Turkish exports to Iraq suffer as violence deter trucks

Turkish exports to Iraq suffer as violence deter trucks

HABUR - Reuters
Turkish exports to Iraq suffer as violence deter trucks

The Turkish truckers’ security fears halt already-hit trade with Iraq. REUTERS Photo / Osman Orsal

Abdi Tekin used to spend days waiting to clear this customs post on the border with Iraq, his truck among the hundreds lined up to ferry some $1 billion worth of goods a month to Turkey’s second-biggest export market.

Now, lying on a thin, dusty carpet in the shade of his cab, he has to wait just a few hours at Habur. Chaos in Iraq, where a bloody Islamist insurgency threatens to dismember the country, has brought one of Turkey’s key trade routes to a virtual halt. “Everything’s been different for the past month, month and a half. There are no cargoes or very few ... We’re racing with each other to get them,” said Tekin, 33, as he took a nap to steel himself for a journey he has been making for years, but which in recent weeks has become increasingly treacherous.

Islamist insurgents held 32 Turkish truck drivers there for three weeks last month and still hold dozens of other Turks hostage. Though despite the risks, competition among trucking firms means freight rates have actually come down in many cases.

Turkish exports to Iraq fell 21 percent to $727 million in June, according to data from the Turkish Exporters Association (TİM), but the full extent of the drop-off in trade is only likely to be reflected in the figures over the coming months.

Iraq has risen to become Turkey’s second biggest export market after Germany in recent years as the country rebuilds its economy after decades of war and sanctions and Ankara has sought to diversify its trade away from a dependence on Europe.

More than $5 billion worth of exports were shipped to Iraq in the first five months, broadly in line with volumes in the same period a year earlier, before the insurgency flared.

“Before the war, the price I charged per ton for this cargo was $55. Now I am carrying this for $28, and I bargained hard,” said Mehmet Badur, 44.

Alternative routes

Almost all of those still waiting to cross at Habur were travelling to Kurdistan in the north, relatively untouched by the violence of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its allies as they fight Iraqi government forces.

That has left transport companies looking for alternative routes into the rest of Iraq without having to go through Mosul. But the detours increase the costs. The straight route from Habur to Baghdad via Mosul is about 550 kilometer. A route to the east, avoiding Mosul, is at least 20 percent longer.

“ISIL’s seizure of Mosul cuts our route in two. Now we’re trying to go via Iran, but the Iranians want an additional fee,” said Palta, the logistics company owner. Another option might be to hand over loads to Iraqi drivers at the Kurdish frontier. “But,” he said, “We have to keep trying as this is our biggest export market.”