Saudi imports from Turkey up in February but remain low

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After having all but dried up in recent months, the value of Saudi imports from Turkey edged up in February on monthly basis, official data showed, but still remained well below last year’s amount amid a monthslong unofficial blockade by the kingdom.

Imports from Turkey came to 24.5 million riyals ($6.53 million) in February, up from 14.1 million riyals a month earlier but still about 98% down year on year, data from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics showed on Sunday.

Turkey tumbled to 67th in terms of imports to Saudi Arabia from 11th in February last year, the data showed, while China remained Saudi’s top trading partner.

Riyadh never publicly acknowledged boycotting goods from Turkey, but last year Saudi businesspeople and retailers endorsed the move amid political tensions between the two regional rivals.

Ankara and Riyadh have in recent months attempted to repair some diplomatic damage after a decade of tension, especially after the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.

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.

Data from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM) data earlier this month showed sales to Saudi Arabia almost zeroized in March and plunged to just $19 million (TL 159.19 million), collapsing 93.7% year-on-year from around $298.23 million a year ago.

Many industries have seen their sales almost reset in March.

The TIM data showed that in the first quarter of the year Turkish exports to the kingdom shrunk 93% on an annual basis to $56 million, down from $810.6 million in the January-March period of 2020.

To circumvent the unofficial blockade, some Turkish exporters have been rerouting food, clothing and other goods, and Turkey last month raised the issue at a World Trade Organization (WTO) Goods Council meeting in Geneva.

Production in nearby countries allows exporters to obtain customs documents and to ditch “Made in Turkey” product tags, allowing goods to enter the kingdom, exporters and traders told Reuters.

Brokers are said to be taking Turkish goods to other ports and forging documents so they appear to be coming from China or Europe for fees.

Large Turkish companies are said to have held talks in Saudi Arabia in recent months to reopen trade with the kingdom, without any clear breakthrough.

On the other hand, Saudi traders have reportedly lost billions of riyals last year as goods piled up at customs.

The value of Saudi overall exports meanwhile increased 3% year-on-year in February driven by non-oil exports, the statistics authority said.

Exports amounted to 65.8 billion riyals, up from 63.8 billion riyals in February 2020, but oil exports fell by 0.7 billion riyals or 1.4% in the same period.

On a month-on-month basis, however, overall Saudi exports decreased by 6.2 billion riyals, or 8.6%.

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