Reliable information on Turkmenistan trade and the trade balance is currently not available. The available information differ so clearly that they can at best serve as a rough guide. Reliable information is only available on the trade balance with the USA and the European Union. Due to the generally extremely low volume of trade between Turkmenistan and the USA and the EU, significant fluctuations can be determined in high-resolution statistics that are usually attributable to individual contracts. The volume of trade (imports + exports) with the USA was around 2 million US dollars in January 2017, skyrocketing to around 92 million US dollars in February of the same year and falling to only around 5 million US dollars in March.
Exports / imports
According to ezinesports, the OECD estimates that crude oil and natural gas as well as oil and gas products account for around 91.5% of Turkmenistan exports, with China currently the only customer.
With an export share of just over 6%, cotton and cotton products are the country’s second most important export good. Turkmenistan has set up a few cotton processing plants in the past two decades and has been able to significantly increase its income from cotton exports thanks to the added value that is now taking place within the country.
The poorly differentiated export landscape can also be seen in the export volumes of the five most important export partners:
- China – 7,000 million US $ – corresponds to about 78% of the export volume
- Afghanistan – 550 million US $ – corresponds to about 6% of the export volume
- Turkey – 540 million US $ $ – corresponds to about 6% of the export volume
- Italy – 170 million US $ – corresponds to about 2% of the export volume
- Georgia – 110 million US $ – corresponds to about 1% of the export volume
The portfolio of Turkmenistan imports is significantly more diversified than that of exports. The largest import position is various types of construction materials, which together make up about 14% of Turkmen’s import volume. The most important import partner is Turkey, followed by Russia and China. The import volume is around US $ 5.54 billion.
In descending order, the five most import partners are:
- Turkey – 1,850 million US $ – corresponds to about 33% of the import volume
- Russia – 840 million US $ – corresponds to about 15% of the import volume
- China – 810 million US $ – corresponds to about 15% of the Import volume
- Germany – 330 million US $ – corresponds to about 6% of the import volume
- South Korea – 180 million US $ – corresponds to about 3% of the import volume
Russia and China as trading partners
In general, Russia’s importance as a trading partner is decreasing and that of China is increasing. China is currently becoming the most important recipient of Turkmenistan gas, while Russia has slipped into second place here. At the same time, China is the most important country of origin for consumer products after Turkey. The one-sided orientation towards China as the current only buyer of Turkmenistan gas has led some observers to believe that Turkmenistan is being captured economically by Chinaspeak. If the focus on China was originally also in the sense of breaking away from one overpowering Russia, the potential challenges of this once again one-sided focus on China became apparent for the first time in 2017 at the latest: The reduction of gas imports from Turkmenistan by China is considered to be decisive for the considerable tightening of the Turkmenistan regime Economic crisis. In the absence of alternative economic partners, the Turkmenistan government was unable to compensate for the loss of exports to China.
The extreme (and one-sided) dependence on China can be seen particularly clearly in the OECD figures for the Turkmenistan export economy: The value of goods exported to China in 2015 (more recent data are not yet available) was around US $ 7 billion. The value of the goods sold to the second largest buyer of Turkmenistan exports – Afghanistan – was about 550 million US dollars, less than a tenth of the Chinese value. In total, Turkmenistan exported goods valued at around US $ 8.94 billion. This means that China alone accounts for 80% of the value of goods in Turkmenistan exports.
Belarus as a trading partner
The trend of a continuous increase in trade volumes between the countries, which was already apparent in 2014, has continued in recent years. When it became known in 2017 that the volume of goods exported to Turkmenistan had exceeded the limit of US $ 100 million for the first time, the Belarusian ambassador to Turkmenistan set the goal of increasing this volume to US $ 1 billion.
Iran as a trading partner
Even if the importance of Iran as a trading partner has increased in the past few years, the absolute volume of the exchange between the two countries is still well below the possibilities. This deficit is regularly lamented, especially by the Iranian side. Economic ties between the two countries continue to suffer from regular non-compliance with gas supply contracts, with the governments of Turkmenistan and Iran traditionally accusing each other of breach of contract. After Turkmenistan interrupted deliveries again on the basis of the current contract, the Iranian government has announced and let her prefer a bilateral solution to the question, but at the same time consider clarifying it before an international court of law.
An important – informal – branch of trade is smuggling between the two countries. This form of exchange flourishes particularly along the flatter western foothills of the Kopet-Dag Mountains. Here numerous villages on both sides of the border appear deserted during the day, while at night seemingly endless throngs of traders seek the arduous route across the border. The smuggling of subsidized goods (such as grain, salt, bread or gasoline and in some cases kerosene from Turkmenistan), with goods that are not legally available on the other side of the border (alcohol in Iran, cigarettes, Bibles and Korans in Turkmenistan) is particularly active with goods smuggled supra-regionally (especially heroin) and women (as illegal workers or prostitutes).
Turkey as a trading partner
The trade relations between Turkmenistan and Turkey are developing very dynamically and predominantly positively. Between 2012 and 2016, the exchange was supported by the fact that in 2012 both sides agreed to exchange goods on the basis of their respective national currencies. Since 2016, the challenges of not using reference currencies such as the euro or US dollar (inflation, exchange rate fluctuations) seem to outweigh the advantages, so that retailers have returned to agreeing prices in reference currencies when concluding contracts.
In accordance with the generally very cautious information policy of the Turkmenistan government and in particular the very restrictive handling of statistical data, no information can be given on the volume, main flows, structures and development tendencies of the Turkmenistan domestic trade.