Saudi imports from Turkey rise in August despite informal boycott

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s imports from Turkey rose in August from the previous month, official data showed on Sunday, despite an informal boycott that has gained momentum with Saudi businessmen and retailers calling for a ban on Turkish imports.

For over a year, some Saudi and Turkish traders have speculated that Riyadh was enforcing an informal boycott due to political tensions between the two countries, but that has yet to be reflected in trade figures.

The value of imports from Turkey increased to 833.6 million riyals ($222.28 million) in August from 693.4 million in July, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, making Turkey the ninth biggest exporter to Saudi Arabia. Saudi imports from Turkey were also up month on month in July.

Exporters in Turkey said they have recently experienced growing difficulties with the kingdom. The head of Saudi Arabia’s non-governmental Chambers of Commerce this month called for a boycott of Turkish products, and the main supermarket chains have said they would not restock Turkish goods.

On social media, hashtags urging a boycott of Turkish products have been trending over the last month.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been at odds for some years over foreign policy and attitudes towards Islamist political groups. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 escalated tensions sharply.

The Saudi government has said authorities have not placed any restrictions on Turkish goods.

Overall Saudi exports rose more than 12% to around $15.3 billion in August month on month, Sunday’s data showed, but exports to Turkey fell to 879.4 million riyals from 966.4 million riyals in July.

On an annual basis, the exports by Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, fell in August by 25.1%, mainly because of crude exports, whose value decreased by some $5.4 billion amid lower oil prices and production.

Saudi Arabia is facing a deep recession this year due to the coronavirus crisis and lower oil income.

($1 = 3.7503 riyals)

Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Susan Fenton