ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Turkey dismissed a decision by Syria to scrap a free trade agreement between the two countries in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Ankara, saying Damascus should use “common sense” as it would be the Syrian people and businesses that would suffer.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s cabinet voted over the weekend to suspend the pact with Turkey introduced in 2007 and impose a tariff of 30 percent on all Turkish imports and prohibitive duties on fuel and freight.
Syrian state news agency, SANA, said the new measures were in response to Turkey’s sanctions. Last week, Ankara announced a set of economic sanctions it said would target the Syrian government in an attempt to persuade it to stop a bloody crackdown on a popular uprising now into its ninth month.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said while Ankara had not received an official statement from the Syrian government, the decision was a punishment for the Syrian people by the “government and those that influence it.”
“The Syrian administration is punishing its own people, industrialists, exporters and entrepreneurs,” Caglayan said in a written statement issued on Sunday.
“This year, the amount Turkey will have lost in terms of (decreased) exports to Syria is equal to the total amount of exports to the world for a single day. In other words, it is a figure that can be ignored,” Caglayan said.
“However the situation for Syria will be far worse. Therefore, for the sake of its own people, we invite the Syrian administration to use common sense.”
BIGGEST TRADING PARTNER
Turkey and Syria had bilateral trade last year totalling some $2.5 billion (1.6 billion pounds). Of that, $1.84 billion was in Turkish exports to Syria, just 1.6 percent of Turkey’s total exports.
Syria, on the other hand, received more than 10 percent of its imports from Turkey in 2010 and exports to Ankara amounted to 5 percent of its total global exports, Caglayan said. Imports from Syria, he said, were 0.3 percent of Turkey’s total imports.
On November 17, Caglayan said while exports to Syria had risen by nearly 4 percent in the first nine months of 2011, October and November figures had shown a 10 percent drop compared to last year as the increasing violence put off Turkish firms.
Turkey has said it is also eyeing new trade routes to the Middle East that will bypass Syria which it uses as a transit route to deliver goods to other countries.
Muslim Turkey was once one of Syria’s closest regional allies, and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had built a strong rapport with Assad.
But as the violence grew worse and Assad ignored Erdogan’s advice to halt a crackdown on protesters and make urgent reforms, relations became increasingly frosty and Erdogan has now bluntly told Assad he should quit.
Turkey now hosts Syrian military defectors and an umbrella Syrian opposition group.
As part of a nine-point sanctions plan announced last week, Turkey said it had suspended all financial credit dealings with Syria and frozen Syrian government assets as well imposing a travel ban on senior officials in the government and those connected to it.
Turkey’s foreign minister said Ankara would consider additional measures depending on Syria’s reaction.