Chile and Turkey, far apart from each other geographically, seem to have a relationship that is special. Chile was the first country in South America, and second in the world, to recognize the Turkish Republic; it was the first country in South America to sign a free trade agreement with Turkey; the first one to open commercial offices and to have a military attaché to Turkey.
As Jorge Arancibia, Chile’s ambassador to Turkey, has said, “We have a special relationship with Turkey.” This special relationship is not, however, reflected in the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries. The trade volume between Chile and Turkey was a modest $393 million in 2010. With the push provided by the free trade agreement signed between the two countries in March 2011, the trade volume increased to $600 million last year, with Turkey’s exports amounting to $130 million and Chile’s to $474 million. But the bilateral trade figure in the first four months of 2012 is a mere $190 million, not indicating any major increase in trade. This is despite Turkey’s exports having risen in the same period by about 20 percent, although those of Chile have suffered a near 20 percent drop.
According to Arancibia, if one of the possible reasons for the stagnation in bilateral trade is the global economic crisis, another is administrative practices of Turkish authorities that “do not facilitate free trade.” “After we signed the free trade agreement, businesspeople started to have some little problems,” Arancibia told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview.
Problems in keeping the spirit of free trade
For example, a Chilean businessman exporting nuts to Turkey may be told that only 15-20 tons of the nuts would fall under the free trade agreement and that for the remaining part he or she would have to pay taxes. Or the price of a can of salmon, which is sold at $2.75 in Chile, rises to $5 with the value added tax in Turkey. “This is not quite in keeping with the spirit of free trade,” noted Arancibia, complaining that Chilean products are sometimes technically left out of competition because of the increase in price.
But the ambassador’s main focus is not actually “small” trade of this kind; he places more emphasis on the “big business” potential between the two countries. “We may make big business,” he stated, while also admitting that it was President Abdullah Gül who provided the inspiration for this idea when the ambassador presented Gül his credentials. To this end, the ambassador has been thinking for the last couple of weeks about ways to bring together major businesspeople from both countries to further business and joint ventures.
In trade, the two countries appear to have only recently felt the other’s presence, and, as the ambassador puts it, the main challenge is to make the machine work. It is sure to take some time to get things going, but it will be worth the effort, because close cooperation of two countries with relatively fast-growing economies may be expected to bear considerable fruit. It’s to draw attention to this potential that the ambassador said: “You are in the center of the world, and you know how to trade with Europe, Ukraine, the Middle East, Asia. We live on the other side of the world, and we have developed some skills in how to negotiate with countries around the Pacific.”
An extensive resume
Arancibia, who strongly recommends thinking big in business, is well equipped to help achieve such a result. Before being appointed as ambassador he served for eight years in parliament as a senator, and before that he was an admiral who also served as commander of the navy. He is therefore in a position to know almost all the influential people in Chile. His suggestion to increase business ties is one worth heeding, considering that Chile is a country with a positive trade balance with China and South Korea. Turkey may actually have much to learn from Chile.
The ambassador described Chile as a country of mining and remarked that he sees mining as a potential area for joint ventures. Being the biggest producer of copper in the world, Chile is planning to invest considerable sums of money in new copper mines. “Do you have any interest in doing that?” asked Arancibia, calling on Turkish businessmen to invest in Chile. Still another area of cooperation may be the production of natural nitrate, of which Chile is a big producer. Noting that natural nitrate is needed for organic food production, “Why don’t we make a joint venture in this area?” the ambassador suggested.
It’s not only on the business front that the two countries focus their attention. Defense seems to be an area where cooperation is going at full speed. In May the Turkish defense minister paid a visit to Chile, and a couple of agreements have been concluded, together with a memorandum of understanding, in the defense area. About a month ago the commander in chief of the Chilean navy was in Turkey, and Chile’s minister of defense will visit at the end of October. The top brass of the Chilean army -- along with the top figure of the Chilean internal forces, the Carabineros -- are expected to come to Turkey this year.
Upcoming Chilean president visit
To top it all, Chile’s president will be arriving in Turkey in November for a two-day visit, for the success of which the ambassador has already started to work. During the visit the Chilean president will not only have talks with his Turkish counterparts but is also expected to attend a meeting in İstanbul in which businesspeople from both countries will come together.
To this chain of top-level visits will be added Esmeralda, the Chilean Navy’s training ship, one of the biggest in the world, described by the ambassador as “a wonderful sailing ship,” which will be in İstanbul from Oct. 8-12. This year the ship will have a group of female cadets among its 300-strong crew, women having been allowed into the Chilean Naval Academy for the first time last year.
