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Another seafood trade crisis is in the making

The political row between Turkey and Europe is heating up -- and could have fatal implications for the country's fish and seafood trade.

Think about the seafood world 12 months ago. Boston 2016 was just around the corner, there was no US President Donald Trump and Brexit was not even imaginable. We were certain things weren't going to change.

Needless to say all hopes of continuity were shattered. Times have changed indeed and the global seafood industry is still trying to get to terms with all the potential implications.

And there’s no breather: the next political crisis is already in the making. This time, it’s Turkey and Europe.

Their relationship has been strained ever since the failed coup d'etat against the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July last year.

Things escalated over last weekend, with Erdogan kicking off "an ugly war of words" against Germany and The Netherlands, as the New York Times put it, after Turkish officials were blocked from promoting the country’s controversial referendum, which would grant sweeping powers to Erdogan.

Diplomatic sanctions and economic sanctions were threatened this week and it seems long-term damage has been done. The differences between Erdogan’s and Europe’s politics seem insurmountable.

When Erdogan launched his campaign back in January one message came through: “For a strong Turkey, vote yes.”

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But what would a "strong" Turkey look like under Erdogan?

According to the International Monetary Fund, economic growth was contracting 2.9 percent in 2016 -- and this year could be worse.

The European Union is Turkey’s biggest trade partner and that also goes for the country’s seabass and seabream producers. The second largest market for the fish is the United States.

Erdogan’s move to more power wouldn't be a good one for them, all political inclinations you might have aside.

There would be trade sanctions, import bans. Production volumes of Turkish bass and bream have been growing year-after-year, and industry watchers believe the sector is primed for an aggressive expansion.

But the domestic market could hardly swallow all the additional fish. Turkey's current per capita consumption of fish is just 6-7 kilos a year.

The Middle Eastern market has been growing, in countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- but so far it's still only small volumes.

Russia? Maybe. Erdogan has been snuggling up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and relations between the two countries officially normalized. When Russia imposed the ban on western imports, Turkish producers were ready to step up -- but the dream to capture the Russian market by storm never fulfilled.

Together with the issues the sector is already facing today, this new -- very uncertain -- situation could become a fatal mix for Turkish producers.

Comments? Email me at elisabeth.fischer@intrafish.com

Twitter: EF_IntraFish

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