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Cooperation between rival transport corridors could change global economies

October 26, 2023 at 11:23 am

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the 9th G20 Parliament Speakers Summit (P20) at Yashobhoomi India International Conference and Exhibition Center in New Delhi, India on October 13, 2023 [Press Information Bureau (PIB)/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images]

On the sidelines of the G20 Summit last month, the leaders of India, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany and the EU announced a new maritime and overland transport corridor between Asia and Europe: the India, Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). Also present at the G20 was Turkiye, a NATO member, but it wasn’t included in this new grouping. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that the most viable trade route has to pass through Turkiye, which straddles Europe and Asia, thus underscoring his country’s geostrategic location.

There is no [trade] corridor without Turkiye… The most suitable line for traffic from East to West has to pass through Turkiye.

Said Erdogan.

The IMEC appears, therefore, to be in direct competition with the Development Road Project, which includes Turkiye. This is a 1,200 km railway and road connecting Turkiye to the Grand Faw Port under construction in Iraq, on the Persian Gulf. The route has been defined as the new Silk Road. Turkiye and Iraq have taken concrete steps on this project.

READ: Erdogan says no India-Mideast-EU economic corridor without Turkiye

Its aim is to create a faster and cheaper alternative to the Suez Canal. However, the Development Road Project should be analysed together with China’s KYG, that is, the Middle Corridor, which includes Turkiye. More precisely, the Development Road Project can be considered as a very important connection to the Central Corridor from the south.

This may be partly because Turkiye is not included in the maps attributed to the IMEC. It is unclear whether the latter will provide an alternative to the Suez Canal.

This is reminiscent of the G7 Summit held in 2021, when an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative was announced. “Rebuild a better world” was announced under the name “B3W” but did not have a road map, due to the lack of financing. In fact, the German Chancellor at the time, Angela Merkel, emphasised that the G7 was not yet at the stage of providing finance for this plan.

Looking at both initiatives, a notable advantage of Turkiye’s Development Road Project is the presence of an existing railway line to the south of Mosul. There are also efforts to renew railway tracks and stations in Iraq. Another noteworthy factor is Ankara’s close relations with Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. These relationships have the potential to contribute to the project’s resilience even amidst internal political turmoil in Baghdad.

OPINION: IMEC will fail to rival China Silk Road by neglecting key developing nations

Moreover, Turkiye’s regional strategy to integrate Qatar and the UAE into the project significantly supports its long-term sustainability. Even Turkiye’s strategic location underlines its critical role in global transport corridors, not least if the Suez Canal gets blocked, as happened in March 2021 when the massive MV Ever Given ran aground, blocking the canal for six days.

The indispensability of Turkiye for the IMEC is, therefore, obvious. In the current set up, with Turkiye excluded, the project lacks vital integration points that bridge the gap between East and West. While it may have superficial success in the short term, it may also face significant challenges in terms of long-term policy sustainability, especially in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions.

The IMEC networks are dynamic in nature, and because they are not a homogeneous enterprise considering the route they travel through, they are susceptible to geopolitical tensions, natural disasters, epidemics and shifts and disruptions caused by conflict, such as the ongoing Israeli war against the people of Gaza. In contrast, the Development Road Project displays a more coherent network structure that offers different advantages for both initiatives.

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Possible collaboration between the Development Road Project and IMEC has the potential to restructure the global economic and geopolitical landscape by streamlining global trade, thereby providing significant benefits. However, realising this vision depends on meticulous planning and strong international cooperation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.