Iraq’s government is reportedly considering importing cooking oil from Armenia instead of Turkey because of its mounting political tensions with Ankara.
The Reuters news agency on Thursday quoted an Iraqi official as saying that that the government will gradually cut imports of Turkish cooking oil that it supplies for free to the population under a food rationing program. “The plan is to replace Turkish oil with locally produced oil and oil from other countries,” the official said.
According to the Baghdad-based newspaper “Al-Bayina al-Jadida,” the measure is meant as a protest against the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
Turkey says the forces are protecting its military personnel training Iraqi militia to fight against Islamic State militants. The Turkish government last week said it withdrew some forces, following Iraq's complaints, without committing to a complete pull-out.
Iraq’s acting Trade Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani discussed the possibility of buying cooking oil from Armenia instead of Turkey at a meeting with the Armenian ambassador in Baghdad, Karen Grigorian, last week, a spokesman for al-Sudani told Reuters. An official at the Armenian Embassy in Baghdad confirmed the meeting took place without giving further details.
There was no word on the amounts of the essential foodstuff which the Iraqi government would like to buy from Armenia.
According to Armenia’s National Statistical Service (NSS), domestic production of cooking oil totaled about 1,660 metric tons in the first ten months of this year. The NSS recorded a much higher figure in January-October 2014. The reasons for the sharp drop are not clear.
The Iraqi-Armenian discussion on the possible Turkish import substitution is in tune with rapid growth in bilateral trade mainly carried out through Iran. According to the NSS, Armenia’s trade with Iraq soared by 39 percent in 2014 and by 22 percent, to $104 million, in January-October 2015.
Armenian exports to Iraq accounted for over 98 percent of the overall commercial exchange, rising by as much as 65 percent to $102 million in the ten-month period, NSS data show. Armenian cigarettes are by far the most important item in those exports. The Iraqi market generated over two-thirds of the Armenian tobacco industry’s total export revenue which stood at about $117 million in 2014.
In recent years, the Armenian and Iraqi governments have sought to foster bilateral commercial ties with growing contacts between their senior officials and businesspeople. They helped to launch in February a commercial flight service between Yerevan and Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan where Armenia plans to open a consulate soon.
Iraq’s Transport Minister Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi and a delegation of Iraqi businesspeople accompanying him flew to Armenia on the inaugural Baghdad-Yerevan flight.