Turkish exports to Iran almost tripled in 2012, in large part owing to gold sales, the Turkish statistics agency TUIK said Thursday as Tehran struggles with heavy international sanctions owing to its controversial nuclear program.
Iran took in 6.5 percent of neighbouring Turkey's total exports, worth $9.9 billion (7.3 bln euros), to become its third-biggest trade partner, with gold shining as a key item of interest.
A year earlier, Tehran was tenth on the list after spending $3.6 billion on imports from Turkey, making for an annualised increase of 176.4 percent.
Ankara has acknowledged that a recent jump in gold exports arose from Iranian purchases that were settled with money that Turkey had initially paid to Iran for natural gas.
Turkey could have faced recession were it not for the boom in exports, particularly in gold sales to Iran which bought 60 percent of Turkey's gold exports, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan noted in December.
The booming gold trade was clear in TUIK's data, which showed a 366.7 percent jump in Turkish precious metals exports between 2011 and 2012, from $3.7 billion to $16.3 billion.
Western countries suspect Iran is resorting to gold trade to evade sanctions imposed on it by the international community to force a stop to its nuclear programme. The sanctions aim to isolate Iran from the international banking system by hampering currency exchanges with business partners worldwide.
TUIK does not provide detailed data on which countries buy precious metals from Turkey, nor does it give a breakdown of its exports to Iran.
Heading the other way meanwhile, Turkish imports from Iran declined by 4.0 percent to $12 billion, the figures showed.
Turkish oil refiner Tupras cut Iranian crude oil purchases by 20 percent in late in May to stave off strict US sanctions that also target Iran's trade ties.
Fearing that Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons, the US has led Western powers in imposing ever tougher sanctions against Iran.
Tehran rejects the charge, insisting that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.