Turkey Hikes Tariffs on US Goods as Russian FM Lavrov Visits Ankara

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Turkey has officially hiked up its own tariffs on a number of US products. This development follows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement yesterday that Ankara will declare a boycott of US electronic goods in response to Washington’s recent tariff hike.

The relevant decree signed by President Erdogan has been published in the Turkish government’s official newspaper, Resmi Gazete.

According to the document, tariffs on tobacco products have been raised by 60%, duties on alcohol by 140%, and cars by 120%. In addition, Ankara has raised tariffs on various other categories of merchandise, such as rice, fruits, and cosmetics.

These counter-tariffs are Ankara’s latest response to what Erdogan has called a “stab in the back”, an “economic attack”, and a “trend of unilateralism and disrespect” from Washington. Recent disputes between the two NATO allies have seen relations drop to an historic low.

Erdogan has repeatedly told Washington that it is forcing Ankara to “look for new friends and allies.” 

In particular, over the past two weeks the US has sanctioned Turkish ministers for “human rights abuses”, raised tariffs on metal imports which sent the Turkish lira plummeting by at least 20% overnight, and demanded that Turkey release an American citizen  under house arrest in Turkey for involvement in the failed 2016 coup attempt. At the same time, Washington has refused Turkey’s request to extradite the controversial Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who stands accused of fomenting the 2016 coup.

While speaking in Ankara yesterday, Erdogan said that Turkey has both “political and economic stances” up its sleeve to respond to Washington. So far, Ankara’s economic retaliation thus includes a declared boycott on American electronics, particularly phones, and the above-cited new tariff hikes.

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Erdogan’s political response has yet to be unveiled, although Turkish lawyers have pledged to seek a police raid of the Incirlik Air Base, which hosts US troops, to arrest nine US officers accused of having ties with terrorist groups. In the meanwhile, Erdogan has called on Turkish citizens and businesses not to panic over the currency crisis, and to trade in precious metals and foreign currencies to support the lira.

In addition, Turkey has pledged to start trading in national currencies with its major partners in the likes of Russia, Iran, China, and Ukraine. 

It is worth noting that Ankara’s thus far bold response to Washington’s economic war comes simultaneously as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Ankara yesterday to discuss boosting Russian-Turkish economic ties and coordinating operations in Syria.

While in Ankara, Lavrov explicitly criticized the “excessive use of the dollar.” 

At the press conference subsequently held with his Turkish counterpart, Lavrov criticized the political and economic pressure unleashed by Washington:

“I hope that objective reality will help common sense prevail and we will return to the fundamental principles laid down in the UN Charter and stipulating collective work on solving global problems while respecting the sovereign equality of states and non-interference in their interior affairs. Interest in solving numerous problems, shared by Russia and Turkey, rests upon such principles…I have already spoken about the sanctions: they are illegal, undermine all principles of global trade and principles approved by UN decisions, under which unilateral measures of economic duress are unlawful.’

The trade war and deterioration in relations between Turkey and the United States shows no signs of subsiding. The US’ offensive on its former ally stands poised to push Turkey closer to Iran and Russia -both of whom have defended Turkey from the US’ sanctions – with potentially serious implications to the dynamics of the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Turkey is thus left in an uncertain position between juggling its old NATO commitments and military invasion of Syria, and the increasing necessity of geopolitically reconciling with the Eurasian powers of the region.

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