HASAN KANBOLAT

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HASAN KANBOLAT
October 10, 2011, Monday

Quiet developments in Turkish-Vietnamese relations

Some officials from a think tank called the Institute for Africa and Middle East Studies (IAMES), which is active in Vietnam, had the opportunity to tour Ankara recently. Representatives from the organization have been coming to Turkey since last year, and this year's delegation included Mr. Bui Nhat Quang, Ms. Ha Thi Hong Van, Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Hang and Ms. Nguyen Thi. While here, they present ideas from Vietnam and take the pulse of current events here in Turkey.

Over the past ten years, Turkey has become much more active in its relations with the rest of the world. It is quickly developing relationships with countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and now Asia. Turkish-Vietnamese relations are among those quietly changing. Vietnam is a rapidly developing country. Despite the wars it has experienced in the past, Vietnam is looking towards the future with confidence. It is displaying more and more stability in the economic arena. An important advantage for Turkey's relations with Vietnam is that these two countries have never had any political problems. The biggest problem that presents itself in terms of the development of trade and economic relations between Turkey and Vietnam is the geographic distance between the countries, which of course means high freight and transport prices.

Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Vietnam began in 1978. The Turkish Embassy in Hanoi became active in 1997, while Vietnam opened up its consulate in İstanbul in 2001, and its embassy in 2003. An agreement memorandum to pave the way for the establishment of a political consulting mechanism between the foreign affairs ministries of Turkey and Vietnam was signed in Ankara in 2005. The first high level political consultation meeting took place between the two countries, within the framework of the agreement, in January in Hanoi. At this meeting, a shared action plan covering the years 2010-2012 and aimed at further political, economic, and cultural cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries was signed. The fact that Turkish Airlines began flights in December 2010 from İstanbul to Ho Chi Minh City has helped boost movement between the trade centers of Turkey and Vietnam. While trade volume between the two countries was 29 million dollars in 2000, it had risen to 857 million dollars in 2010.

When one actually considers the economic potential of Vietnam, with its population of 90 million, and Turkey, with its population of 75 million, these numbers are actually quite low, though they show a tendency towards growth. At the same time, most of the foreign trade between the two countries tends to be at Turkey's disadvantage, and thus Turkey's trade gap imbalance with Vietnam increases every year. Though Turkey has been increasing its exports to Vietnam, the level of imports from Vietnam is rising more quickly, leading to a greater and greater imbalance.

At the top of the list of products Turkey exports to Vietnam are mass transit vehicles (either diesel or semi-diesel), parts and accessories for transport vehicles, thyme, bay leaves, zinc oxide, zinc peroxide, and quartz. As for products imported from Vietnam to Turkey, these first and foremost include shoes, cathode-light tubes for televisions, different kinds of thread, black pepper, natural India rubber and products made from India rubber, rice, furniture, non-alloyed tin.

Since July 1, 2011, Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Akif Oktay has been residing in Hanoi. Ambassador Oktay is young, dynamic, and very active. In just a short while, he has managed to meet and make contacts with the Vietnamese media, intellectual, and business worlds. He has become, in short, the voice of Turkey in Vietnam. Up until now, there have been no prime ministerial or presidential level visits between these two countries, but now it is expected that there will be a prime ministerial visit from Vietnam to Turkey before the year 2011 is over. This month, Vietnam's industrial minister is expected to visit Turkey. Turkish President Abdullah Gül had planned to visit Vietnam in December 2011, but the trip has been cancelled, and is now expected to be rescheduled for 2012. Most people believe that Gül's visit to Vietnam will do much to boost and speed up the already-developing relations between Turkey and Vietnam.