Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, Chairperson of TAİK, talked about the economic relations between Turkey and the US, and TAİK’s activities for the Business Diplomacy readers .
The Republic of Turkey and the United States of America (USA) are known as two countries that have established cooperation in various areas and developed them in time. Undoubtedly, one of the important contributors to this dialogue between the two countries is Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK), which was established in 1985. From this point of view, we put the past, present, and future of the economic relationships between Turkey and the US on the table with Mehmet Ali Yalçındağ, Chairperson of TAIK. “We have been doing various activities for over 30 years to make opportunities in the US more visible and manageable with Turkey’s most rooted Business Council,” Yalçındağ said and added, “We need the sustainable interest and support of our business world in our activities for increasing investment and trade.”
What would you say if we want you to elaborate on relationships between Turkey and the US from past to present?
Two countries have very strong relations, dating back to the 1800s. However, our mutual economic and strategic relations have grown in the period known as the “Cold War”. In the post-1945 period, we can see an increase in trade and economic interaction between Turkey and the US, especially in military collaborations. Of course, since it was just the post-war period, the mutual economic relationship was based on aid between the allies for long years.
When we arrived to the 1980s, the then Prime Minister, Turgut Özal pointed out the need for an important change in the structure of mutual relations by saying “We do not want more aid, we want more trade”. Then the oldest business council of Turkey, TAIK was founded in 1985 with the support of Turgut Özal, T.R. Prime Minister, and Ronald Reagan, US President at that time. From that day onwards, it would not be wrong to say that the asymmetry in the trade relations between the countries decreased gradually for a more balanced mutual trade. When we came to the 2000s, activities to increase military, trade, and economic cooperation between the countries accelerated under the administration of our current President. So much so that a mutual trade target of $100 billion, which could only be a dream at once, was determined and put into practice.
What kind of activities does TAIK perform to develop the relationship between Turkey and the US?
We can group our activities under three different headings. The first of these is the strategic communication and lobbying activities we carry out in the US. By doing so, we are trying to establish the belief that the Turkish private sector is a reliable partner, especially for the US companies beginning on a new search during the pandemic period. I met with members of the Congress and American investors during my personal visits to the US. In these meetings, unfortunately, I saw that the power of our country and our private sector was not adequately explained to them. For example, a US Congress member was unaware of the Turkish investments in his constituency and the employment contribution of these investments in that region. Therefore, we highly believe in the importance of the strategic communication activities that we conduct. Moreover, we carry out these efforts not only at the federal level but also at the local level with our state committees, whose number we seek to increase.
Secondly, we aim to increase the mutual investment and trade potential by bringing together Turkish and American officials and business world representatives in conferences such as American-Turkish Conference (ATC) and Turkey Investment Conference (TRICON). Representatives that come together in these conferences can find the partners they are looking for in various sectors and find a chance to reach directly to official authorities for the challenges they face in their sectors.
Finally, we analyse the cooperation potentials between the two countries with research activities we carry out with the world’s leading management consultancy companies and try our best to increase or realise those potentials.
It is said that recent tensions between the US and China may create trade opportunities for Turkey. What is your take on this? What actions can Turkish businesspeople take to make use of this opportunity?
With its geopolitical location and strong institutions, Turkey is no doubt one of the important centres of world trade. The commercial, economic, and political tensions between the US and China surely changed the US’s business and trade practices. And Turkey’s role in this change may bring out great opportunities. The problems experienced by the American companies that depend on China for their supply chains, China’s intellectual property violations, and activities that threaten the national security in technology have dealt a blow to US-China relations. In this crisis, Turkey started to stand out with its service quality and safe trade infrastructure. I can easily say that significant opportunities await us with the expertise and experience we have in sectors such as textile, civil aviation, construction and building materials, machine production, and white goods.
I also would like to point out one other thing. If we can establish stronger and more sustainable trade, economic, and political relations between Turkey and the US over their 200-year-old diplomacy history, Turkish and American trade will no longer be just alternative destinations for each other. We aim to positively contribute to the economic and trade habits between the countries and make Turkey and the American business and trade partners that are indispensable for each other and strong against international crises.
What do you think about the comments that revolve around the change in the global supply chain after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)? Can Turkey stand out in this kind of change?
The pandemic’s impact all over the world has brought many challenges and new habits with it. Along with its direct threat to human life, the pandemic’s devastating effect on the global supply chain has become the main agenda of the international community. We see that the economy came to a halt partially in some countries and fully in others due to mandatory measures to control the pandemic. Consequently, this creates hard-to-repair damages in the global supply chain. We can easily say that countries that have been less affected by this turn of events owe their good fortune to their healthcare professionals and their successful healthcare system. Our country is a great example of this. In Turkey, we have been able to keep our economy standing as much as possible during the pandemic thanks to the reforms and innovations in our healthcare system that have been going on since 2004. And our country will stand out in the sectors that I’ve mentioned before in these challenging days of the global supply chain.
In the activities that we carried out with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in August 2019, we determined the sectors and opportunities that stood out in Turkey-US mutual trade. However, believing that this study should be updated as we entered the global pandemic period, we conducted new research with the BCG. In the study, we see that the number of sectors where the potential for our country has also increased. To give an example from the report that we will launch to the press in the near future; we see that Turkey has continued to pursue its comparative advantage at the global level in sectors such as automotive parts, textiles, white goods, building materials, and furniture. We see that new investment and mutual trade opportunities increase in different ways between Turkey and the US with the COVID-19 period. For example, new opportunities have arisen with the increasing number of brands of Turkey in the digital world along with the qualified labor force, qualified labour force. On the other hand, we observe that the potential for mutual cooperation, especially in construction and infrastructure, has increased in third countries and regions such as Africa. We will share our report, with all its details, with the decisionmakers, business world representatives, and prominent press members of the two countries in the shortest time possible. We strongly believe that this study will work up the new US administration’s appetite for improving cooperation with the Turkish business world.
To what extent is the Turkish business world aware of the opportunities in the US? In order to increase their awareness, we would like to listen if you have any suggestions for Turkish businesspeople about business opportunities in the US.
As our President has always said, the Turkish business world has a great responsibility regarding the opportunities in countries where we have a trade history and goals to realise. With this responsibility, we have been doing various activities for over 30 years to make opportunities in the US more visible and manageable as Turkey’s oldest Business Council. We need the sustainable interest and support of our business world in our activities for increasing investment and trade. Because we can measure the performance of our work towards the reliable and sustainable image of the Turkish business world in the US with new collaborations. Hereby, I would like to underline once again that we are taking strong and determined steps towards the $100 billion trade volume goal between Turkey and the US by taking our inspiration from the power and intimacy of US-Turkey relations of over 200 years. Finally, I would like to express something to our business world. Due to our unitary state structure, we understand that our companies do not fully grasp the opportunities to do business in the US. We need to adopt a local mindset instead of a federal one in our trade relations with the US. All 50 states are like separate countries due to their economic structures and populations. For this reason, especially our businesspeople aiming to enter the US market need to develop statebased marketing strategies and act locally. In this sense, we believe that our business people should act in coordination to contribute to our contribtry’s brand by coun joining TAİK in light of our 35 years of experience.
Interview: Mustafa Özkan