By - Reuters
By Daren Butler and Ebru Tuncay
ISTANBUL, March 15 (Reuters) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will significantly increase investment in Turkey this year, a top official said on Wednesday, after investing more than 1.6 billion euros ($1.7 billion) last year.
Jurgen Rigterink, the bank's first vice president, was speaking during a visit to Turkey focused on the EBRD's response to last month's devastating earthquakes that killed more than 54,000 people in southern Turkey and northwest Syria.
The bank has said it plans to invest up to 1.5 billion euros in Turkey's earthquake-hit region in a package that includes credit lines, infrastructure investment, and support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
"We should see a significant increase in our investment volume this year," Rigterink told Reuters in an interview in the EBRD'S Istanbul office.
Rigterink held talks with Turkish officials, financial institutions and private sector clients to discuss the bank's operations and its earthquake relief response.
The 1.5 billion euro sum for Turkey's southeastern region includes an approved framework of 600 million euros to be lent to banks for them to assist their clients.
According to World Bank estimates, direct physical damage to the quake-hit region totals around $34 billion, while the cost of reconstruction could be twice that.
Rigterink said the EBRD wanted to continue to help its existing clients, not only in the earthquake region, but elsewhere, adding it was important that it "help SMEs right now in terms of liquidity, forbearance, payment holidays."
He said the EBRD was "very comfortable" not only with its current exposure but potentially increased exposure, adding that the bank has long been committed to Turkey.
"In the last 10 years, we have seen many ups and downs. Although the last few years were probably more downs than ups. We do remain committed," he said.
The EBRD is the leading institutional investor in Turkey, having invested almost 17 billion euros in the country since 2009, 93% of which in the private sector. ($1 = 0.9320 euros) (Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ali Kucukgocmen and Christina Fincher)