"Nobody gains from a trade war"

Ships await loading of exports in a Turkish port credit: Shutterstock
Ships await loading of exports in a Turkish port credit: Shutterstock

Israel-Turkey Chamber of Commerce president Gad Shoshan warns that Turkey can hit Israel with more trade measures that will hurt.

Tukey's Ambassador to Israel Sakir Ozkan Torunlar has been back in Ankara for some time while Israel's Ambassador to Turkey Irit Lillian returned to Israel in October but neither can ever recall such an upheaval in Israel-Turkey relations as the banning of Turkish exports to Israel of 54 essential items.

This decision was made after the amount of Turkish exports to Israel in the first quarter of 2024 fell by 28% compared with the corresponding quarter last year. This decline took place without significant Turkish measures to harm trade with Israel, however internal sensitivities took their toll and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to approve this latest unusual step.

On the front line, coping with this situation is Israel-Turkey Chamber of Commerce president Gad Shoshan. For over 20 years he has been involved in trade with Turkey, and is considered one of the Israeli figures with the best relationship with Ankara. He tells "Globes" about the voices he hears from the Turkish side, what Israeli importers are telling him and whether in his opinion this is just a first step by the Turkey.

"There can be no doubt that the Turks have more ammunition"

"I asked Turkish friends to clarify what is happening and why and they said because 'it's a statement,'" Shoshan says. "On the other hand, there are already those in Israel who claim that they have stopped consignments but that it is not necessarily related to the statement. We haven't heard anything from the shippers yet, but this is a serious statement that goes against bilateral agreements. This is not a healthy and good statement for anyone, but as of now no real actions are known about. In some areas, the Turks are not expected to do any harm."

Are you in constant communications with Turkish contacts? What are they telling you?

"They are terribly cautious about the word they use and they are saying one should pay attention to things and that this is a political statement that must be taken into account. This is an event that cannot be separated from the overall picture, which does not only include Gaza - it also includes the recent elections in Turkey."

In those local elections held at the end of March, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Erdogan suffered a historic defeat. First, it lost all major cities to the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

However, no less serious than that, the New Welfare Party (YRP), an insignificant party in the Turkish parliament with four seats out of 600, managed to prevail over Erdogan's bloc in two districts that are considered his voting centers: ?anl?urfa and Yuzget. The same small party achieved this while criticizing the Turkish president for economic ties with Israel. "Expel the ambassador and cut off trade with Israel," the senior officials of this party stated repeatedly during their campaign.

There is no doubt that that severe defeat, and the realization by the President of Turkey and his entourage that trade with Israel hurts them electorally within Turkey, inevitably also influenced the unusual step. Immediately after Turkey announced its export ban, Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz order the Ministry of Foreign Affairs economic division to prepare an extensive list of products that Israel would halt exports to Turkey. His statement served as "fuel" for the Turkish media, who fear the government in any case, to portray Israeli aggressiveness. Shoshan says, "You have to be careful. Political statements now are very sensitive."

Are you concerned that this is only the first of several measures?

"The Turks have said themselves that this is the first of several measures. They said they are planning several steps, and there is no doubt that they have more in store. The Israelis' claim about honoring commitments is wrong. We should stop trying to be right, and talk about long-term policies. Not start a trade war, because no one gains from this. I also say to the Turks: our problem is the hostages. Instead of pressuring Israel, you should press for the release of the hostages."

In his role, Shoshan is the address and source of information for Israelis who trade with Turkey - especially in times of crisis. "There is concern about what is going to happen," he observes. "They fear that there are no alternatives and now we need to build them. There is a lot of anger and feelings against the Turks that I am trying to calm. This stems from years of policy: we need to develop trade, not dependence. Israeli policy in the last 20 years has created dependence. The Turks knew how to press on Israel's soft underbelly."

The Israel-Turkey Chamber of Commerce president sums things up by saying, "We saw the crazy situation that there was with the tomatoes from Turkey, but they went back to importing them because it is impossible without them. You have to direct energy inwards. It is Israel and not Turkey that bothers me.

"There is a tendency in which I have heard of people wondering 'How do we give jobs to Turks?' Also because of issues of wages and working conditions there. China also has problems and yet we import from there, because we have to import. We will not fix employee-employer relations in Turkey, just as we cannot be an island that does not depend on imports. A policy of inclusion is required, and God forbid the situation turns into an economic boycott war, which would be a disaster."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 10, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Ships await loading of exports in a Turkish port credit: Shutterstock
Ships await loading of exports in a Turkish port credit: Shutterstock
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