Turkey, BiH eye closer economic ties

Strengthened trade, investment seen as beneficial for both countries.

By Drazen Remikovic for SES Türkiye in Sarajevo -- 31/12/12

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As bilateral trade between Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) booms, stakeholders on both sides are calling for even deeper economic co-operation.

  • Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Foreign Affairs Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija in Ankara. [AFP]

    Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Foreign Affairs Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija in Ankara. [AFP]

In 2011, Ankara and Sarajevo conducted 271 million euros' worth of bilateral trade, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year, according to figures provided by the Turkish embassy in Sarajevo.

"Economic relations between Turkey and BiH are increasing steadily," Ahmet Yildiz, the Turkish Ambassador to BiH, told SES Türkiye in a written statement.

"Turkey believes that BiH has a great economic potential waiting to be fully tapped with its proximity to the European market, its large natural resources such as minerals, forestry and hydraulic energy capacity, its promising growth potential in other sectors such as tourism and agriculture, and an educated workforce."

Earlier this month, the European Movement in BiH, a group that promotes European integration, launched a project to advance bilateral economic ties in co-ordination with the Turkish embassy in Sarajevo.

The initiative will encourage investment in 12 cities in BiH, six each in the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"The development of business cooperation between BiH and Turkey is one of the main goals of this project," Predrag Prastalo, head of the European Movement in BiH, told SES Türkiye.

"Turkey is one of the most important economic partners and investors of the countries in the region, while BiH is still Turkey's 11 largest investment and economic cooperation [partner]," added Prastalo. "This is more than modest, considering Turkey's goal of rapidly becoming one of the 10 most developed countries of the world."

In a September visit to BiH, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threw his weight behind expanded trade.

"I believe that the current trade between Turkey and BiH is not enough. Co-operation in this matter must be higher," he said, according to media reports. "I'm convinced that the trade between the two countries should be measured not in millions, but billions of [euros]."

The biggest investments made by the Turkish companies in BiH to date are Natron Hayat craft paper factory in Maglaj, Sisecam soda factory in Lukovac, and Ziraat Bank Bosnia, which is owned by the Turkish TC Ziraat Bank.

The most significant economic activity by a Turkish company in 2012 was undertaken by Cengiz Insaat, a Turkish construction company, which was awarded tenders to construct sections of the 5C Highway Project, which is part of road plan to connect central Europe with Adriatic Se by traversing BiH. The total amount of these works is estimated at 372 million euros.

The case of the Amonia Soda Factory in Lukavac, central BiH, exemplifies the opportunities and challenges facing Turkish investors in the country.

Currently, the plant produces 370,000 tonnes of soda per year, a figure that has more than tripled since 2006. Its new owner, Sisecam Group, a Turkish firm that manufactures glass and chemical products, intends to increase the production to 500,000 tonnes annually by investing tens of millions of more euros in the plant.

But before the factory prospered, its investors struggled with the obstacles confronting other businesspeople in BiH, including complicated administrative procedures and steep fees. It takes a month or two and about 1000 euros to register a company in BiH, while the same procedures can be done in a week for a fraction of the price in neighboring Croatia. Endemic corruption and political instability add to BiH's woes.

"This was a very difficult project. The factory was on the verge of bankruptcy six years ago," Umut Baris Donmez, Chief Executive Officer of the Amonia factory, told SES Türkiye.

"We had to invest a lot more than we anticipated. At the same time, we were partly disappointed with the problems that we had with the BiH's institutions. Because of this, today we can say that we are satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time with the business in BiH."

Donmez added that cutting red tape would help Turkey-BiH economic ties flourish. "In terms of better business, not only for Turkey, but also for other foreign investors, unnecessary bureaucracy [must be eliminated] at all levels. Also, BiH need a simpler and more functional management structure, [which] is currently very cumbersome and complex." If conditions are right, there will be no shortage of eager investors.

"Turkish authorities notice the increasing interaction between Turkish and BiH business circles with satisfaction and encourage further contacts," Yildiz said.


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