US Secretary of Commerce John Bryson has praised the economic progress Turkey has made in the past decade, adding that it is certainly not unreasonable to expect Turkey to become one of the 10 largest economies in the world.
Speaking at a lunch jointly organized by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) and the progressive think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Bryson said, “Ankara's goal to push Turkey into the top 10 economies by its centennial in 2023 -- the ‘10 by 23' plan -- is an entirely plausible target.”
Turkey is currently the 16th largest economy of the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly $800 billion at the end of 2011. Between 2002 and last year, its average rate of economic growth was 5.4 percent. This year the government expects another 4 percent of GDP expansion and aims to sustain a growth rate of 5 percent in the long term. Other than the top 10 economies goal, the country also seeks to bring its export volume up to $500 billion -- it was $135 billion last year -- and to develop its own national car and airplane brands by 2023.
“What is clear is that Turkey is coming into its own as a global economic player. Turkey's time has come. Turkey's moment is now,” Bryson said. The secretary was the keynote speaker at the high-profile event titled “Building on the Progress in Turkish-American Economic Cooperation.” Among the participants of the program were leading Turkish businesspeople, including Boydak Holding CEO Memduh Boydak, apparel-maker Taha Group's General Manager İsmail Hakkı Kısacık and the country's largest steel pipe exporter Erciyas's Chairman Ahmet Kamil Erciyas.
In his speech Bryson also put an emphasis on what US President Barack Obama called a “model partnership” between Turkey and the US, noting that there has always been a close political and military relationship between the two allies but that a new phase started in April 2009 when “President Obama and President [Abdullah] Gül agreed to elevate our commercial relationship to the strategic level. We have already begun to see the fruits of this.” Turkey has also taken part in Obama's National Export Initiative (NEI) as a target country to increase American exports.
The trade volume between the two countries increased by nearly one-third in one year, reaching $21 billion at the end of 2011. “This is great news, but we have only scratched the surface. We can continue to increase the trade flow between our two countries,” the secretary said.
Bilateral trade is also highly imbalanced to the benefit of the United States, since Turkish exports to the US accounted for less than $5 billion of last year's total trade volume. Turkey also stands alongside countries such as Japan, Britain and Canada, who are seriously considering placing a large order for the US-made F-35 striker jets. Turkey has expressed its intention to buy 100 of the jets, each of which the US estimates will cost $135 million to produce. “With strong bilateral commitments from both of our countries, the future of the US-Turkish economic relationship is indeed bright,” Bryson said. There are currently some 1,200 US companies registered in Turkey, against some 800 in the lead-up to the 2008 global financial crisis.
Elaborating on the advantages of Turkish-American economic cooperation, the secretary noted that both countries have their own strengths. “For example, Turkey has strong access to European markets, as well as those in North Africa and the Middle East. And here in the US, for example, we have a strong patent system and deep supply chains,” he said. Bryson is also the co-chair of the Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation (FSECC) which first met two years ago. As part of this speech, he announced that he will come to Turkey to attend the second meeting of the FSECC in late June.
Bryson also presented a few criticisms on Thursday, specifically naming three issues which he said hinder American business activity in Turkey. “For example, the regulatory environment in Turkey is not as transparent and predictable as it could be. When new regulations are put in place without notification or opportunity to comment, it catches companies off guard. In addition, we continue to have market access concerns, especially in areas such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture. And finally, it is important to grow and strengthen Turkey's intellectual property system to protect all of our companies and to foster more innovation. Some US companies have experienced trademark and copyright infringements as well as software and Internet piracy,” he said. He did not elaborate further on those matters, nor did he accept questions from the audience.
Thursday's program was the latest sign of TUSKON's efforts to help strengthen Turkey's economic relationship with other nations around the world, including and perhaps particularly the US. For its US operations, TUSKON also cooperates with local entities such as CAP in Washington, D.C. Also speaking at the event, the organization's President Rızanur Meral mentioned certain numbers to highlight how intensively they worked last year to open new business channels not only for Turks, but also people of other nations. “In 2011, we sent 448 business delegations abroad and hosted 523 other delegations from overseas in Turkey. Approximately 7,000 businesspeople went abroad and 9,500 investors came to Turkey as a result of those visits. These figures alone indicate our enthusiasm to serve the people of our country,” he said, adding that its membership had doubled to some 40,000 just last year as a result of its widely admired work in and outside Turkey.
One critical detail Meral mentioned during an earlier breakfast meeting with Turkish journalists who were covering the event was related to explaining why Turkey's business presence has remained weaker in the US than Europe and other developed regions. He said Turks have long mistaken the US as constituting a handful of population centers, such as New York and Chicago, whereas the rest of it has never appeared on their radar. Now, he continued, TUSKON aims to help Turkish entrepreneurs discover the long-overlooked parts of America where business opportunities are at least as vast but with less compelling markets for entry-level commercial activities or startup businesses. The organization's strategy is to help Turkish businesspeople meet their counterparts as well as local politicians across the US. Its goal is to organize business trips to 23 states in America in the first half of this year. More than half of those visits have already been made, including recent trips to the states of Kansas, Kentucky and Washington.
The visits received a warm welcome. TUSKON's Washington bureau head Hakan Taşçı has one particular recollection with regards to the atmosphere between Turkish and American businesspeople and politicians at those meetings. In his narrative, a state senator in Kansas City said during their meeting more than a month ago that foreign businesspeople have always entered the US from New York or Washington, D.C., later flying over many inland states to seek more business in California. “You have become the first to jump out of the plane and come here as well,” the senator told the Turkish delegation, according to Taşçı, who told journalists this anecdote at the same morning meeting.
According to Meral, another particular benefit of such a strategy -- other than opening more space for a Turkish business presence and also increasing local awareness about Turkey and its economy across the US -- is that it allows direct communication between Turkish and American businesses, removing the need for consultants. It is known that most states in America prefer to procure the supplies they need from trade hubs such as New York, therefore purchasing merchandise that have actually been exported from overseas. “The opportunity here is to take this intermediary function out of the equation and share the resulting extra profit with local importers in those less-known states,” Meral said.