Turkey calls for closer ties with Arab world
BEIRUT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for closer ties with Arab countries at an Arab Economic Forum in Beirut on Thursday as he hailed his countryâ€™s economic advances.
In an address to bankers and businessmen, he welcomed Turkeyâ€™s commercial relations with Arab countries, which has nearly doubled in recent years.
"Turkeyâ€™s exchanges with Middle Eastern, Gulf and North African countries have soared by 97 per cent, from seven to 13 billion dollars, between 2002 and 2004," he said.
"Economic relations between Turkey and the Arab world must be reinforced."
He insisted on the need to expand commercial agreements that already exist between Turkey and countries such as Morocco, Syria and Algeria to others, among them Jordan and Lebanon.
"Trade between Turkey and Lebanon is only worth $280 million a year, a figure which we could bring up to one billion," he said, as he urged the "dismantling of custom barriers."
He also called on Gulf countries to channel financial surpluses obtained from soaring oil prices into investment projects in neighboring countries.
He said his country had managed positive growth rates in 2004 thanks to reforms.
"Turkeyâ€™s GDP (grew) over nine per cent in 2004, which means it is one of the fastest growing countries in Europe, while inflation fell to eight per cent. Our goal is to bring it down to five per cent in 2006," he said.
Part of Turkey lies in Europe, and the country is hoping to become of member of the European Union amid concerns there that it is not up to par with the blocâ€™s standards of democracy.
Ankara is due to begin EU accession talks on October 3. Erdogan said he championed a policy of "less state intervention" in economic affairs, saying that the role of the state should limit itself to one of a "regulator."
Erdoganâ€™s statement came against the backdrop of efforts by several Arab countries to open and modernise their economies.