Business leaders back Cyprus negotiation process


Turkish and Greek chamber of commerce officials discuss the co-operation and opportunities that could come with an end to the division of Cyprus.

By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 21/03/14


Gunay Cerkez, (left) president of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce; Arnaldo Abruzzini, (centre) secretary general of EUROCHAMBERS; and Phidias K. Pilides, president of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce, shake hands at a March 5th meeting in Brussels. [EUROCHAMBERS]

Business leaders from both portions of Cyprus say co-operation between them can play an important role in ending the island's decades-long stalemate, and they have formally committed to support recently re-launched negotiations.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot politicians met in February for the first time in two years, seeking to resolve a division that has existed for 40 years. On March 5th in Brussels, the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, the two leading representatives of economic activities in the island, met to discuss ways of contributing to the success of the negotiations.

The meeting of business leaders was held under the auspices of EUROCHAMBERS, a business representative organisation that includes national chambers of commerce from across Europe. The groups adopted a joint statement saying that a comprehensive solution for the Cyprus problem could bring substantial benefits to all segments of the economy and boost the prosperity and welfare of all residents of the island.

"The status quo is indeed unacceptable and its prolongation will have negative consequences for the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The Chambers agree that a settlement would have a positive impact on the entire region, while first and foremost benefiting Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots," the statement reads.

"The two Chambers reiterate their commitment to contribute to the process and are ready to support the efforts of the political leadership. They can particularly contribute to the creation of a positive atmosphere and the efforts of implementing confidence building measures, as these are areas the two Chambers have been working on for some years now," it added.

Business representatives added that they have "a great opportunity" to pursue.

Arnaldo Abruzzini, secretary general of EUROCHAMBRES, told SETimes the two Cyprus organisations can play key roles in creating a positive atmosphere and the implementation of confidence-building measures.

"We have ahead of us a great opportunity to achieve a lasting, just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem and we owe it to the future generations of the country to do so," Abruzzini said.

Abruzzini added that the eventual resolution of the conflict would bring increased trade between the two sides and abroad.

"It has been calculated that the GDP will grow at a rate of 2 billion euro per year in the next 20 years, and the disparities in terms of GDP per capita between the two communities will almost disappear. The increase in economic activities and therefore the contribution to unemployment and public debt will be massively higher than any solution-related cost," he said.

Ahmet Sozen, chair of the department of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in the northern portion of Cyprus, said the formal peace negotiations are crucial, but are not enough to reach a lasting peace in Cyprus.

"For lasting peace, we need to complement the official peace negotiations with multi-track initiatives where the business community forms one important level," Sozen told SETimes.

Emphasising the need for co-operation between the two sides to create an atmosphere that will enhance the success of formal negotiations, Sozen said the support of business community stakeholders will create new opportunities and new jobs.

"Just imagine the restoration and the re-building of the fenced area of Varosha -- once the tourism paradise of Cyprus known now as a ghost town in natural decay since 1974. Only the construction process in Varosha will create thousands of new jobs," Sozen said.

Serhat Akpinar, founder and chancellor of Girne American University, said economic dynamics will have a significant impact in guiding politicians to settle the Cyprus issue. He added that business leaders who take initiative in the resolution process and are bold enough to take risks can help define the future.

"This is the vision which will affect the negotiation process and shape the projects which will break new ground," he said.

Leonidas Paschalides, senior director of the Department of Education and European Programmes with the Nicosia-based Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the two Chambers on the island have long believed that a solution will bring economic benefits to all the people of Cyprus.

"They wanted to make this position known to the wider public," Paschalides told SETimes. "They believe that in order to address the fears and concerns of all the people and involve them in the peace process, the political talks should be supported and complemented through the active consultation of the business communities, the social partners and civil society on the island."

Following the discovery of large natural gas fields off Cyprus's shores in late 2010, energy has come to the forefront as a catalyst for conflict resolution. Sharing of the energy resources will be demarcated according to the maritime exclusive economic zones of the countries. The natural gas supply could help solidify the island's shaky economy and foster regional co-operation between littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ali Cirali, who heads the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce (KTSO), said the support of businesspersons in Cyprus is significant to the official negotiations in order to emphasise common interests.

"To reach success within this process, both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot business communities should share with their own audiences the possible benefits of the resolution in the island over the economy," Cirali told SETimes.

"KTSO believes that the resolution will bring stability and peace to the region. Political stability is the prerequisite for the economic stability. A possible resolution will also enable a better exploitation of the natural resources of the region, while a common market that will be formed will provide us with the opportunity to reach wider markets as well," he added.

Experts and businesspeople also underline that the resolution process will give momentum to new and untapped economic activities that will reconcile the common efforts of both communities.

"People living in the north and south of the island would bring their forces together in tourism and education activities in the north, while the transportation means in the south will be another avenue for accelerating the overall economic development of the island, which will bring about a strong and sustainable economy," Cirali said.

"KTSO is ready to back all future projects which will convene the forces of both business worlds and thereby boost the trust toward each other," he added.

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Sozen said the lifting of restrictions on movements of goods, services and people between the two sides of the divide will lead to a boom of new joint ventures between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot businesspersons.

Sozen also said solving the conflict will mean that the newly discovered rich hydrocarbon resources could be extracted easily and benefit the two communities in Cyprus.

"That would, in return, boost the infrastructure investments and greatly increase the standards of living of the common people throughout the island," he added.

How can the business sector contribute to reconciliation on Cyprus? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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