The world of international trade and commerce is often influenced not only by economic considerations but also by geopolitics and strategic interests.
In recent times, Turkey has emerged as a prominent player in the discussions surrounding the proposed India-Middle East trade corridor. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s assertion that “there can be no corridor without Turkey” and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan’s skepticism about the corridor’s primary goals have raised significant questions about the viability and implications of this ambitious trade route. In this article, we delve into Turkey’s strong opposition to the Indian trade corridor and its alternative plans, examining the geostrategic factors at play.
The Geopolitical Significance of Trade Corridors
Trade corridors are not merely routes for goods to pass through; they are also reflections of geostrategic competition. The proposed India-Middle East trade corridor, supported by the United States and the European Union, aims to transport goods from the Indian subcontinent to European markets, bypassing Turkey entirely. This move is seen as part of broader efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Turkey’s Historic Role as a Trade Bridge
Turkey has a long and storied history as a bridge between the East and West, dating back to the days of the Silk Roads. Ankara is keen to emphasize this traditional role and is determined to maintain its status as a crucial transport route for goods moving from Asia to Europe.
The Alternative: The Iraq Development Road Initiative
In response to the proposed India-Middle East trade corridor, Turkey has put forward an alternative plan known as the Iraq Development Road initiative. This ambitious project, estimated to cost $17 billion, aims to connect the Grand Faw port in southern Iraq to Turkey, passing through ten Iraqi provinces. The proposed infrastructure includes a 1,200km high-speed rail and a parallel road network. The project is divided into three phases, with the final phase set for completion in 2050.
Challenges and Concerns
Despite the grand vision of the Iraq Development Road initiative, there are several concerns and challenges. Firstly, there are doubts about Turkey’s financial capability to realize the project’s full scope, relying on support from the UAE and Qatar. Convincing these Gulf states of the project’s profitability remains a challenge.
Secondly, there are significant security and stability concerns. Iraq, plagued by corruption, decaying infrastructure, weak governance, and political instability, poses inherent risks to the success of such a project. Additionally, the financing of the project within Iraq remains uncertain.
Furthermore, it is crucial to note that the proposed G20 corridor, including both the Indian trade corridor and the Iraq Development Road, may take decades to materialize, if they do so at all.
Turkey’s Balancing Act
Turkey has adopted a diplomatic strategy that attempts to maintain strong relations with both Western powers like the United States and the European Union, and Eastern giants like Russia and China. This approach has at times created tensions with the West, as seen in recent US sanctions against Turkish companies allegedly aiding Russia in Ukraine. While Turkey has generally been supportive of China’s Belt & Road initiative, its actual role in the scheme remains limited.
The Way Forward
Despite its strong opposition to the Indian trade corridor, Turkey’s stance may evolve in the future. President Erdoğan might make his case for Turkey’s inclusion in the corridor when he meets with US counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Turkey’s geographical location, political influence in the region, and warming relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE could play a pivotal role in reshaping its position. Turkey’s ability to facilitate trade negotiations and resolve disputes among corridor participants might become a valuable asset in the ongoing discussions.
Turkey’s resistance to the Indian trade corridor is not solely driven by economic considerations; it is a strategic move aimed at preserving its historical role as a bridge between East and West. As the global trade landscape continues to evolve, Turkey’s position in the geostrategic chessboard is one to watch, as it seeks to balance its interests between various regional and global players.