Statement By Ambassador Osman Koray Ertaş At Constanta Danube – Black Sea Economic Opportunities Forum
Dear Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am happy to be in Constanta again, this time to be part of an important event that focuses on the economic opportunities in the Black Sea basin.
Regarded as a backwater during the long years of the Cold War, Black Sea has become the focus of attraction for both good and negative reasons in the last decade. Obviously, while we cannot turn a blind eye to the deteriorating security environment in the region, we should not also lose sight of the great potential that the regional cooperation can offer us in various fields, notably in energy, transport, and commerce.
Indeed, while numerous events and conferences took place on Black Sea security issues in Romania in recent years, few events focused on the potential opportunities in the region. Therefore, as an envoy of a Black Sea littoral state, which for too long has worked to untap the potential in the region, I extend my appreciation to Aspen Institute and Municipality of Constanta for their visionary approach.
Black Sea basin lies at the very center of the emerging Eurasia, where the continents meet, energy lines diverge, the land routes and sea lanes connecting east and west and north and south intersect. This is the region that includes the Balkan Peninsula, the Caucasus, and the northern and southern shores of the Black Sea linking the Caspian and Mediterranean Seas as well as the Middle East and Southeastern Europe.
Located at this strategic spot, it was natural for Turkey to take the initiative in the early 1990s and propose a regional cooperative arrangement that would ensure that the Black Sea becomes a region of peace, stability, and cooperation. This was the background against which the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) came into being 26 years ago with the participation of 12 states located in the region.
As a firm believer in the benefits of regional cooperation, Turkey has been fully committed to BSEC and the principles for which the organization stands. Turkey plays host to the Organization's permanent international secretariat as well as the secretariats of two of its related bodies, the BSEC Business Council, representing the private sectors of the member countries, and the Parliamentary Assembly of BSEC, representing the parliamentary dimension of Black Sea Cooperation.
After quarter century long existence, BSEC can claim to have achieved maturity and scored some noteworthy successes. It has broadened its activities to encompass new fields including trade and project financing through its own financial institution (Black Sea Trade and Development Bank), environmental protection, water management, science, and technology, institutional renewal and good governance, seismic protection, and soft security measures.
Obviously, as realists we do not dismiss the deep political divisions among various member states. That said, despite various challenges, BSEC is the most institutionalized, comprehensive, and inclusive economic cooperation organization in our region. It serves as a useful dialogue platform for member states, some of which are only rarely able to get together.
As Turkey, we believe that as an economic cooperation organization, bilateral political issues between member states should not hinder BSEC from engaging in tangible and useful cooperation as well as projects to the benefit of all. We will spare no effort to help ensure that BSEC functions as a valuable vehicle to achieve our shared objective to turn our region into one of peace, stability, and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Energy cooperation in the Black Sea is a vital topic. The region possesses the world's largest oil and gas reserves after the Middle East. The region is also a major transport route for energy into Western Europe. Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, and Georgia are already serving as energy corridors to Western Europe, providing diversified secure routes for recipient countries.
Connectivity and transport are equally vital subjects when discussing regional opportunities. Formerly, the Black Sea was nothing but a buffer or a barrier to east-west contacts. Now, it has the potential to become the gateway to the enlarged Middle East, to Central Asia and beyond. That is why Turkey wants to see the restoration and revival of the ancient Silk Road that brought so much prosperity to our region in the past.
To this end, we shall make every effort to help build up the physical and institutional infrastructure of our road and rail transport systems as well as our oil and gas networks, so as to better serve the needs of our nations and the international trading community.
In that regard, in addition to Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline (2006) and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline (2007), the recent inauguration of the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which is the backbone of the Southern Gas Corridor, bringing gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and then to Europe are all concrete projects that have served and will continue to serve for the prosperity and security of our shared geographies.
Similarly, the giant projects including the motorway that runs parallel to Turkey's Black Sea coast connecting with the Georgian road network, the rail tunnel under the Strait of Istanbul to connect the European rail system with that of Asia, the third bridge in the Bosphorus, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway, and the ongoing high speed train projects are examples of Turkey's determination to contribute actively to this goal.
As most of these major projects are achieved through PPP model and some with the involvement of the EBRD, we are ready to work together with the Romanian Government and private sector in their newly announced investment projects that will be accomplished by using similar instruments. We are already in touch with respective Ministries to explore ways to cooperate on that front.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The shift of economic center of gravity towards emerging economies in Asia generates a continuous growth in the transport of goods between Asia and Europe. The trade between the EU and China has reached important levels, which has become one of the key driving forces of economic growth in Eurasia.
