Turkish banks need to do more to support their companies in Sub-Saharan Africa, a conference has heard.

Turkey has spent the past few years trying to diversify its export destinations and has, to some extent, been successful in seeking opportunities away from the ailing eurozone.

The Middle East has been a key growth market, with a bilateral trade deficit 10 years ago being emphatically reversed in the decade up to 2013.

Turkish trade with North Africa is booming. Turkish ministry of economy statistics show that exports to the continent at large totalled US$13.3bn in 2012, up by 29% over the space of a year. However, the vast majority of this trade was with the North African economies of Egypt (US$3.6bn), Libya (US$2.1bn), Algeria (US$1.18bn) and Tunisia (US$1bn).

Meanwhile, the biggest importers of Turkish goods in Sub-Saharan Africa are Nigeria (US$438mn) and Ethiopia (US$394mn). Speakers at the Turkey trade and export finance conference in Istanbul this week said that Turkish banks need to broker stronger relationships with banks in Africa and also accept the risk of financing trade in the region, if Turkey is to grow its presence there.

“Turkish banks need to work with African banks, they don’t approach banks like Zenith and Ecobank,” said Andre Soumah, chairman of Ace Global Depository. “The question shouldn’t be whether they can afford to be there, but whether they can afford not to be there.”

In a separate conversation with GTR a senior executive at the agricultural commodity exporter Tiryaki said that his company has been able to attract credit from international banks for trade in Sub-Saharan Africa, but that none of the Turkish banks have a presence there nor are they willing to lend for projects there.

Turkish businesses have garnered an international reputation for trading successfully in difficult markets. The Middle Eastern construction boom is being led by Korean, Chinese and Turkish companies, with Turkish contractors remaining on the ground after most others left during the Arab Spring.

Furthermore, throughout the Libyan uprising and subsequent civil fighting, Turkish contractors have been a constant presence even when most western companies vacated the country.

Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations than any other airline, with flights to Abidjan leaving Istanbul thrice daily. However, the appetite isn’t reflected in the banking sector, speakers said.

The Turkish government has also been urged to support exporters in more challenging regions too. Expanding Turk Exim’s lending and guarantees programme into further Sub-Saharan African nations will be a key driver of bilateral trade, said Hiren Singharay, head of syndications for Standard Chartered, Europe and Africa.