Turkey Doubles Tariffs on US Imports as Lira Rebounds

Turkey Doubles Tariffs on US Imports as Lira Rebounds

Wednesday, 15 August, 2018 - 10:15
People check currency exchange rates at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkey announced on Wednesday that it was doubling tariffs on some US imports in retaliation to the US administration’s “deliberate attacks on our economy,” Vice President Fuat Oktay said.

A decree signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled tariffs on passenger cars to 120 percent and on leaf tobacco to 60 percent. Tariffs were also doubled on goods such as cosmetics, rice and coal.

The lira, which has lost more than 40 percent against the dollar this year, meanwhile, continued to rally after central bank’s liquidity moves had the effect of supporting the currency.

The rebound of around 6 percent on Wednesday, briefly strengthening to less than 6.0 against the dollar, came after the central bank squeezed lira liquidity in the market, effectively pushing up rates and supporting the currency.

Optimism about better relations with the European Union after a Turkish court released two Greek soldiers pending trial and a banking watchdog’s step to limit foreign exchange swap transactions have also helped the lira.

“They are squeezing lira liquidity out of the system now and pushing interest rates higher,” Cristian Maggio, head of emerging markets strategy at TD Securities.

“Rates have gone up by 10 percent ... The central bank has not done this through a change in the benchmark rates, but they are squeezing liquidity, so the result is the same,” Maggio said.

The lira firmed as far as 5.75 against the dollar on Wednesday and stood at 6.08 at 0943 GMT in a move initially triggered by the Turkish court decision on the Greek soldiers who faced espionage charges.

A treasury desk trader at one bank said this showed relations with the EU could recover “while tense relations continue with the USA.”

Tensions increased between the two NATO allies over Turkey’s detention of a Christian American pastor and other diplomatic issues. The currency has lost more than 40 percent against the dollar this year, driven by worries over Erdogan's growing influence over the economy and his repeated calls for lower interest rates despite high inflation.

The lira was also helped by a step from the banking watchdog BDDK, cutting the limit for Turkish banks’ forex swap, spot and forward transactions with foreign banks to 25 percent of a bank’s equity.

“Remarkable turnaround,” Tim Ash, Bluebay Asset Management senior emerging markets analyst wrote in a client note. “They are killing offshore lira liquidity to stop foreigners shorting the lira,” he said.

The lira had already rebounded about 8 percent on Tuesday on news of a planned conference call on Thursday in which the finance minister will seek to reassure international investors.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters Wednesday: "We predict that measures that our institutions will continue to take will result in an even stronger normalization of the Turkish economy."

In a sign of improving ties to European Union nations, Kalin said Erdogan would hold telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later Wednesday and with Emmanuel Macron of France on Thursday.

"Turkey does not favor an economic war, but it cannot remain unresponsive when it is attacked."

Last Friday, US President Donald Trump said he had authorized higher tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Turkey.

The United States was the fourth largest source of imports to Turkey last year, accounting for $12 billion of imports, according to IMF statistics. Turkey’s exports to the United States last year amounted to $8.7 billion, making it Turkey’s fifth-largest export market.

NATO allies US and Turkey have been at loggerheads over a wide range of topics including diverging interests in Syria, Ankara’s ambition to buy Russian defense systems and Andrew Brunson, a pastor on trial in Turkey for terrorism charges.

Trump has repeatedly asked for Brunson’s release, while Ankara said the decision was up to the court. On Wednesday, a Turkish court in the Aegean province of Izmir, where Brunson is on trial, rejected the pastor’s appeal to be released from house arrest.

An upper court had yet to rule on the appeal, his lawyer told Reuters.

Washington warned more economic pressures may be in store for Turkey if it refuses to release Brunson, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Erdogan has said Turkey is the target of an economic war, and has made repeated calls for Turks to sell their dollars and euros to shore up the currency. On Tuesday, he said Turkey would boycott US electronic products.

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