According to EU figures, the EU and China have become major trading partners today, trading over 1 billion Euros a day, despite little to no trade three decades ago. For 2017, the total trade in goods between the EU and China reached to 573 billion Euros. This number is forecast to reach 680 billion Euros by 2025. These figures reveal the increasing importance of the development of transport capacities in the Eurasia region.
Although maritime transport has been the dominant mode of transport for trade between Asia and Europe, in light of the increasing trade volume, there is an urgent need to develop safe, secure and efficient land connectivity as well as new intermodal transport opportunities for connecting two continents.
Eurasian rail transport, and its intermodal combination with maritime and road transport can become a feasible transport option.
In that sense, the Trans-Caspian East West Middle Corridor Initiative that Turkey promotes provides an additional and complementary multi-model connectivity between China and Europe.
Crossing Turkmenistan - Kazakhstan - Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan - Georgia and Turkey, the Middle Corridor proposes an uninterrupted connection perspective to reach Europe.
On the other hand, with a view to harmonize customs services at border crossings, Turkey has developed the Caravanserai Project involving Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which envisions a single window system for customs.
A similar initiative within the framework of the Middle Corridor is the Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement. This Agreement, signed between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, aims to facilitate smooth movement of goods, passengers and means of transport among the signatories.
In recent years, there have also been important developments with regard to alignment and integration of the Trans-Caspian Middle Corridor Initiative with the Belt and Road Initiative of China.
The official inauguration of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway on 30 November 2017 represented an important milestone for not only the Middle Corridor but also the Belt and Road initiative. This was followed by the opening of the Turkmenbashi Port in Turkmenistan in May this year, which complemented the existing port infrastructure in Aktau, Kuryk and Atyrau in Kazakhstan as well as the ongoing construction of the Alat port in Azerbaijan.
Such efforts will not only bring our nations closer together, but will also contribute to the development of our trade relations, promote cross-border investments, and strengthen our tourism industries.
Constanta has been a special place for Turkey. Our shared history, the vibrant cultural life, the active Turkish-Tatar community, historic connections between the Constanta port and the Turkish straits, and certainly our neighborhood through the Black Sea made this beautiful city a center of attraction. We are happy to see that the city continues to grow as an important tourism and commerce destination.
Constanta, with its port and Danube river, as well as its road and railway infrastructure, is one of the main gates to the EU markets. We continuously try additional ways to better utilize the region in our trade with Romania (surpassing 5 billion Euros) and other European countries. To that end, we attach special importance to ensure connectivity between Constanta and Turkish ports in İstanbul and over our Black Sea shore.
Efforts to establish Ro-Ro services between our ports are ongoing. Just last month, our experts from Ministries of Transport got together here in Constanta to discover infrastructure capabilities, customs procedures, Ro-La transport opportunities to Central Europe, and a possible arrangements on combined freight transport.
As a major tourism destination in Romania, Constanta has all the potential to become a major tourist attraction spot in the region and beyond. I am happy to witness increased number of Turkish tourists visiting this beautiful city. As a global player in tourism sector, Turkey is ready to cooperate with Romanian authorities and private sector in this field.
Agriculture and farming have always been one of the most competitive fields in Dobrugea region and Turkish businesspeople are already active here.
Finally, I should mention the strong contribution of the Turkish-Tatar community in Constanta to our bilateral economic and commercial ties. The exemplary approach of the Romanian Government and the local authorities are much appreciated in that regard. As a vibrant community that knows both cultures and languages, they will continue to be a sound bridge between our countries and business communities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our vision for the Black Sea basin aims at achieving peace and prosperity. We would like to see the region becoming a magnet for investments, a preferred destination for tourists, and an element of stability, where democracy and rule of law flourish. For this we will continue to work with regional organizations like BSEC, NATO, the EU, CoE, and the OSCE.
After all, our common goal is the same: cooperation, economic prosperity and a secure environment for all. I believe Turkish – Romanian strategic partnership will be an important driving factor in making this vision a reality. And I also believe that Constanta, who well knows East and West, will be an important center and a propeller in that endeavor.
Before concluding, let me thank once again Constanta Municipality and Aspen Institute for inviting me as keynote speaker in this important forum, especially considering that 2018 marks the 140th anniversary of the establishment of Turkey-Romania diplomatic relations.