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Turkish exporters circumvent trade ban with Israel via Greece: report

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Trade between Turkey and Israel continues through third countries like Greece, despite Ankara’s decision to halt direct trade with Tel Aviv over the Rafah invasion in May, the Middle East Eye (MEE) reported, citing data released on Thursday.

Figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reveal that Israel imported $116 million worth of goods from Turkey in May, marking a 69 percent decline from $377 million in the same month last year.

In contrast the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM) recorded only $4 million in goods exported to Israel in May, a drop of over 99 percent compared to the previous year.

However, two Turkish businesspeople facilitating trade between Turkey and Israel told MEE that since early May, Turkish goods have been re-routed through Greece and other nearby countries to reach Israel.

This shift follows Ankara’s proclaimed imposition of a total trade ban on Israel until a permanent ceasefire in Gaza is established.

“The Israeli authorities don’t even ask Turkish companies to amend their certificate of origin to re-export the goods through Greece because it would increase the costs further, so they are Turkish products,” one Turkish businessman told MEE.

“White label products with Hebrew tags were prioritized, but every sort of good is getting shipped to Israel, especially those ordered before the trade embargo.”

Businesses favor Greece due to its proximity to Turkey’s industrial base and its comparatively cheaper shipping options to Israel.

TIM data indicate that Turkey’s exports to Greece surged to $375 million in May, up 71 percent from $219 million the same month last year.

Israeli data from May doesn’t show an increase in the quantity of imports from Greece, despite the Turkish re-exports.

A second Turkish businessman explained that Turkish exports, although passing through Greece, are still recorded as imports from Turkey in Israeli statistics because they remain Turkish products.

Murat Yapıcı, the general manager of My Advisor consultancy, told MEE that Israeli records more accurately reflect the bilateral trade since they are based on the origin of the goods, even if they come through third countries like Greece.

“This parallel trade might continue for a few more months, but Israeli companies are quickly aligning themselves with alternative suppliers in other countries like Egypt, Spain and Italy,” the second businessman said. “Turkey was the net exporter to Israel, and we are now facing the loss of that market.”

The trade volume between the two countries was $6.3 billion in 2023, with 76 percent being Turkish exports, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Turkey had been a key supplier of affordable products to Israel.

In early May Turkey said it was halting exports to Israel during the duration of the Israel-Hamas war, citing the “worsening humanitarian tragedy” in the Palestinian territories.

The Gaza Strip is suffering a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s military campaign against Hamas that has been going on since October 7, with the United Nations and aid agencies warning of impending famine.

On October 7, Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in the death of roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and some 250 people taken hostage.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 36,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has devastated the Gaza Strip.

Turkey is one of the most outspoken critics of Israel’s war on Gaza, accusing the Israeli government of committing “war crimes” and “genocide” in the enclave. In early May Turkey’s Trade Ministry announced that it was suspending all trade with Israel until it allows aid to enter Gaza unhindered during its offensive against Hamas militants.

Turkey’s trade action against Israel followed domestic attacks against the government for failing to cut off trade sooner.

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