Erdoğan touts Turkey helping push 'prosperous' Balkans


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday stressed the potential for a Balkans region that is living in peace, not division.

"Turkey wants the Balkans to be known for peaceful unification, not instability or secession, but for a prosperous future based on common interests," Erdoğan told the Turkey-Serbia Business Forum as part of his two-day official visit to Serbia on Tuesday.

Erdoğan said Turkey is against some seeing Balkan countries "as their own backyard".

On Turkey and Serbia working together, he said: "We will continue our work and increase our savings and our solidarity with the win-win principle. We believe that we have a common vision for the future of our region with Serbia."

Erdoğan and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, as well as close to 700 businessmen from two countries, attended the business forum organized by the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM), and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce with the support of Turkey's Halkbank.

Erdoğan also said that there is a mutual will to develop bilateral relations in every area, as Turkey sees Serbia as a friendly, key country for peace and stability in the Balkans.

Erdoğan called his visit an expression of his wishes to develop relations between the two countries.

'15-year success story'

Erdoğan stated that Turkey's economy, which grew 7.1 percent in 2011-2015, reached a growth rate of 5.1 percent in the first half of this year, showing that Turkey has again reached a point that is in line with its targets.

Pointing to the International Monetary Fund upgrading Turkey's growth prediction to 5.1 percent for this year, Erdoğan said, "In fact, our change over 15 years is a complete success story," meaning the 15 years under Justice and Development (AK) Party rule.

"We continue to carry out our major projects and investments without internal or external turbulence. We will also lay the groundwork for the opening of a new channel parallel to the Bosphorus, such as the end of this year or beginning of 2018," he said.

Also speaking at the event, Serbia's Vucic said that Turkish investors investing in Serbia have contributed to the country's falling unemployment.

"Our unemployment rate has dropped from 26 percent to 11.8 percent. I want to say, especially in the poor regions, thanks to the Turkish companies and thanks to the commitment and good will of President Erdoğan to send Turkish companies to work in Serbia," he said.

Vucic also spoke about the possibilities and conditions that Serbia provides to investors from Turkey.

"Dear Turkish investors, whoever offers you better conditions than Serbia, come to us and we will improve our conditions and you will have at least 5 percent better conditions than anywhere else," he said.

Addressing the forum, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said that Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina will have a large trade volume in the coming period.

Zeybekci said they want to maintain the positive political climate between the two countries and friendly relations.

"This is one of the most important ways to create a very important commercial and economic platform in which mutual interests are at the maximum level and sustainable and predictable, a very strong political future, cooperation and the future of economic interests," he said.

In this context, Zeybekci said that they are working hard with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Trade, Tourism and Telecommunication Minister Rasim Ljajic and that they will sign a free trade agreement during Erdoğan's visit.

Zeybekci said that they hope to boost the expected 2017 Turkish-Serbian trade volume of $1.1 billion to $3 billion by 2020.

"One of the most important factors that will take place between the two countries will be the intensive investment of Turks in Serbia, and ministers of the two countries will ensure that these investments are carried out here in a healthy way," he said.

Call for Turkish investors

Ljajic also stressed the booming relations, saying political relations between the two countries have reached the level of "strategic partnership."

Touting two landmarks in ties, Ljajic said: "One of them is that Halkbank coming to Serbia, this is how stable Serbia is, and the other is the business forum today. There has never been a forum ... the presidents of the two countries have never participated in such a business forum."

Ljajic also urged Turkish businessmen to invest in Serbia, saying, "You are important to the development of the Serbian economy," he said.

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