DAMASCUS, 23 December 2004 — Turkey and Syria yesterday signed a free trade agreement to bolster bilateral economic ties and exchanged views on the situation in their common neighbor, Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Damascus on a two-day visit aimed at cementing improved ties between the two countries.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad made a landmark visit to Turkey in January to bury the hatchet after years of tension and disputes over land and water resources.
The visit comes days after the European Union’s historic decision last week to start accession talks with Turkey. Syria is also seeking closer ties with the EU. “This visit shows how far our trade, economic and political ties have developed since President Assad’s historic trip,” Erdogan told reporters in Damascus.
Erdogan signed a free trade zone agreement with Syrian Prime Minister Naji Al-Otari and discussed possible Turkish investments in Syria and joint agriculture projects. “The economic and trade ties between our two countries would from now on be governed by the agreements that we have signed,” Erdogan said. He said the deal would allow investments by Turkish firms in Syria, currently at $150 million, to increase rapidly.
Otari said Syria was looking for capital to develop its mainly state-controlled economy. “Our goal at this stage is comprehensive development,” he said. Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhl-Allah said the agreement was expected to double the size of bilateral trade which currently stands at around $1 billion annually. He said better trade ties with Syria would open up the Arab markets for Turkey. “Syria is Turkey’s gate to the Arab world.”