Hakkari businessmen hail border crossing plans / Reduce smuggling.

Toprak Ekinci for SES Türkiye in Hakkari – 02/12/13 – Businessmen in Hakkari are welcoming plans to open two new Turkey-Iraq border crossings in nearby Sirnak, telling SES Türkiye they will facilitate deeper economic ties between the countries.

Following a recent series of diplomatic visits by Turkish and Iraqi leaders, Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici announced that the two countries agreed to open new border crossings in Aktepe and Ovakoy, both in Sirnak.

Baghdad and Ankara are also discussing plans to open border gates in Gulyazi town in Sirnak and two crossings in Hakkari province. In addition, a third bridge may be constructed at the busy Habur crossing in Silopi.

With nearly $12 billion in bilateral trade, two-thirds of which is with the autonomous Kurdish region, Iraq is Turkey’s second largest trading partner after Germany. Every day about 4,000 large trucks ply the Habur Gate, the only border crossing with Iraq. Truck wait times average seven days, according to the Habur Customs Office. Businessmen in Hakkari said the new crossings in Sirnak will make it easier to export and import goods. They also hope the closed Uzumlu crossing in Cukurca and Derecik crossing in Semdinli will be opened.

They added that opening border crossings would also alleviate the problem of smuggling, which has led to several deaths and jail sentences for local people.

Progress in opening the border gates has been slow due to the security situation and the need to co-ordinate legal and technical factors with the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. Senar Yildiz, a businessman from Yuksekova town in Hakkari province, said the new border crossings will be a “lifeline” for Hakkari and the southeast in general. “These borders need to be opened for the region’s development. Those in northern Iraq are not strangers to us, we have historical and familial connections with them all,” he said. “For this reason, the border crossing will bring us closer to the entire Middle East. Both Turkey and our neighbours will benefit from these crossings.”

Yildiz hopes the Hakkari border gates will be opened soon.

“If only the stated border crossings were opened, and commerce and the economy were revived. The opening of crossings would mean a lot for cross-border commerce. Citizens want them opened as soon as possible,” he told SES Türkiye.

Emrah Kizilkaya, a businessman in downtown Hakkari, said new border crossings would increase quality of life for local people. “The opening of these gates will be great. Our citizens in the province aren’t doing so well. This will be a rare boon for them,” Kizilkaya told SES Türkiye. “As Hakkari businessmen, we can only do limited commerce. We can’t develop at current levels. The crossing will aid our business and increase our citizens’ level of welfare.”

The plans for the border crossings came amid a recent improvement in Turkey-Iraq relations. In October, Iraqi parliament speaker Usama Abdul Aziz al-Nujayfi and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari visited Ankara for talks. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November. Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Diyarbakir at the end of November.

In a statement to reporters, Yazici said more details about the new crossings should be available at the end of the year.

“We are expecting to finalise details on the issue, meeting with the Iraqi central government in December. A final agreement could be signed before the end of this year,” Yazici said, according to media reports.

Abdulmenav Duzenci, a Hakkari businessman involved in cross-border commerce, told SES Türkiye the new border crossings should be accompanied by reforms to speed up the free exchange of commerce between Turkey and Iraq. “Border customs taxes are so high that it’s much more profitable to simply buy the products from Turkey. For example, I wanted to import PVC plastic from a Hakkari border crossing. I was told I would have to do so through Gaziantep or Istanbul because there was no authorisation. Then there are the border taxes. Expenses skyrocket after all this,” he said. “We want the state to reduce border taxes and bureaucratic procedures.”