For a period of longer than a year, there has been reports from business people that there is an ongoing informal boycott in Saudi Arabia against products imported from Turkey. As the political confrontations between the two countries tend to escalate, the boycott is also expected to deepen and influence the bilateral commercial relations negatively in the near future.
In October 2020, the head of the Council of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce, Ajlan Al-Ajlan, made a declaration, calling for a large boycott campaign against Turkey with the following words: “No investment, no imports, and no tourism. We, as citizens and businessmen, will not have any dealings with everything that is Turkish.”Before these statements, there already had been a social media campaign in Saudi Arabia, encouraging a boycott against Turkey.
It is widely known that Turkish investors are engaged in important projects in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the construction sector. However, figures show that the ongoing boycott also had a significant impact on those investments. The total amount of projects with Turkish contractors in Saudi Arabia had amounted to USD 2.1 billion in 2017 and USD 3 billion in 2018, whereas this number fell down to USD 559 million in 2019, and could only reach USD 21 million in the first 9 months of this year.
Although Saudi officials defend that it is a popular boycott that is not backed by the Saudi government, there are reports showing that Saudi custom officials are currently holding goods imported from Turkey for longer than necessary upon arrival at the Saudi border; that Turkish contractors are arbitrarily excluded from public tenders; and that even exporters from other countries manufacturing their products in Turkey face serious problems when shipping their products to Saudi Arabia. These reports hint at a direct intervention of the Saudi state institutions albeit the emphasis on the “unofficial character” of the boycott.
What is the protection available to Turkish investors with business in Saudi Arabia and affected by the boycott under international law?