DEİK initiated an ASEAN Working Committee with the Business Council Chairpeople of ASEAN countries, saying “We are aware of ASEAN’s importance” to the whole world.

We can say that the goal of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) when it was founded was to “Contribute to the international trade diplomacy activities of our country and accelerate its economic growth.” As DEİK, we carry out projects to minimise our current deficit, which is an important criterion for the development of economies. As you see, the biggest source of our current deficit today is our foreign trade deficit. At this point, it is of great importance to correct the export-import imbalance as much as possible; however, this deficit should be removed with direct foreign capital instruments of quality.

Especially since 2002, our export numbers have significantly accelerated. However, one of the biggest issues in our export is its dependence on import… That’s why we haven’t still reached the point where we want to be in creating added value. The added value that we can create remains low when we first import a processed and finished product and export it with only small changes on it. However, I also believe that we can decrease our import dependence and have a positive current balance if we can apply import substitution especially in high-tech products through R&D and design.

The Biggest Import Item Is Energy

Our biggest import item now is energy. Energy import leads to a substantial deficit. Just like other industrialised countries, the bigger volume of the manufacturing industry leads to increased energy import. There are a couple of ways to overcome this: first, we can increase energy efficiency in production; second, we can develop sustainable energy resources such as solar and wind in our own country; and third, we can discover new fossil fuel resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal. We are hopeful about the natural gas discoveries made in the Black Sea recently to decrease our energy dependence, and we are excited for the possibility of similar developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Position of Asia-Pacific In Our Foreign Trade Deficit

When we look at our foreign trade deficit in terms of regions, Asia-Pacific immediately stands out. As a matter of fact, a significant part of our foreign trade deficit comes from Asia-Pacific.

When we speak of Asia-Pacific, we have to talk about China, the country that has increased its economic growth twelve-fold since 2000. And China is still attracting attention with its quick recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 although the virus first appeared there.

However, the region has other dynamics that we should consider. For example, other countries of the region, Japan and South Korea should also be monitored closely. However, it is not always easy to collaborate in these countries that are significantly integrated into the global system. At this point, we see the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with its significant potential.

ASEAN Is an Important Market for Turkey

With free trade agreements with countries such as China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and a great market that opens up to the Asia-Pacific Region, ASEAN was founded on August 8, 1967 by the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. There are big opportunities in construction, infrastructure, digitalisation, and energy sectors in ASEAN, the fastest urbanising region in the world today.

Our country established a Sectoral Dialogue Partnership with ASEAN in 2017 as it is an important market for Turkey. And we also have considerable cultural partnerships with many countries of the Union. For example, having the largest population of Muslims in the world, Indonesia is an ASEAN country… Speaking in figures, the population of ASEAN is about 600 to 700 million.

Free Trade Agreements Are Important Instruments

We have a quite serious instrument that we call a free trade agreement to facilitate our trade with the relevant countries. With these agreements, we can remove many trade barriers and increase our economic relations with a win-win principle. At this point, we also have free trade agreements with ASEAN countries Malaysia and Singapore. We continue our negotiations with other member countries of the Union, Thailand, and Indonesia.

All authorised institutions in Turkey act with the awareness of these advantages by adopting the Asia Anew Vision. There is an ambassador coordinating this work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Again, our Ministry of Trade conducts important activities for ASEAN.

However, we are aware that the business world also should directly take an active role. Just like we meet in common consumption habits with Indonesia and Malaysia, maybe we will meet Singapore and Thailand through technological start-ups. Shortly, as the business world, we should show our will in this regard.

We Said, “We Are Interested In This” To The World

As DEİK, we have speeded up our activities with the awareness that I just talked about. First, we initiated an ASEAN Working Committee with the Business Council Chairpeople of ASEAN countries, saying “We are aware of ASEAN’s importance” to the whole world. With this initiative, we aim to raise the awareness of private sector representatives in Turkey regarding the opportunities in ASEAN and excite our addressees in the region.

With this goal in mind, we wrote a letter explaining how important ASEAN is to us in order to guide both our internal and external addressees, and our Business Council Chairpeople within the Committee assumed certain tasks as well. First, we have determined a road map for how we can manage our relations with ASEAN. We are also in continuous contact with our Ministry of Trade. And we plan to hold meetings with Ankara Ambassadors of ASEAN countries in the second phase and contact business organisations of ASEAN countries in the third. Our goal at the end of the day is to conduct joint projects with ASEAN and to motivate the public institutions and private sector representatives of the two countries with the synergy we will create.

To sum up, we should be aware of the importance of all other ASEAN member countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, which we think will stand out more in the supply chains that are being reshaped with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should carry out our activities as the Turkish business world in this manner.

Caner Çolak, Secretary General at DEİK