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In Africa, We Should Not Focus On Trade But On Investment

We talked with Berna Gözbaşı, Coordinating Chairperson of DEİK/Türkiye-Africa Business Councils, on the development of Africa, bilateral relations with Africa and the reflections of TABEF

Stating that Türkiye has come a long way in bilateral trade and economic relations with African countries, Berna Gözbaşı, Coordinating Chairperson of DEİK/Türkiye-Africa Business Councils, emphasized that there is a foreign trade surplus in trade with African countries. Highlighting that Africa is in a process of great transformation and the need to follow this transformation closely, Gözbaşı evaluated the steps taken by Türkiye in bilateral relations with Africa and the reflections of TABEF.

How do you interpret the steps Türkiye has taken for the development of Africa and for improving bilateral relations with Africa?

Our bilateral trade and economic relations with African countries have come a long way since the African expansion. Our basic principle in these relations has been the win-win principle. In the upcoming period, we wish to improve our commercial and economic relations in line with this principle. The image of our country in Africa is quite positive. You can feel it when you go to many countries today. After all, we have a common history with African countries. It should be noted that our political relations also significantly contributed to this process. For instance, our President of the Republic of Türkiye made official visits to 30 African countries, we have embassies in 43 countries on the continent, TİKA has offices in 22 countries, Turkish Airlines flies to 41 destinations in 33 countries. Another important point is that the 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit will be held in Istanbul on December 17-18 this year and the heads of states from many African countries will participate in it. All of these reveal one thing as a whole: In our relations with Africa, we think not only of ourselves but of the benefit of all with our win-win principle, because together we are stronger.

How do you evaluate Africa in terms of investment opportunities? What are the target sectors in Africa in foreign trade? Could you give some information about the potential of these sectors in Africa?

We have a foreign trade surplus in our trade with African countries. We made exports worth USD 15.2 billion in 2020. And our imports, on the other hand, amounted to USD 7.3 billion. Our exports decreased by 8.3% compared to 2019 due to the effect of the pandemic. Our main export products are iron and steel, machinery and equipment, automotive, and electronic products. Our main import products are precious metals, petroleum, plastic, and food products. In many sectors, the African continent offers significant opportunities. For example, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of the health sector has emerged once again. Unfortunately, the capacities of the countries of the continent in this sense are not sufficient. We have emphasized this many times, but I would like to highlight it once again. The Turkish health sector is at a level that allows them to meet the needs of African countries in many areas. From hospital construction to management, from medical products to health tourism, our Turkish companies are at a level that allows them to handle these works. In addition, we are very active in the construction sector in continental countries. We can witness the projects of Turkish contractors in many countries, and we are proud of that. Looking at Sub-saharan Africa, Turkish companies can be seen in both infrastructure and superstructure projects. For example, when you go to Senegal, you can see Turkish companies from the airport to the rail systems, from stadiums to hotel projects, to conference centres. This makes us very proud.  Likewise, in Niger, for example, one of our companies has successfully implemented airport and hotel & congress centre projects. In Tanzania, the most important rail system project of the country is carried out by a Turkish company. TABEF was held for the third time this year.

How do you evaluate the participation in the event this year? What kind of reflections did TABEF have?

The participation was at a pretty good level. Despite the pandemic, I can tell that significant participation has been achieved. It is one of the first events to be held at this level since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, we will see its reflections in due course. I think that both the issues discussed and the business meetings were efficient despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The feedback that the participants gave us during the event was quite positive. In the upcoming period, I believe that more successful works will emerge thanks to the experience gained here.

What kind of difference does the make in terms of collaboration opportunities? How do you interpret the importance of TABEF in terms of Türkiye-Africa relations?

Of course, we deal with trade and economic relations. We are working on ways to improve trade and investment relations between our country and African countries. We organized TABEF for the first time in 2016, we held the second in 2018 and in 2020 in the virtual environment. This year, we physically held it. The contributions of our Ministry of Trade and the African Union in the performance of the event are very valuable. Our President of the Republic of Turkey offers both participation and support as much as possible. This year, we also invited Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the Chairperson of the African Union and the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he could not make it. For example, in 2018, the President of Ethiopia and the Prime Minister of Rwanda participated. In addition, of course, there are ministerial or high-level participation from 54 African countries. Our companies have the opportunity to meet the people at the ministerial level. We are enabling them to do so. Business people from almost every African country participate, in this way, business meetings are held with Turkish business people and business relations are established.

The Türkiye -Africa Women’s Leadership Dialogue Panel, attended by Ms. Emine Erdoğan, aroused a lot of interest. What role do women leaders play in increasing and strengthening existing commercial relations between Africa and Türkiye ?

We attach so much importance to this matter. Hopefully, we can establish the institutional infrastructure for this and thus ensure its continuity. Africa is a matriarchal society. No matter which country of the continent you go to today, you can witness that female figures are in the foreground. You can see female leaders in business life, bureaucracy, politics, and non-governmental organizations. We held the Türkiye -Africa Women’s Leadership Dialogue Panel for the first time in a virtual environment last year. It aroused a lot of interest, we invited important people as speech givers. This year, we decided to discuss this topic and again invited prominent female figures from African countries. For example, Ms. Aissata Lam, the Director General of the Investment Promotion Agency of Mauritania. She is well educated and despite her young age, she is the head of an important institution. Likewise, Amany Asfour is a significant female figure on the continent. One of the first people that come to mind when Africa is mentioned in our country, our Director-General for Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also known as “Madame Afrique”, Nur Sağman, for example, was one of the speech givers. On the other hand, Ms. Emine Erdoğan and Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the wife of the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also spoke at the opening of the event. The proportion of women in the Turkish business world is also increasing, as well as the proportion of female managers. Of course, there are various difficulties in doing business on the continent, but Turkish businesswomen tackle them pretty well. Our aim here is to create a synergy, to create an environment of dialogue. I think that significant collaborations can be established in many fields in this way.

Did you have other things to mention?

The power centres in the world are changing now.We need to follow this change well and accordingly make our preparations, namely, our own homework.Africa is on the verge of a very significant transformation. Through the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), duty-free distribution of products within the continent is possible. We have to follow this process closely. In Africa, we should not focus on trade but on investment, we need have to become investors. In this way, we can ensure the duty-free circulation of products within the continent. The countries of the continent have Free Trade Agreements with several countries. We can carry out duty-free trade with these countries by performing production on the continent. Another issue I would like to touch upon is finance and banking relations. We need to take quick steps in this field. We have shared our views on this issue with the relevant institutions, and we will continue to do so. Our banking should be involved in the countries of the continent and expand its correspondent bank network. It is important to establish this relationship without the need for European banks. Currently, the costs in the banking field are quite high. The issue of financing is very significant, especially for our contracting sector. Our companies need to be supported in this area. Because our companies have a competitive advantage in terms of speed and quality but there may be deficiencies in financing in some projects. I believe that if these issues are resolved, both our trade and investments will increase rapidly.

Coordinating Chairperson of DEİK/ Türkiye-Africa Business Councils  Berna Gözbaşı

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