Various media outlets have recently been reporting on the economic relationship between Turkey and the Balkan countries, as well as the growing interest of Turkish companies to do business in this region through acquiring or cooperating with local companies – many of which are state-owned and in the process of being put up for sale by their respective governments. If we look closer into specific examples, the numbers are supportive of this positive trend, i.e. in Serbia, three years ago only 25 Turkish companies were present in the country's market, with that number rising up to 90 in 2016.
Furthermore, at a recent meeting in the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the activity between Serbia and Turkey in the banking sector, or more precisely, the acquisition of Čačanska Bank by the Turkish Halk Bank – a transaction that Karanović & Nikolić advised on, was emphasised as a particularly positive signal for potential future investors.
The above meeting was attended by the Association of Young Businessmen from Ankara (ANGIAD), a group that encompasses around 1000 companies from Turkey, some of which have shown interest for investing in Serbia and cooperating with local companies across a diverse range of industries including building materials, wood processing, tourism, healthcare, coffee processing, and others. ANGIAD representatives were then introduced to the improving business climate in Serbia, through a presentation that included the local investment conditions and the ongoing reform process in the Serbian economy. Some features of doing business in Serbia that are considered of special relevance to Turkish investors have been highlighted, especially those related to the possibility of navigating across third markets due to Serbia's free trade agreements with a wide range of countries including – but not limited to – Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, EU, and CEFTA & EFTA member countries. Veljko Jovanović, Advisor to the President of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, remarked that Turkey is one of his country's already most important trade partners and announced the Chamber's openness to all Turkish companies interested to do business with Serbia.
Another – more significant example of activity on this front – was seen last month at the third Croatian-Turkish Business Forum, held in Zagreb, which featured a number of prominent attendees, including the Presidents of the two countries. A positive attitude towards future commercial relations between Croatia and Turkey was showcased throughout the event, with many encouraging statements coming from President Erdogan himself, who proclaimed hope for the bilateral trade figures to rise up to 1 EUR billion over the next five years, so as to equate the state of the economic relationship between the two countries with the already highly positive state of political affairs. It should be noted that, when compared to those benefits previously mentioned in the case of Serbia and Turkey, the potential for such cooperation between the Croatian and Turkish economies has a somewhat different set of perks, mainly since Croatia, as an EU member, can make it significantly easier for Turkish products to reach the European Single Market. Turkey however, is in the position to offer equally valuable benefits to all its business partners, with a fast growing economy and a strong backbone of investors, as well as through functioning as a trade bridge to the Black Sea and the countries of the Middle East. Finally, a good example of potential large-scale cooperation can be found in the recent rumours surrounding the potential Turkish Airlines' acquisition of Croatia Airlines.
Most of the above developments give us an encouraging perspective on how countries from our region can shape their commercial relations with Turkey, and in doing so, build on the cultural heritage that's hundreds of years old, en route to a future in which new history – at least in a business sense – waits to be written. We will watch this space with interest.