Turkey’s Erdogan woos Latin America
SANTIAGO, Chile—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday he was in Latin America to pursue a “strategy of opening” as he kicked off a three-country regional tour in Chile.
“Chile is a key country for our opening in Latin America and the Caribbean. This strategy of opening of the past 10 years has gotten a very important boost,” he said after meeting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
Trade between Turkey and Latin American countries has expanded 800 percent over the past decade, to $10 billion in 2014, and Ankara has opened new embassies around the region.
Erdogan said he planned to continue forging closer ties.
“We’ve gone from six diplomatic missions in all of Latin America to 13. But that’s not enough, and we’re going to continue increasing the number of embassies,” he said.
“We can increase (trade) to improve our economic relations, based on free-trade agreements,” he added.
Chile and Turkey signed a free-trade agreement in 2011, and trade has since nearly doubled, to almost $700 million last year.
As part of Erdogan’s visit, the two countries signed a deal on closer ties between their government aid agencies.
Erdogan, who is traveling with some 100 business leaders, heads next to Peru and Ecuador.
The Turkish leader last year visited Cuba, Colombia and Mexico.
Turkey is seeking to diversify its partners beyond its traditional sphere of influence within the bounds of the former Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and the Balkans, analysts say.
With its opening to Latin America, it appears keen to forge alliances in new regions at a time of tricky ties with the United States, the European Union and Russia.
One of Turkey’s major trade partners, Russia has imposed sanctions on Ankara after one of its war jets was shot down in November on the border with Syria.
In a sign of its growing soft power, Turkey’s soap operas are taking Latin American countries, including Chile, by storm, prompting TV executives to start importing Turkish series to a region more used to exporting its own “telenovelas.”
Turkish aid workers also flew in to help Chile after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
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