Turkey dominates food market in northern Iraq

Parallel to an overall increase in trade and political ties with the Kurdish administration in Iraq, Turkey's control of the food market reveals just how much weight it has in the region.

By Erol Ertemer for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 28/03/12

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Strolling through the shops and supermarkets of Arbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, it is easy to see the dominance of Turkish food products -- from pasta and biscuits to chocolate and cheese.

  • Supermarkets in the Iraqi city of Dohuk offer many of the same brands that shoppers find in Turkey. [Reuters]

    Supermarkets in the Iraqi city of Dohuk offer many of the same brands that shoppers find in Turkey. [Reuters]

"There is no doubt that Turkey is the key supplier of food to northern Iraq," Riza Nur Meral, the head of the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialist of Turkey, told SES Türkiye. "I believe greater opportunity lies in this region for Turkish businesses to increase their export volume," he said.

At $2.65 billion (4.74 billion TL), food exports to Iraq make up a large chunk of the nearly $8.31 billion (14.87 billion TL) in Turkish exports to its southern neighbour, out of a total trade volume of $12 billion (21.47 billion TL) last year. The growth in exports, up from $6 billion in 2010 and $2.8 billion in 2007, has made Iraq Turkey's second largest export market after Germany.

Turkey's Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said during a January visit to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, that that nearly 70% of this trade is with the Kurdish region. He set the ambitious goal of pushing Turkey's bilateral trade with Iraq up to $20-30 billion in 2012.

The relative stability and prosperity of the Kurdish region, cultural and linguistic ties, as well as improving bilateral political relations have contributed to the expansion of the food trade, further pulling the once perceived security threat into Turkey's economic and political orbit.

"For Turkish exporters, there is no risk," said Serdar Açık, owner of Açıklar flour factory in the central province of Kayseri. Acik says that almost 40%, or 780,000 tonnes, of Turkey's wheat flour was exported to northern Iraq last year.

Another Turkish firm, Helvacızade Food, based in the central province of Konya, ranks among the top sunflower oil, corn oil and olive oil suppliers to northern Iraq. "Last year, we exported nearly 35,000 tonnes of oil to the region and we are planning to increase this," said Huseyin Kizilay, head of the firm's trade department, noting that Turkish products are perceived as "a European brand" by locals in the region.

"We are providing top quality foods with the most affordable, hard to beat prices," he said, adding the company has agreed with another Konya-based company, Pakstar, to open an Arbil branch. "We feel like we are in our homeland there; there is not much difference with Turkey's eastern provinces," Kizilay said.

"Soon, Kurds living in northern Iraq will increase their standard of living after making use of rich oil and gas fields in the region," said Mustafa Yagcioglu, the owner of Memişsan Foods based in the southern province of Mersin.

"Iraq is dependent on food imports and the demand is rising. A new middle class is emerging in the country, especially in northern Iraq. Turkish firms will benefit from that in the long run," he added, noting that his company exports rice, boiled and pounded wheat, sunflower oil, haricot beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, animal feed, and corn to northern Iraq.

"We are aware of the opportunities in the northern region; we have locals speaking Kurdish and have common cultural codes which helps us to penetrate into the market easily, unlike many European firms," said the businessmen, adding that many food producers have set their sights on the food-hungry region.


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