Turkey and Turkmenistan hope to boost their trade and business ties with a special focus on tapping the latter's rich natural gas resources that will eventually make its way to Europe via Turkey.
The two countries signed a framework agreement on Friday to provide gas supplies to a new pipeline that will be constructed between Azerbaijan and Turkey.
The agreement benefits both because Turkmenistan, holder of the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, wants to diversify its supply routes and customers portfolio while Turkey is trying to find gas sources to feed the new Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP).
Azerbaijan and Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement on TANAP in June 2012. The pipeline, which is estimated to cost at some 20 billion U.S. dollars in preliminary projections, will transport 16 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz II field in the Caspian Sea.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 and its capacity is set to rise to 23 bcm by 2023 and to 31 bcm by 2026.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who visited the Turkmen capital Ashgabat this week to shore up trade and energy deals, said "We attach great significance to deliveries of Turkmenistan's natural gas to Europe via Turkey. Europe's energy security is important for us."
The agreement was signed between Turkmen state gas company Turkmengas and Turkeuy's privately-owned company Atagas for the purchase and sale of Turkmen gas for TANAP.
The details of the agreement were not disclosed, as the uncertainty looms large on how to connect TANAP to Turkmenistan's gas network.
The most natural course is to lay gas pipeline through the Caspian Sea to the coast of Azerbaijan. But Russia and Iran, both are littoral states to Caspian, are opposed to such pipeline based on environmental concerns.
"If Turkmenistan will be able to sort out problems in Caspian Sea and build a pipeline to connect its network to TANAP, this will be a game changer in energy market,' Abdullah Bozkurt, columnist at Turkish daily Today's Zaman, told Xinhua.
He said Iran has long been lobbying to thwart that link and instead offered its own, mostly poor infrastructure, connection with Turkmenistan to carry gas to Turkey.
"This is equivalent to Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline project. If Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan can pull this off, the energy security of Europe and Turkey will be enhanced greatly," he explained. FOCUS ON TRADE
The Turkish president also lobbied for more trade between the two countries during his visit. The trade between the two countries stood at 2.6 billion dollars in 2013, according to Turkish government data (TUIK). In the first eight months of this year it almost totaled to 2 billion U.S. dollars.
Speaking at the Turkmenistan-Turkey Business Forum, Erdogan described political and economic ties are excellent. He praised the 12 percent growth rate of Turkmenistan in 2013 and said Turkey has been closely monitoring the infrastructure and construction projects currently underway in Turkmenistan.
The Turkish president also talked about opportunities in third country markets, adding that the sixth Turkmenistan International Investment Forum is to be held in the Turkish coastal city of Istanbul on March 3-4, 2015.
He underlined that this forum will increase the visibility of Turkmenistan globally and contribute the bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
Stressing that Turkey will take over the G-20 presidency as of December for the year 2015, Erdogan said his country is ready to work with Turkmenistan on that platform as well.
In response, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said his country will undertake major industrial projects until 2030 from oil refineries to food security and added that Turkish firms will be given priority in their selections.
According to Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan's ties with Turkey amounted to strategic cooperation and such both countries work closely together in many international fora for promoting peace and welfare in the world.
In Ashgabat, the Turkish president was accompanied with Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci and Education Minister Nabi Avci.
The agreements on educational cooperation and deepening trade and economic cooperation were also signed during the visit.
According to Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), who studied Central Asia extensively, the strengthening ties between Turkey and Turkmenistan has important ramifications for central Asia.
"Erdogan made his first visit to Turkmenistan in Central Asia. This is by itself a message to the neighboring countries," he told Xinhua.
Turkey and Turkmenistan have long historical and cultural ties. Turkey was the first country both to recognize Turkmenistan's independence and to open an embassy in this country.