With relations between Turkey and Russia at an all-time low, T-shirt designers in Russia are learning about the peculiar twists of globalization.
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You may have heard about the falling out between Russia and Turkey after the downing of a Russian bomber which had likely violated Turkish airspace for all of 17 seconds. One pilot was killed by rebels conducting target practice on parachuting Russians.
Both sides had their own versions of what happened and things got meaner and nastier. A "stab in the back" was how the clearly-flustered Putin put it. Erdogan claimed to right to defend his national airspace.
Tit for tat snipes quickly were followed by the imposition of trade sanctions.
That's no small matter either.
In 2014, trade between the two countries amounted to $31 billion, and in the first nine months of 2015, to $18.1 billion. Turkey Russia’s eighth largest trading partner, while Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner, after the European Union. For different reasons, both economically-troubled nations do not need this hiccup.
Almost immediately after the incident, the Russian government banned fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey. Ironically Russia and Turkey had only recently signed trade agreements on fruit and vegetable imports to lessen the impact on European and US sanctions following the Ukrainian crisis.
In addition to sanctions on fruit and vegetables, the Kremlin also ordered Russian tour operators to stop selling travel packages to Turkey. That's going to hit the Turkish tourism sector hard by spring of next year.
Russian clothing manufacturers rely on Turkish fabrics, and deliveries of those have been delayed amid the dispute between the two countries, designers said, independent Meduza news portal reported.Russian News Service quoted designer Yekaterina Dobryakova as saying she was unable to start making anti-Turkish T-shirts because trucks carrying Turkish fabrics were getting detained at the border.
Dobryakova also added that, although she actually hadn't had any plans to produce propaganda apparel, (Prop-A-pparrel?) Putin's declaration of sanctions have left some clothes designers stranded without material to work with. She noted that "all Russian fabric suppliers are working with Turkey, and we have no domestic alternative.”
One T-shirt designer accused Turkey of being a “monopolist” on Russia's fabrics market and insisted he would use fabric made by Russian manufacturers. As spirited and defiant as that might sound, the designer will have to face some facts that many in Russia would prefer to ignore.
Back in 2013, it was reported that the the fabric industry in Russia was in decline and faced systematic problems with modernization which was "virtually non-existent." Consumers have complained that Russian products are not competitive, being made from "low-grade cotton by by using old worn-out machines and equipment."
On the other side of the Black Sea, the news isn't any better. Like Turkish fruit and vegetable producers and tour operators, textile producers in Turkey are equally nervous about their expected loss from Kremlin's sanctions.
Turkey is the ninth-biggest textiles supplier in the world and textile and apparel producers have a significant stake in the Russian market. Even before the latest spat, the economic crisis in Russia, Turkish textile exports were already shrinking to low levels. With trade deals presumably conducted in either Euros or dollars, the record low values of both the Turkish lira and the Russia ruble are making trade an "iffy" proposition.
(Before this diplomat row, there was talk about using local currencies but investors were hesitant to commit to such an arrangement. )
The anti-Turkish T-shirts that have now been put on hold were to display a photo of the Turkish President, Erdogan being chased by a Russian bear. with a slogan "Run, Turk, Run." (Ah, such is the Russian wit.)
Said the designer:
“Our T-shirts are part of how people can express their views on foreign policy and on patriotism.”
Unfortunately for these T-shirt designers, Russian patriotic expression has for the moment fell victim to the ironies and intricacies of the tangled web of global trade.