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Turkey Counterpunches By Raising Tariffs On U.S. Goods

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the presidential palace in Ankara.
Burhan Ozbilici
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the presidential palace in Ankara.

Just days after President Trump tweeted his decision to double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, Turkey has announced that it, too, is ratcheting up retaliatory tariffs.

"Tax rates on imports of some products have been increased on a reciprocal basis against the U.S. administration's deliberate attacks on our economy," the country's vice president, Fuat Oktay, said in a pair of tweets.

The order published in Turkey's official gazette and signed by its strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, raises tariffs on a wide range of U.S. goods — more than tripling the levies on automobiles, nuts and spirits, and more than doubling them on rice, beauty products and certain types of paper.

These increases affect a list of more than 20 goods, which Ankara first targeted earlier this summer in retaliation for the Trump administration's broad tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Then last week, Trump increased them to 50 percent on Turkish steel and 20 percent on Turkish aluminum.

The escalating feud between the longtime NATO allies is playing out against a backdrop of economic tumult in Turkey, which has seen steep drops in the country's currency, the lira.

As NPR explained in a primer on the dispute, much of the ill will shared by Turkey and the U.S. stems not only from the back-and-forth on tariffs, but also from a diplomatic dust-up centered on two men of faith.

The U.S. wants American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson freed and cleared of terrorism-related charges he has faced since 2016, when Turkish authorities arrested him for allegedly aiding a failed coup attempt earlier that year. Brunson is now on trial and held on house arrest, with few indications that Turkish officials intend to comply with the demands — despite U.S. sanctions that were leveled against them two weeks ago.

Erdogan wants Washington to extradite Turkish cleric and scholar Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish president views as a longtime antagonist and mastermind of the plot to oust him. Gulen has denied the charges, and the U.S. has rejected every request to force him from his compound in Pennsylvania to stand trial in Turkey.

That hasn't prevented Turkish officials from continuing to press their perceived leverage in Brunson.

"If the traitor in Pennsylvania is extradited to our country, the handover of the pastor may be in the offing, and both countries will get what they want," Devlet Bahceli, leader of a far-right political party allied with Erdogan, said Wednesday in Ankara, according to the Anadolu news agency.

All the while, the lira has plummeted — even reaching a record low against the U.S. dollar early Monday before managing modest rallies in the following days. And while many global economists peg the currency's troubles to a combination of debt, inflation and Erdogan's vow to reject raising interest rates — a typical solution to these problems — Erdogan himself has found a ready villain: the U.S.

"You work with us in Afghanistan, Somalia and NATO, and then you go stab your partner in the back," he said earlier this week. "You call this acceptable?"

On Tuesday, Erdogan called for a boycott of U.S. electronics products, and his spokesperson described American policy as goading Turkey into an "economic war."

"Turkey isn't in favor of an economic war," Ibrahim Kalin said Wednesday, "but staying silent when attacked is out of question."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.