The value of Saudi Arabia’s imports from Turkey, already at record lows amid an informal boycott, fell further in January, official data showed Thursday.
Trade between the two countries has almost collapsed under the boycott and Saudi businesspeople and retailers last year called for a ban on Turkish imports over political tensions between the two regional rivals. But both countries have said they would work to improve relations.
Imports from Turkey fell 98% year-on-year to 14.1 million riyals ($3.76 million) from 622 million riyals in January 2020, data from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics showed. Month-on-month, imports were down 72%.
January followed a major decline in December, as imports from Turkey amounted to 50.6 million riyals, down from 182.2 million riyals in November, and from 1.06 billion riyals in December 2019.
December was already the lowest figure since Saudi Arabia started publishing monthly trade data in 2016.
Political tensions spilled over into trade and escalated after dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered within the walls of Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The international community has blamed the Saudi authorities for Khashoggi’s murder, namely Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). The whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body remain unknown.
Aside from the Khashoggi incident, Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Israel, support of the coup in Egypt and its stance on Libya and Syria have been other points of contention between Ankara and Riyadh.
The kingdom’s biggest supermarket chains said they backed a boycott of Turkish imports that had been proposed by business leaders and Saudi social media influencers.
Turkey dropped to 76th in imports from 13th in January last year, the data showed.
In November, Saudi Arabia formally suspended imports of meat, eggs and other products from Turkey, the Turkish exporters’ union said.
In October, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce called for a boycott of Turkish products amid reports from merchants that animosity between Ankara and Riyadh was hindering the flow of goods between the two regional powers.
Later in the same month, the Association of Turkish Construction Material Producers (IMSAD) said exporters had been experiencing growing difficulties in dealing with Saudi Arabia for a year, “but in the recent period, the pressure on businesspeople in Saudi Arabia ‘to not buy made in Turkey’ has come up.”
Data by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM) showed that Turkish exports to the kingdom fell to a record low in January, dropping 92.5% year-on-year, from nearly $221.9 million to just $16.6 million.
The Saudi government has said the authorities have not placed any restrictions on Turkish goods.
In November, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman agreed to keep the channels of dialogue open to improve bilateral relations and resolve problems.
Erdoğan last week said that Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Turkey.
Several countries have in recent years shown interest in Turkish-made drones, which were effective in regional conflicts, such as Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu earlier this month said Ankara would reciprocate if Saudi Arabia takes “positive steps” to overcome recent tensions. The same goes for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the minister said.
“There is no reason for our ties with Saudi Arabia not to be fixed. If they take positive steps, we will take positive steps. The same goes for the UAE. We don’t want to fight with anyone,” Çavuşoğlu said.
As part of a wider regional effort, Ankara has said could see itself improving relations with Egypt, which have been strained since the Egyptian army toppled the country’s first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, in a coup in 2013 after only a year in office.
Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu both said Turkey had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt.
Erdoğan said the contacts were “not at the highest level, but right below the highest level. We hope that we can continue this process with Egypt much more strongly.”
Saudi Arabia’s overall value of imports in January increased by 20.7% year on year to 47.9 billion riyals, the data showed.
Imports from China ranked first at 9.6 billion riyals in January, followed by the United States and the UAE.