WASHINGTON

An eventual free trade agreement between the US and Turkey would serve to greatly enhance bilateral relations and fast-track cooperation in Africa, Senator Lindsey Graham said Wednesday. 

Addressing the Turkey-US Business Council during a virtual panel discussion, Graham said he thinks “the anchor tenet of the relationship” will be “a free trade agreement.”

“If you ask me what the one thing the United States and Turkey could do to change the relationship for the better, it would be a free trade agreement — not just aspiring to have more trade to hit $100 billion, but actually integrate the economies through a free trade agreement,” said the Republican senator.

He noted, however, that the two nations will have to overcome a series of outstanding impediments, which he said are Turkey’s acquisition of the advanced Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system, Washington’s retaliatory decision to bar Turkey from the F-35 program and Turkey’s “incursion into Syria.”

Graham was likely referring to Turkey’s ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, stressing that while Turkey “deserves a buffer zone,” the US would not “abandon the Syrian Democratic Forces,” referring to the US partner in Syria led by the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, a designated terror group in the US and Turkey.

“The way we do that is to work through our differences. It can’t be through the use of military force,” he said.

The Trump administration, Graham said, “is very keen on” setting the stage for the free trade agreement. But “for that to happen, we’ve got to resolve the issues I just spoke of: Syria, the S-400.”

“Once you begin to economically integrate the two economies, then we’ll be more effective partners in Africa,” he said. “Nothing would please me more than to partner with Turkey to offer to the African continent alternatives to Chinese products and Chinese influence.”

Graham said that in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a “growing desire” within the US to seek alternatives to China’s “domination of multiple supply chains.”

He noted in particular that Turkey is well-positioned to offset US reliance on China, saying it can provide better quality goods at competitive prices.

“And here’s what I would say is to Turkey’s benefit: it has a rule of law economy, very talented people. But all things being equal, it still is a pretty good deal to produce a product in Turkey versus other places in Europe,” he said.

“You seem to have a sophisticated capability but really low-cost alternative that would be very competitive with China.”

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