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Turkey urges Greece to boost trade ties

Minister of Economy, Nihat Zeybekci, tells business people from Greece and Turkey that forced migration between two nations was a big mistake

Turkey and Greece can work together in the international arena, despite the many mistakes made in the history of both nations, Turkish Minister of Economy, Nihat Zeybekci, said on Wednesday.

Business people from Greece and Turkey met in Izmir, a province in western Turkey, on Wednesday to discuss economic and international cooperation between the two neighbors.

The forum was organized by Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board -- a business lobby group -- in cooperation with Turkey's Ministry of Economy.

The forced migration between Turkey and Greece was the biggest mistake in the history of both nations, Zeybekci explained.

"We lost the greatest opportunity and destroyed the biggest bridge between the two countries. The war between Turkey and Greece was their biggest mistake, but forced migration between the two nations was worse than the war,” Zeybekci said at the business forum.

Zeybekci added that “I wish we had not had forced migration. I wish we had continued to live together in harmony... I wish that our neighbors and all our friends had remained in place in this region.”

The Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland on Jan. 30, 1923. Under the convention, approximately 2 million people were exchanged between Turkey and Greece.

Despite the economic crisis in the Eurozone, the two countries' current $4 billion annual trade volume was growing -- but still under the $10 billion goal that both nations' prime ministers set for 2015.

Around 400 high-level representatives from both countries came together in the forum to discuss tourism, real estate, energy and shipping issues.

"Both nations can market the Aegean’s wind, tourism and other facilities to the world," Zeybekci continued.

The Aegean Sea is an embayment of the Mediterranean Sea, located between the mainlands of Greece and Turkey.

“We can do many projects and activities in the coming years -- the same as Japan and South Korea did in 2002 World Cup. Why shouldn't both nations cooperate in international activities?” Zeybekci added.

"Recall how successful Turkish construction companies have been abroad. The total value of projects that the companies have finished or are currently finishing abroad is nearly $300 billion. Turkish construction companies are second in the world after China with $40 billion worth of projects last year. Turkey and Greece may therefore take a big part of other countries’ construction industries,” he continued.

Touching upon the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the U.S. -- Zeybekci said: "If Turkey doesn't become a member of the free-trade agreement between the U.S. and EU, or sign a simultaneous free trade agreement with the U.S., Turkey's full membership process to EU will continue but it will be impossible for Turkey to maintain its customs union agreement with the EU."

According to Turkey's Ministry of Economy, Turkey’s major export items to Greece: iron and steel, cotton robes, fabrics, metal products, fruits and vegetables, fish, clothing, machinery, leather, glass and ceramics.

Turkey’s major imports from Greece are including: mineral oil, cotton, petroleum products and plastic products.

There are more than 500 Greek firms operating in Turkey.

The amount of the direct investments of the Greek companies in Turkey has risen to over €6 billion.

So far, banking has taken the lion’s share of total direct investment.

- Cyprus problem persists

After a two-year pause, negotiations between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots resumed in Feb. 2013.

The previous round of talks collapsed partly due to the Eurozone debt crisis' impact on the government in Lefkosa.

However, the Greek Cypriot administration suspended the most recent talks on Oct. 7 after Turkey sent a ship to monitor an oil-and-gas exploration mission off the coast of Cyprus.

In 1974, an attempt was made by Greek Cypriots to forcibly join the island to Athens through “enosis,” or union, via a coup attempt. This was resisted by an armed Turkish peace mission in accordance with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. Consequently, Turkish Cypriots set up their own state in the north of the island in 1983, recognized by Turkey, while continuing the search for reconciliation.

The European Union recognizes the Greek-Cypriot administration on the island.

Other problems include Aegean energy exploration and exploitation; an issue which has flared up over the past month.

Turkey and the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have strongly opposed any unilateral move by the Greek Cypriot administration to explore hydrocarbon resources around the island, saying its natural resources should be exploited in a fair manner under a united Cyprus.

According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Athens on Dec. 5 and 6 to attend a cooperation meeting.