Turkey welcomes Russian move to lift visa requirements

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
ISTANBUL
Published 08.02.2019 00:03

Ankara welcomed Moscow's move to lift visa requirements for Turkish service passport holders and truck drivers traveling to Russia, according to a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Wednesday.

"We welcome the [Russian] decision to lift visa requirements for service passport holders and drivers conducting international transportation," Hami Aksoy said in response to a question in the Foreign Ministry building.

He said that Turkey and Russia were negotiating over implementing the decree at the earliest time, adding that Ankara looked forward to a visa lift for Turkish citizens with ordinary passports and implementing all articles of the visa agreement hammered out in 2010.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday abolishing visas for Turkish businesspeople and truck drivers, subject to the adoption of similar measures by Ankara.

According to the decree, a visa-free regime would be introduced for Turkish citizens with service passports who are on short-term business trips, including diplomatic missions and consular affairs, as well as professional drivers engaged in international road haulage.

The decree will come into force on the condition that Turkey adopts similar measures for Russian citizens "based on the principle of reciprocity."

Relations between the two countries rapidly deteriorated when a Russian bomber jet was shot down by Turkey in November 2015 for violating its border with Syria. Russia imposed a range of economic sanctions as a response, including an end to visa-free travel.

After a quick recovery in bilateral relations, the two countries rapidly increased military and economic cooperation.

Commenting on the visa issue, Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) Chairman İsmail Gülle said Russia was one of Turkey's most important trade partners. "Visa liberalization will positively affect trade between the two countries," Gülle said, adding that it will bring a new dimension to bilateral trade.

The trade volume between the two countries reached about $25.39 billion in 2018, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). Turkey's exports to the country increased by 24.4 percent to around $3.4 billion, while Russia was the top import market for Turkey with around $21.99 billion, a 12.7 increase year-on-year.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Putin have on several occasions said the two countries aim to reach $100 billion in bilateral trade volume in the upcoming period.

According to TİM chairman, the decision will provide a critical opportunity for Turkish exporters to accelerate and capture new export opportunities, new export connections in Russia.

Pointing to the importance of the free movement of business people by the nature of trade, Gülle said: "Visa liberalization will increase our business volume with Russia. It will also accelerate our strategic cooperation. I hope this practice leads to positive steps, positive changes by our friends in the EU on the same issue.

Praising the development, Fevzi Apaydın, head of the Turkish Drivers' Federation (TŞOF), told Sputnik that the decision will contribute to development of both trade and tourism and will bring relief particularly to truck drivers who generally encounter big difficulties and lose time due to visa requirements applied by some countries.

As Turkey enjoys millions of Russian tourist arrivals, Ankara argues that visa liberalization would significantly boost the number of Turkish tourists in Russia. Russia was the top country with 5.96 million visitors last year, accounting for 15.1 percent of all foreign visitors welcomed in Turkey.

On the other hand, International Transporters Association (UND) Executive Vice President Erman Ereke said the "issue of visa was a key point for us; we broke a lock and opened a serious door. 2019 will be a good year for trade with Russia," indicating that it is an important step for international transportation.

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