The Ottoman lure

Turkey is looking to strengthen its relationship with Latin America. 

In recent years, Turkey has been pursuing much closer relations with Latin America, politically, economically and commercially. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, has just completed a lengthy tour of the region where he visited several countries including Venezuela and Chile and inaugurated an embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay. Turkey is currently looking for new markets for its exports because the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia are generating much uncertainty with traditional European trading partners.  

A former official and adviser to Turkish companies in Colombia explained, “Turkey is a country in the process of industrialisation and its main exports are industrial, although of course the agricultural sector is also important for the rural economic development of the country. Its growth is an effective complement with the supply of oil, minerals and agro-industrial products from Latin America.” 

“…the agricultural sector is also important for the rural economic development of [Turkey]. Its growth is an effective complement with the supply of oil, minerals and agro-industrial products from Latin America.”

An adviser to Turkish companies, Colombia

Import-export dynamics with the region will be complicated by the fact that Turkey has been struggling with high inflation for several years. The country has also experienced a significant devaluation of the lira, risk rating agency downgrading’s, excessive deficits and a certain geopolitical distancing from Europe and especially from the United States. All of this has been exerting pressure on president Erdoğan to re-examine his management of the economy and approach to bilateral partnerships.  

Much depends on perspective. The devaluation of the lira is more positive news for Latin American companies keen to invest in Turkey. Indeed, the Turkish foreign minister’s visit is in part an attempt to increase these flows of foreign investment. 

A Latin America-based public official and specialist in Turkish affairs commented, “Turkey’s presence in Latin America has historically been very scarce. Both in political and economic-commercial relations, Turkey is not a particularly important country for the region but clearly as the Turkish economy grows, so too will opportunities for the region.” 

“Turkey’s presence in Latin America has historically been very scarce…Turkey is not a particularly important country for the region but clearly as the Turkish economy grows, so too will opportunities for the region.” 

A public official and specialist in Turkish affairs, LatAm

What of Ankara’s geopolitical orientation? An Argentina-based international relations professor added, “It is true that he (Erdoğan) had rapprochement with Venezuela and Bolivia, on the one hand, but on the other we can highlight his visits to the then president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. Erdoğan is nothing if not pragmatic.” 

Indeed, after Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU were suspended in 2006, the country repositioned itself as a geo-strategically Eurasian power broker and rebranded its foreign policy. A reliable and dynamic trading partner was how Turkey presented itself during visits by former presidents from Chile, Mexico and Brazil. Keen to be seen as pursuing an independent foreign policy insulated from Washington pressure, Erdoğan visited Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro twice after the 2014 oil price crash. 

Technology could be high on the list of regional governments keen to establish mutually beneficial commercial partnerships. “Turkey’s technology is advanced and is cheap. Industrially speaking, it is a developed country where there is a keenness to share tech knowledge which could be attractive for regional administrations keen to upgrade security infrastructure from drones to surveillance equipment,” added a Bolivian diplomat. What is certain is that Turkey’s geopolitical ambitions across the region will not go unnoticed by Washington.  

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