Turkey and Chile have both lived through military rule in the past, and both have taken considerable steps toward democratization. Ambassador Arancibia was also part of the process of transition to democracy in Chile, where the military remained in power from 1973 to 1990. In 1989 he was chief of general staff of the navy, then served in another top position for two-and-a-half years, which made him a critical figure in the country’s period of transition to democracy. “The most difficult time was when I was chief of general staff of the navy, and when I was chief of staff of national defense,” he stated. These were also times when he needed to solve problems as the country was making the transition to democracy.
Arancibia is of the opinion that the Chilean military, which remained in power for 17 years, has played a more important role in shaping the country than the Turkish military in Turkey through coups d’état. Maintaining that Chile was in very bad shape politically and economically before the military took power, he said: “We worked to change the country. In Turkey the military hasn’t played this kind of role; they intervened maybe to change the direction of the country, but not the country.”
The ambassador sees the Chilean military’s role in the country’s overall direction in a positive light. “[During the military regime] the country took steps to function like a machine,” he noted, adding that when the time came to transition to democracy, “The country was compressed like a spring to go forward.” Arancibia finds it difficult to compare the role played by the military’s relations with civilian authority in the two countries; religion is a factor in the political and daily life of Turkey, whereas in Chile it is not, “And it’s a big difference.” He also stressed that the military in Chile is totally out of the political arena now, smilingly adding that it would take an earthquake for a coup to take place in Chile today.
Pacific Alliance countries planning to open representative office in İstanbul
Chile, along with a group of four other Latin American nations which have a coast on the Pacific Ocean -- namely, Mexico, Colombia and Peru -- formed the Pacific Alliance nearly two weeks ago with a view to achieving economic integration and free trade between the partners. Visa requirements will be dropped so that citizens of all four countries can travel freely between them. The Pacific Alliance countries are thinking of opening a joint representative office in İstanbul, Jorge Arancibia, Chilean ambassador to Turkey, told Today’s Zaman. Chile is also a member of other organizations that bring together Latin American countries such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). To explain the reason behind the new formation in Latin America, the ambassador stated that “in other organizations they have so many rules that you can’t be free regarding trade.” This is understandable considering that Chile opened its economy to the world about 30 years ago, and has free trade agreements with 53 countries. Chile, a country with a population of 17.5 million, has no consulate in İstanbul, but has honorary consulates in İstanbul, İzmir and Mersin. Mersin is important for Chile because it’s the port of origin for most of the products imported from Turkey.
Not a diplomat by profession
Jorge Arancibia, the Chilean ambassador who has been in Ankara since the end of October, is not a diplomat by profession. He joined the navy at 14 and retired from the navy after 47 years of service, after which he served in the Senate from 2001 for a further eight years. Before he received a telephone call to represent Chile abroad, he was living in a small town enjoying life with his family.
During his long career in public service, he had traveled all around the world, but had not visited Turkey. “So, when I was invited by the president to go to Turkey as an ambassador, I was very excited,” he said, seeing it as a fantastic opportunity. Speaking in a straightforward and sincere manner, he admits not knowing much about Turkey in the beginning. In fact, the image he had in his mind of Turkey was of an Arab country. Before coming he started reading a couple of books on Turkey, which helped him to get a clearer picture. However, it was only after arriving in Turkey that he fully realized that he was not in an Arab country. Turkey is his first post as an ambassador and he thinks it will be his last, as he is planning to retire from public service after completing his tour in Ankara. The ambassador, who has a grandson at the naval academy in Chile, is planning to write a book titled “This is to my Grandsons,” dedicated to them.
‘Turks, Chileans are warriors in their souls’
Chilean Ambassador to Turkey Jorge Arancibia finds that Turkish and Chilean people have similar characteristics. “In their souls, both people are warriors,” he commented, making reference to the hard conditions both peoples have had to fight against in order to survive throughout the course of history. Chile is a country stretching along the Pacific Ocean in the west, with the Andes Mountains in the east. People in Chile have to battle with the mountains to get the copper out of the earth, with the dessert to get nitrates and with the ocean to get fish. “And it’s an awful ocean,” said the ambassador, who was once the Chilean navy’s top figure.
Another similarity between the two peoples is their friendly behavior, a quality which, the ambassador believes, the two peoples have earned due to the hard living conditions they have experienced. “Like in Turkey, a foreigner having difficulty shopping in a supermarket in Chile would find somebody at his side offering help,” the ambassador stated. But there is one thing in Turkey which he has found really difficult to become accustomed to: people’s behavior while driving. “Being a driver here requires some special skills,” he commented, describing the experience “an amazing adventure.” And you could tell he must have had some difficult moments on the road. But there is also one thing in Turkey that the ambassador is very pleased about: the fact that graffiti artists are not common. This is because in Chile graffiti is almost everywhere. “You paint your house, but next day an artist comes, and…” he said with a smile. He also likes the honesty of Turkish people in everyday life.