Having developed various solutions to keep trade flowing amid the coronavirus outbreak, Turkey’s Trade Ministry has called on its exporters to continue trade by benefiting from solutions such as the contactless foreign trade it developed at customs gates, while also pointing to the importance of railway transport.
As of the beginning of March, the country shut its border gates with neighboring countries, including Iran and Iraq, to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. After the closure of Iraqi borders, the Trade Ministry focused on non-contact foreign trade studies to continue the country's exports and imports.
“We, as the ministry, started taking serious measures in coordination with other ministries and institutions before this virus was detected in our country. Accordingly, we developed schemes for contactless export and contactless foreign trade,” Trade Minister Rushar Pekcan said Friday.
Currently, Turkish drivers bring trucks to border crossings, and foreign drivers then receive the trucks to transport the containers abroad, Pekcan told a news conference at the ministry headquarters in Ankara. "The vehicles are disinfected when they arrive at our buffer zone before our drivers take them over,” she added.
“With this activity, we have achieved serious successes that will set an example to the whole world. I want our business world to continue their trade using these opportunities,” the minister said.
"On this occasion, we are working to restore our trade with Iraq back to its earlier level,” the minister noted. She also said the work has started with hundreds of trucks but the number now reached 1,140.
Pekcan also recalled that some 130,000 trucks used to cross the Iranian-Turkish border per year before the border gates were closed, adding that 94,000 of them were carrying goods to Iran and the remaining 36,000 were heading to Central Asian countries.
In a bid to continue the flow of goods between Turkey and the Central Asian countries, Turkey increased the capacity of the border crossings to Azerbaijan and Georgia, she said.
The minister pointed to the importance of railway transport during such a period. Pekcan noted that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars line, a railway line connecting the eastern province of Kars to the Georgian and Azerbaijani capitals, Tbilisi and Baku, carries 2,500 tons of goods daily. “We have the capability to increase the capacity to 6,000 tons if there’s demand. We are coordinating with the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry. We need to attach weight to railway lines during this period,” said Pekcan.
The country found another way to continue foreign trade with Iran, through railways, she noted. “Our locomotives push the freight cars into Iran. When they cross the Iranian border, another locomotive in the Iranian territory starts pulling them,” she said, explaining that some 80 cars carrying goods that would fill 160 truck trailers will arrive in Iran every day, and it is possible to increase the number of freight cars to 120.
Pekcan also noted that drivers use a similar method along the European borders. Over 1,100 trucks cross Turkey’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria through a scheme of driver exchanges. Some 35,800 freight cars enter Bulgaria through the Kapıkule station annually.
The daily train service on the railway between the district of Çerkezköy in the northwestern Tekirdağ province toward Bulgaria has doubled to twice a day.
Additionally, ferry boats also continue carrying 170,000 trailers to Italy’s Trieste and Bari ports, and 50,000 to France’s Toulon and Sete ports annually from Turkey’s ports in Istanbul, the Aegean province of İzmir and the Mediterranean province of Mersin. However, no drivers are allowed to go onboard.
The trade minister said activity would fall in the months ahead and noted exports to Iraq were already down 50% while exports to Iran – among the hardest-hit countries – had plunged 80% since the outbreak hit the Middle East. "There will be a drop in total foreign trade, but we are working to keep at the minimum level," she added.
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