Although Turkey was one of 10 founding members, it played a leading role in BSEC's establishment, and the organization's permanent headquarters is still located in Istanbul.
BSEC's early years were dominated by “Turkey’s initiative to offer these countries an alternative” to their socialist economic systems, says Traian Chebeleu, a former Romanian ambassador and current deputy secretary of BSEC’s transportation activities. In 1992, the same year BSEC was founded, Turkey launched its foreign aid program for developing countries, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), which, in its early phases, focused on assisting the newly independent Central Asian and Caucasus states.
Today, the Black Sea states are hoping that projects like the Black Sea Ring Highway will further stimulate trade and economic cooperation. Trade within the region rebounded rapidly from a decline in 2009, while trade with the EU recovered at a slower rate. Countries here may be beginning to see interregional outreach as more beneficial than looking outward to their less stable neighbors. While road travel between BSEC states grew at a rate of 40.8 percent between 2007 and 2011, travel between BSEC states and the EU lagged behind somewhat, growing 36.3 percent.
The highway project is still in development stages, but four lanes of traffic wrapping through 12 countries would be a boon for trade and tourism — or at least that’s what BSEC, the initiator of the project, hopes. The partnership holds both the promise of bolstering existing alliances and testing lingering tensions.
Trade already booming
Although BSEC attempts to harmonize trade regulations of its different member states, it's difficult to measure what direct effects the organization has had on trade within the region.
For Turkey, the construction project could be the first step in a realignment of its foreign policy. Its northern border along the Black Sea coast is vast, and recent efforts to repair strains between Turkey and Russia suggest that this region is becoming increasingly important for Turkey.