Croatia and Turkey strengthen economic ties

The Croatia-Turkey Business Council, organised by DEİK, was held on 27 April 2016 in the Croatian capital Zagreb. The event was attended by the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of the Republic of Croatia,  Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the Economics Minister of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Elitaş, his Croatian colleague, Minister Tomislav Panenić, DEİK President Ömer Cihad Vardan, and the President of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Luka Burilović who also acted as host of the event.

In his speech at the Forum, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reminded the audience that after an interlude of 10 years, the Forum had brought together 600 businesspeople, which was proof of the resolve of the two countries to advance their cooperation. In the last decade Croatia had become a member of both NATO and the European Union and achieved prosperity, helped by its natural beauties and tourism. Croatia had become a transformed country and one of the world's foremost centres. Erdoğan expressed his conviction to be able to continue his country's ties with the new Croatian government in a spirit of solidarity. A decade ago, the Turkey president said, his country had a GDP of USD 400 billion, today it was twice as large. However, every country faces problems, he said, with spells of good times and bad times. Turkey and Croatia shared a common history and culture, and cooperated on a political and military level, he, therefore, saw no obstacle to advancing their bilateral economic and trade ties to the desired level, which he defined as a bilateral trade volume of USD 1 billion.

The Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovićise expressed his expectation that the visit would help to advance the countries' cooperation. The Croatian president talked about Turkey's leading regional role and his own country's support in integrating Turkey with European institutions, before addressing the issue of economic relations. Referring to the rising trade volume, Grabar-Kitarović said he wished for more Turkish investments in his country in addition to the cooperation in areas such as tourism, agriculture, energy, banking and new technologies. His country would support such future investments, he said.

The Turkish Economics Minister Mustafa Elitaş defined the main objective in Croatian-Turkish relations as achieving the same closeness in economic matters as in the countries' political ties. He expressed his commitment to the USD 1 billion trade volume target. After all, over the last eight years trade had grown more than 6-fold. Currently Turkey is invested in almost 60 projects in Croatia, 15 of which are large-scale investments, while Croatian investments in Turkey are still on a lower level. Minister Elitaş mentioned investment opportunities in particular in infrastructure and tourism, with an emphasis on the latter.

In his speech, DEİK President Ömer Cihad Vardan told the Forum that this was the largest and most comprehensive ever private sector delegation from Turkey to visit Croatia. Currently Turkey's investments in the Croatia amounted to USD 200 million, said Vardan, and added that his side was desirous to advance the trade and investment relations with Croatia with which Turkey had deep historic, cultural and social ties. Vardan reminded the Forum participants that the DEİK/Turkey-Croatia Business Council was established in 1995, only three years after recognition of the Republic of Croatia by Turkey. The DEİK president also addressed the issue of EU membership talks. After all both countries had commenced accession talks on the same day, 3 October 2005. That, however, is where the similarities end, he said. Today it was Turkey that was in need of support from Croatia, more than ever, in finalising its journey. Vardan also mentioned the current problems his country faced with respect to the EU: chapters blocked by a number of member countries and by the EU Council, visa problems and the struggle to update the Customs Union. Though, in the words of the DEİK president: "Turkey would never be a burden for the EU, rather, it would assume some of the burden and become a solution partner."