Turkey rediscovers Americas, another step towards being a global player

December 15, 2009, Tuesday/ 16:20:00/ MİNHAC ÇELİK

The Turkish prime minister’s visit to Mexico after his Washington meetings reflects another step in the government’s attempt to forge closer relations with latin America, which provides extensive investment opportunities, as a result of Turkey’s determined multidimensional foreign policy.

As a result of the geographic distance and lack of diplomatic meetings Turkish-Latin american relations have not reached the desired level. In 1995 Turkish President Süleyman Demirel became the first Turkish head of state to visit Latin America with his trip to Argentina, Brazil and Chile. This visit constituted a landmark in Latin American-Turkish relations.

Later, in 1998, a Latin America Action Plan was prepared by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The main focus of the plan was improving ties with Latin American countries in all possible fields.

As was noted in the Foreign Ministry’s action plan, several other global powerhouses, including the US, China and EU countries, also sought to generate economic partnerships with countries in the region; they started working towards improved Latin American relations a long time ago.

However, concrete steps have been initiated since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took over the government and began to attach more importance to establishing intercontinental ties. After 2005, which was labeled the “Year of Africa,” the AK Party government declared 2006 as the “Year of Latin America” and endeavored to create links with the Americas to boost economic, social and cultural relations.

When it comes to Latin America, the first country to come to mind for Turks is undoubtedly Brazil, South America’s most-populated and economically well-developed country, with the largest territory. In 2006 the foreign minister paid a visit to Brazil and met Brazilian President Luiz da Silva to discuss Brazil’s help in the Cyprus problem and joint investment opportunities in Iraq. In a return visit, da Silva, who is the first Brazilian head of state to visit Turkey, came to Ankara this summer. During his visit an agreement was signed allowing a partnership between the state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) and its Brazilian counterpart, PETROBRAS, in projects in the Black Sea.

An official from the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, stated that Turkey’s already-established foreign economic councils with Brazil and Mexico have achieved remarkable progress in a short period of time “However, our goal is to create trade relations with all of the 33 countries in the region,” the official, who declined to be named, added.

Explaining activities to boost trade relations with countries in the region, the official noted that a group of DEIK officials visited Chile to participate in a conference on investment opportunities in the country. In addition to that, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias came to Turkey in November at the board’s invitation to ask Turkey to create closer ties with Costa Rica.

Enumerating the sectors that may be attractive for Turkey to invest in, the official pointed to automotives, steel, tourism, petrochemicals and construction and added that Turkey’s current exports to Latin America are only 1 percent of the country’s 2009 total exports.

“It is not absurd for Turkey not to have close relations with Latin American countries, due to the absence of a direct border. Moreover, the internal political conflicts and military interventions experienced in both Turkey and in Latin American countries were another factor preventing the building of links between these two sides,” said Eren Okur from the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies.

Okur also said that Turkey’s growing international relations with Latin American countries will be instrumental in Turkey becoming a more influential global player and in obtaining economic gains through closer ties.

Trade relations with the region are dominated by Latin American exports to Turkey: Only 20 percent of the bilateral trade volume is Turkish exports to Latin America, a large trade deficit for Turkey.

However, promising developments have also occurred recently. Turkey’s trade agreement with the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the world’s fourth-largest economy, comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, was signed on June 30, 2008.

Currently, Parliament maintains friendship groups with Cuba, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, Jamaica, Colombia and Panama. After Erdoğan’s visit to Mexico, a Turkish-Mexican Parliamentary Friendship Group is to be formed.

Furthermore, Turkey has been invited to the Second Latin America and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development as an observer member. “They have agreed, and Turkey will be invited to the next summit in February as an observer member,” Erdoğan said on Friday, emphasizing that the government’s efforts to boost bilateral relations with Mexico should be cemented by the private sector with the involvement of business delegations in the process.

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