Building economic ties should be the major avenue for Turkey to develop inroads into the Balkans. Turkey is a European power as well as a Middle Eastern power, and it has been a key player in the Balkans for centuries.
But Turkey’s influence in the Balkans and the rest of southern Europe is currently limited at best.
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The chart above shows the value of imports and exports for all countries on the Balkan Peninsula in 2016. One of the first things to note is that Turkey is not one of the top-two trading partners for any country in the Balkans. Furthermore, Albania is the only Balkan country for which Turkey is a top-three trading partner.
Turkey has become a much more important partner for Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and Serbia. But Turkey started from such a small base in these countries that even doubling the percentage of total trade means relatively little in absolute terms. It still leaves Turkey as a minor trading partner, at best, for many of these countries.
Kosovo—which Turkey has made a point of supporting since Kosovo declared independence in 2008—has the most significant trading relationship with Turkey.
At present, the Turkish government’s biggest challenge is improving its economy and repairing the damage to investor confidence caused by domestic political instability. The weakness in the Turkish economy has prevented Turkey from making major inroads in its trading relationships in the Balkans.
Despite the flurry of high-level visits from Turkish officials to the Balkans, Turkey has failed to take a significant position in trade with most Balkan states, let alone a dominant one.
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