In Egypt, calls grow for boycott of Turkish goods

Cairo maintains anti-trust measures against Turkish construction steel.
Sunday 04/03/2018
An Egyptian worker carries imported goods at a popular market in Cairo.                                                                            (AP)
Heavy burden. An Egyptian worker carries imported goods at a popular market in Cairo. (AP)

CAIRO - There have been increasing calls in Egypt for a boycott of Turkish goods amid increasing tensions between Cairo and Ankara. Public and social media initiatives began in recent weeks asking Egyptian consumers to stop buying Turkish products.

“Turkey acts against Egypt’s political interests everywhere,” said Hisham Baker, a legal expert who, with friends, initiated a boycott campaign against Turkish goods. “This is why Egyptians have a national and moral obligation to stop buying its products.”

Trade between Egypt and Turkey reached $5 billion last year; however, the balance of trade tilts dramatically in Turkey’s favour. Egypt imports a range of goods from Turkey, from foodstuffs and clothes to detergents and mechanical equipment.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country’s main exports to Egypt included mineral fuels, iron and steel and transport vehicles.

Egypt has used legal channels to prevent Turkish goods from over-stimulating local markets and causing unfair competition with domestic products. Cairo, for example, maintains anti-trust measures against Turkish construction steel, citing unfair competition with locally manufactured steel.

The government, economists said, cannot do more because of international trade regulations. However, this does not prohibit social campaigns asking Egyptians to boycott Turkish goods.

Baker is using social media to publicise his campaign. He published a list of Turkish brands and the outlets that sell them on his Facebook page. The post received 12,000 likes.

“There is huge interaction with the campaign and I am sure it will translate into wonderful figures,” Baker said. “There will be a massive boycott of Turkish goods.”

Relations between Cairo and Ankara became strained after the Egyptian Army backed a public uprising against Egypt’s Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. Turkey’s backing of his Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in Egypt in 2014, led Cairo to accuse Turkey of intervening in its affairs.

Tensions between Cairo and Ankara have been on the rise, particularly with Turkey’s questioning Egypt’s presence in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has expressed opposition to maritime boundaries agreed between Egypt and Cyprus in 2015 in a potential struggle over resources in the region.

Egypt has stated concern about Turkey’s move to increase its ties with Sudan, particularly after Khartoum signed a deal with Ankara giving Turkey control of the strategic Red Sea island of Suakin.

Egypt has been increasingly seeking to revive and protect its national industries and productions, reducing reliance on imports. Cairo raised customs duties on many imported goods to protect foreign currency reserves and stimulate national production. Analysts said the policy was paying off.

In 2017, imports dropped 14% to $56.8 billion, compared to 2016, the Egyptian Trade and Industry Ministry said. Egypt’s exports rose 10% last year to $22.4 billion over 2016.

There are potential downsides to a boycott of Turkish goods, particularly for Egyptians in the trade industry or who rely on Turkish imports.

“The other problem is that some of the goods imported from this country do not have local substitutes, including the spare parts for cars manufactured in Turkey,” said Ahmed Shiha, head of the Importers Section at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce. “This means that we cannot do without these goods.”

This is not the first time that Egyptian consumers tried a boycott of foreign goods. In 2006, many Egyptians boycotted Danish goods following the publication of cartoons that were seen as offensive of the Prophet Mohammad, in a Danish newspaper.

Turkish goods are much more vital to the Egyptian economy, however. Observers warned that the boycott could harm the North African country.

Turkish businessmen invest nearly $2 billion in Egypt, while there are approximately 300 Turkish companies operating in Egypt employing close to 75,000 Egyptians, said Atilla Ataseven, president of the Turkish-Egyptian Businessmen Association.

This is why Egyptian economists warned against letting politics spoil economic and business relations between Cairo and Ankara.

“There is public anger against the actions of the Turkish government but we should not let this anger to cause losses to the national economy,” said Salah al-Guindy, an economics professor at Mansoura University. “Boycotting Turkish goods will cause losses to Egyptian companies and workers working in the import sector and raise the prices of local alternatives to Turkish goods because of increasing demand.”