Closer Greek-Turkish business ties show politicians the way forward, minister says

Trade between traditional foes Greece and Turkey will grow rapidly in the coming years and underpin efforts to improve political ties as well, Greece’s deputy foreign minister said yesterday. Evripidis Stylianidis told Reuters in an interview that Greek exports to Turkey had risen 40 percent in the first quarter of this year, and the government sees bilateral trade reaching 5.0 billion euros from 2.0 billion in less than two years. «Joint economic interests apply the appropriate pressure on the political leaderships in the two countries to foster understanding, to understand each other,» Stylianidis said. A day after a crisis between the two rivals was averted through sober diplomacy, after two fighter jets from Greece and Turkey collided over the Aegean Sea, Stylianidis said the handling of this incident had shown the two had moved forward. «This latest incident shows some positive progress. It did not lead to an escalation and creates a positive precedent,» Stylianidis said, adding this restraint would benefit business. After destructive 1999 earthquakes unleashed mutual sympathy and launched «seismic diplomacy» that greatly improved ties, the government is now focusing on «economic diplomacy.» Areas that would be in focus for cooperation are mainly energy, trade and investment, he said. «This creates common economic and strategic interests, as well as joint groups of entrepreneurs who will seek stability and cooperation as dictated by their pockets,» he said. Stylianidis hailed the recent deal by National Bank of Greece to buy 46 percent stake in Turkey’s Finansbank for $2.8 billion as a major breakthrough. «This is a crucial investment because it reflects the trust of the two markets in each other,» he said. Days after the National Bank deal, Greece’s Eurobank agreed to buy a 70 percent stake of Turkey’s Tekfenbank. «It’s extremely beneficial as it turns Greece into a banking powerhouse in the Balkans. Greece now controls 20 percent of the Balkan banking market.» Greece mainly exports fuel, cotton, plastics and paper to Turkey, while Turkey mainly exports steel, vehicles, clothing, fruit and vegetables and furniture to its western neighbor. Stylianidis said more than half a million Greek tourists visited Turkey last year, a figure unimaginable a few years ago. «Energy, tourism and joint venture companies using the advantages of both countries,» Stylianidis said when asked which sectors he saw growing in the coming years. He said a series of planned sea connections and increased air traffic would further help the movement of goods and people. Despite longstanding disputes, Athens is among the European Union’s strongest supporters of the Turkish membership bid. But since the start of accession talks in October, bilateral ties have cooled over the divided island of Cyprus and several territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, with Athens blaming what it calls Ankara’s intransigence.