Turkey and Serbia can build on already growing political and economic relations to promote stabiliy in the Balkans, analysts said.
By Erisa Dautaj Senerdem for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 15/02/13
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (centre) and his Serbian counterpart Tomislav Nikolic (right) review a military guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Cankaya Presidential Palace in Ankara on February 4th. [AFP]
Dialogue to enhance political and economic relations between Turkey and Serbia is a priority to create regional stability and peace as the two countries' leaders look to develop stronger ties.
Both sides view stratigic co-operation on a host of issues, from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Belgrade-Pristina dialogue to economic and energy relations as key to regional peace and stabiliy, a point that was highlighted during two high-level visits in early February.
Following a working visit to Belgrade by Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic paid a two-day vist to Turkey last week in the latest indication of strengthening relations between two pivitol states in the region.
"We consider Serbia the Balkans' most important country," Turkey President Abdullah Gül said at the dinner reception held to honour his Serbian counterpart.
Turkey has sought to develop a multi-dimensional policy toward Serbia -- an EU candidate country and NATO partnership country with wide interests and influence in the Balkans -- identifying areas where the two states can work together.
Turkey has strived to play a mediator role in the Balkans, particularly regarding issues in Republika Srpska and dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, while also investing in Serbia.
"Keeping good relations with Serbia will be beneficial for Turkey if its looking for stability in its Balkan policies," Hüseyin Bağcı, the chairman of international relations department at Middle East Technical University, told SETimes.
Echoing Gul's statement, Bagci added, "I think Belgrade is the political 'Mecca' of Balkan countries."
Yet the two countries could do more to strengthen political ties, according to Orhan Dede of the Ankara-based Wise Men Centre for Strategic Studies. Citing the 2010 Istanbul Declaration, which aimed to strengthen ties among Turkey and Balkan countries as well as promote peace and stability in the region, Dede said some momentum was lost in 2012 as Turkey concentrated on the Middle East following the Arab Spring.
One element of the relationship is economic as Turkey increases its role in the region. Despite troubles with the global and European economies, Turkey and Serbia kept developing their economic relations in the past year.
While Turkey's exports to the Balkan region – including Albania, BiH, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Greece – decreased to $7.52 billion in 2012, compared to $8.13 billion in 2011, the picture is different for Turkish exports to Serbia, which increased by 7.3 percent in the past year to $381 million, from $355 million in 2011.
Turkey's imports from Serbia, on the other hand, decreased from $213 million in 2011 to $206 million in 2012.
Gul said Serbia and Turkey aimed to increase trade volume, which almost doubled from $328 million to $587 million between 2006 and 2012, to $1 billion in the short-to-medium term.
"We believe the $1 billion target is extremely realistic," Ismet Yalçın, the deputy secretary general of the Turkish Exporters' Assembly, told SETimes.
As Turkey seeks to become a regional energy hub, energy and pipelines to European markets could play an increasing role in the bilateral relationship, something Dede said pushes Turkey to enhance ties with Balkan states and Serbia, in particular.
While trade flows have increased in the past year, "We do not have such a positive development on Turkish direct investment into Serbia," Aleksandar Medjedovic, the chairman of Turkey-Serbia business council at Turkey’s foreign Economic Relations Board, told SETimes.
This is still a subject both countries need to work on, he said.
"However, we are pleased to have witnessed one very important multi-million dollar investment by a Turkish company last year: JEANCI, a leading manufacturer of denim/jeans products, has invested in a factory in Southern Serbia, in the city of Leskovac, and they are looking at more investments," Medjedovic said.
A delegation of 50 high-level industrialists and businessmen from Serbia accompanied Nikolic to meet with representatives from 30 top Turkish companies in Istanbul.
Apart from business representatives that accompany Turkish or Serbian diplomatic delegations during visits in either country, trade and investment events in Turkey or Serbia are held almost every month, Medjedovic said.
"The latest plan is to organise a trilateral forum between Serbia, Russia and Turkey in Belgrade in late 2013, to promote the possibilities for export and production that exist under the various free trade agreements that Serbia has with Russia and other ex-Soviet republics," he added.