi murder
A woman holds a packet of Turkish labneh (strained yogurt) while shopping at a supermarket in Riyadh (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

An unofficial Saudi boycott against Turkish goods reduced Turkey’s exports to the kingdom to a record low in January, amid diplomatic efforts to mend ties between the two countries.

Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia dropped a remarkable 92 percent in January, from $221m to just $16m year-on-year, according to data released by the Turkish Exporters Union (TIM).

Last year, Riyadh ramped up its efforts targeting the Turkish economy after a Turkish court’s decision to accept two separate indictments against Saudi officials said to be involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.

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Relations between the two regional powerhouses have been at a low since the murder of the Saudi journalist, whose killing is believed by the CIA to have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Since October, the Saudi government has been systematically pressuring local businesses not to trade with Turkish companies and to drop their goods from their shelves.

The statistics indicate a steady slowdown in Turkish exports since then. As a result, Turkey’s annual exports to Saudi Arabia decreased 24 percent in 2020, from $3.1bn to $2.3bn.

No second meeting

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year tried to remedy the situation by talking to Saudi King Salman, and both agreed to hold consultations on the issue.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s first meeting with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in November ultimately failed to change the situation.

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“We have agreed to have a second meeting to discuss the problems,” one senior Turkish official said, speaking anonymously, at the time. Since then, no second meeting has taken place.

Burak Onder, a Turkish houseware and kitchenware manufacturer and exporter, told Turkish media that exports to Saudi Arabia had come to almost a complete halt because goods that had been sent to the country had been held in customs for months without any official explanation.

One senior Turkish trade ministry official, speaking anonymously, told Middle East Eye that from time to time the Saudis would release exports held in the customs after official interventions, but the general problem was still ongoing.

Turkish officials have been considerably muted over the Khashoggi murder and other issues of friction with Riyadh, such as Ankara's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, since last year.

"We don't have any issue other than the Khashoggi affair, which we have done as much as we could to resolve," a Turkish official said last November. "It is time to move on."

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