Erdogan is pushing ‘alternative’ to G20’s India-Middle East corridor; ‘Not without Turkey’

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is suggesting an alternative to the India-Middle East corridor (IMEC) that was announced on the sidelines of the prestigious G20 forum held here in New Delhi between September 9-10 saying that there cannot be a corridor between the East, and the Middle East or Europe without Ankara as it is one of the largest trade hub for the globe. There can be no trade corridor “without Turkey,” Erdogan said, according to the to Hürriyet Daily paper. He questioned the US-backed corridor bypassing Turkey pressing that the country’s route would be vital for trade. 

“There cannot be a corridor without Turkey. Turkey is an important production and trade base. The most convenient line for east-to-west traffic has to pass through Turkey,” Erdoğan reportedly told the journalists in his remark about the trans continental corridor. 

‘Intensive negotiations’ underway

Erdogan noted that while the infrastructure project backed by India, the US, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, the European Union (EU), Italy, France and Germany is an ambitious infrastructure project to connect the transcontinental rail, maritime, energy and data networks, it must have an agreement among the partners. The corridor would link India with the UAE via sea links to the Dubai port, which would be the starting point of the railway line linking the UAE to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Europe.

Turkey is now making “intensive negotiations” over its alternative to have a part in the project that will go on to connect Asia with Europe, according to the emerging reports. The IMEC that is widely backed by the US and EU to counter China’s Belt and Road, is bypassing Ankara that has served as a vital transport route for goods movement for Beijing. 

“The most appropriate route for trade from east to west must pass through Turkey,” Erdogan was quoted as saying. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, meanwhile, expressed scepticism about the project saying that the [geopolitical] experts had doubts that the primary goal [of the India-Middle East corridor] was rationality and efficiency.” He continued to add that there are “more geostrategic concerns” that are at play since the  agreement, which does not have any binding financial commitments among the partners, was signed on the sidelines of the key group of 20 forum. 

“A trade route does not only mean meeting trade alone. It’s also a reflection of geostrategic competition,” Fidan told in a statement to FT paper.

Turkey lacks financing to realise full scope of the project?

Fidan brought to focus Turkey’s traditional role and history in the building of the silk routes and becoming a vital bridge between east and west for trade. Erdogan’s Foreign Minister informed that there were talks about an alternative corridor called the Iraq Development Road initiative (IDRI). “Intensive negotiations” are under way with Iraq, Qatar and the UAE, he stressed, adding that the $17 billion trade corridor wil reach historic settlement with partners “within the next few months.”

A diagram released by the Iraq government shows that the project crosses via10 oil rich Iraqi provinces in the south into Turkey with estimated 1,200km of high-speed rail networks with parallel roads. The project will be completed in three phases between 2028 and 2050, the Turkish minister informed the paper. 

But there are issues related to financing, security and stability. The security issue threatens the construction and the long-term feasibility of the project as Iraq is not only marred with political instability, corruption but also currently has a weaker government. Experts suggest that the IMEC, that counters China’s economic and trade footprint, itsel will take decades in the making and implementation. 

“Turkey lacks the financing to realise the full scope of the project, and seems to be counting on UAE and Qatari support to build the proposed infrastructure,” Emre Peker, Europe director at the Eurasia Group think-tank told the FT paper. 

“For that to happen, the Gulf states would need to be convinced of good returns on investment — something that is not imminently evident with the [Development Road] project,” he reportedly added.