Sign Up

Will Germans Turn Sour on Turkey-Russia Deal?

Trade flows in agricultural products and the high-stakes games of international sanctions.

August 14, 2016

Trade flows in agricultural products and the high-stakes games of international sanctions.

One of the biggest benefits of the strong presence of Turkish immigrants in Germany is that Germans have experienced a vast improvement in the quality of the fruits and vegetables they get to buy locally.

Gone are the days when many a vegetable or fruit came from Dutch greenhouses. They may have managed to produce the good, but didn’t really do it in a qualitative sense. For example, tomatoes were red on the outside, but tasted entirely green and unripe.

All that changed when Turks began to establish their entrepreneurial presence in German society as vegetable and fruit vendors.

I still remember the cheeky pride in the voice of that Turkish merchant at a weekly street market in Frankfurt who had various apricots on offer in the middle of the summer. They hailed from a variety of European nations.

I asked him which one would be the best. He answered Solomonically by saying: “Why don’t you do a blind taste test? I’ll give you three slices and you tell me which one is best.”

Of course, it turned out as you would expect – the apricot from Turkey tasted best.

When I picked the (correct) sample, he beamed with pride.

Bested by Russia

That happy symbiosis changed quite a bit several years ago when Russians, and particular Muscovites, became very cash-rich. All of a sudden, the main direction of the top end of Turkey’s fruit trade shifted from rich Germany towards then-richer Russia.

One of the significant effects of the fallout between Russia and Turkey after the shoot down of the Russian fighter jet near the Turkish border in November 2015 and the subsequent imposition of trade sanctions by Russia against Turkey was that Germany once again became the top destination for Turkey’s fruit and vegetable exports.

This summer, you could literally taste the benefits of those sanctions in your own mouth – with every single wonderfully ripe and succulently tasteful fig that one would bite into at, say, Berlin’s street markets.

Will Russia have the upper hand again?

Alas, now that Putin and Erdogan have decided to make up and smooth over that rough patch after the fighter jet shoot down, I wonder: What will happen to the quality of the fruit and vegetables that our Turkish vendors will sell on the street markets and in their shops throughout Germany?

Will Germans still get the top product, or will we find out soon that it is once again being shipped to Moscow?

At this stage, the outcome is a somewhat open question.

With the exception of Russia’s filthy rich, who are more into true luxury goods (rather than just nice fruits and vegetables), one significant difference now is that the economic wings of Russia’s middle class – once very upwardly mobile in financial terms – have been clipped considerably.

So maybe there’s hope that the quality of the fruits and vegetables that Turkey sends to Germany will remain top.

But then again, Turkey’s president, definitely in a punitive mode and keen to pay back the Germans for not giving him free reign of their country, may issue a presidential decree that simply reads: “Germans no longer authorized to receive Turkey’s finest fruits and vegetables.”

PS: How do I know all that I described above? Well, as it can easily imagine, it learned all that when I complemented one of my Turkish food vendors on the outstanding quality of his product.

He said, “You should thank the Russians.” That had me puzzled, as he had obviously intended – and then proceeded with his explanation.


When Russians became cash-rich, Turkey's fruit trade shifted from Germany to then-richer Russia.

Russia and Turkey's fallout made Germany Turkey's top destination for fruit and vegetable exports.

If Putin and Erdogan patch up, will the quality of Turkish fruits & vegetables in Germany decline?