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news 09 Oct 17

Trade Takes Centre Stage in Erdogan’s Serbia Visit

Economic ties, tourism and major infrastructure projects will be in focus during this week’s visit to Serbia of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hamdi Firat Buyuk
BIRN
Sarajevo
Preparations for Erdogan's visit in Novi Pazar, Serbia. Photo: Facebook

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will start a three-day visit to Serbia on Monday, when economic ties between the two countries, alongside other topics, will be in focus.

“Turkey is well aware that Serbia is an important factor of stability in the Western Balkans region. Besides, Serbia represents a bigger economic market for Turkey than any other Western Balkans country,” Ivan Ejub Kostic, director of the Balkan Centre for the Middle East in Belgrade, told BIRN.

The Turkish Presidency’s press release said Erdogan’s visit followed an official invitation from Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic.

Erdogan will also attend Turkey-Serbia Business Forum. He will also visit Novi Pazar, a mainly Bosniak [Muslim] city in southwest Serbia, the same statement read.

Some 200 Turkish businessmen, ministers and lawmakers will accompany Erdogan on his visit to Serbia.

At a press conference on September 26, Vucic said Turkey and Serbia would make a fresh start with Erdogan’s visit.

“Our trade volume in 2016 was 800 million [US] dollars [682 million euros] but we aim to increase this to one billion dollars [852 million euros], and the Serbian government welcomes and calls on Turkish investors to invest in Serbia,” Vucic added.

Turkey and Serbia have become closer in recent years, focusing more on trade and economic cooperation rather than ancient disputes between the two nations.

Serbia was ruled by almost 500 years by the Ottoman Empire, whose legacy Turkey has inherited.

Kostic explained that while Turkey’s policies towards Serbia were mostly economy-oriented, there are religious and cultural aspects to them as well.

“Trade volume between the two countries, Turkish investments in Serbia and the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project are the main economic topics of the visit,” Kostic said.

“However, President Erdogan will also talk about Gulen schools in Serbia, the [mainly Bosniak] Sandzak region and other developments in the region,” Kostic added.

Ankara claims that the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016 was instigated by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and routinely calls his organisation the
“Fethullahist Terrorist Organization,” FETO for short.

As a result, Turkey has put strong pressure on Balkan countries to close cultural or educational organisations linked to Gulen.

Gulen affiliated schools are also still operating in Belgrade and in some other towns in Sandzak region, however.

Kostic said Turkey also took great interest in the mainly Muslim Sandzak region and in the ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley area in the far south of Serbia.

Erdogan will visit Novi Pazar, the main town in Sandzak, after the Turkey-Serbia Business Forum on Wednesday.

Bosniaks have already prepared a warm welcome for him, putting up Erdogan posters and Turkish flags all over town.

After the coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan fans rallied en masse in in Novi Pazar in August 2016 to show support and watch a live broadcast of the President’s rally in Istanbul.

During Erdogan’s visit to Belgrade and Novi Pazar, the Turkish delegation is expected to sign several trade agreements with their Serbian counterparts and meet local leaders.

According to experts, infrastructure projects in which Turkish investors have showed interest include the airport in the town of Kraljevo and the highways from
Belgrade to Sarajevo in Bosnia and from Novi Pazar to Sjenica and Tutin in the Sandzak region.

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